Many people go misty eyed at the words "Isle of Wight", remembering childhood holidays among the multi-coloured sand and old-fashioned promenades. But things have moved on, for both good and bad, and what was intended as a trip down memory lane turned into a search for areas away from commerce, where tea shops and thatched cottages exist unchanged.
The bigger towns on the northern side are a bit overdeveloped and gaudy, and the charming Blackgang Chine landscape I remember from years ago is now a tourist attraction encased in commercial tat. Things are more restful at the Needles Old Battery, the wartime defence site now run by the National Trust – just head straight past the garish nearby theme park. Children will love scrambling over the concrete remains of the giant searchlights and the tearooms have the best cakes I've tasted in years.
The further you drive from the ferry, the calmer and prettier the views. Godshill, right in the middle, is a touch twee but has a terrific gastropub, the Taverners. The south side also reveals some very smart accommodations, from darling cottages to slick modern conversions to a gaggle of funky caravans overlooking a surfer's beach.
Families seeking a laid-back, luxe getaway should drive due south to Niton, where a set of farm buildings has been converted into holiday homes with sensitivity and a welcoming cool aesthetic. They range from Tennyson, a snug dwelling for couples, to Pepper Pot, which sleeps up to 14.
As you'd expect from converted barns, exposed timbers are the order of the day, but there are no kitsch olde-worlde tricks – the rooms are elegant and airy, with wooden floors and soft pale-grey carpets. Wooden furniture is painted cream or left plain. For keen cooks, the well-equipped kitchen is a joy, and there's plenty of tableware for formal get-togethers round the table – and a generous sized TV/DVD and Freeview channels occupy the lazy. Meanwhile, comfortable doubles and singles with crisp white linen, fluffy duvets and a stack of towels await you. In the bathrooms are deep, deep tubs and pleasingly powerful showers. But remember to take your own kitchen and bathroom supplies – there's not so much as a bar of soap or bottle of olive oil to get you started (although the excellent village grocers has everything you need, and it's open all hours).
The food and drink
Apart from the grocers, there's a brilliant deli/butchery called the Real Island Food Company in the village, which can deliver a welcome pack or a bespoke order of goodies. Breakfast made with IoW produce or a post-pub snack of outstandingly good IoW soft cheese on homemade fennel crackers is a real treat. The Niton pub the White Lion, and the Buddle Inn, tucked away near the sea, are both delightful.
A bottle of wine and homemade cake are just what weary weekenders want to see on arrival – top marks for anticipating the audience. The Barns have TV/DVDs in all the bedrooms, so distractions are at hand. Each dwelling has an excellent book with local information and recommendations, but even better, a stroll down the road to the village hall led to the local bowls teams inviting us in for a natter and a game, and dog walkers on the hills across the road pointed out which paths lead to the sea and, shush, the best pub.
The barns are arranged around a courtyard with plenty of grassy space for youngsters, and it's gated so little ones and dogs (which are welcome) can play safely. Several of the barns have entirely flat entryways, so they're wheelchair accessible and there are ground-floor bedrooms in each.
Lisa Markwell travelled to the Isle of Wight with Wightlink Green Getaways (0871 376 0013; wightlink.co .uk/greengetaways) and stayed in Hermitage Barn, one of the seven luxury self-catering properties at Niton Barns. A one-week self-catering break at Niton Barns costs from £145 per person, based on four sharing, including return Wightlink car ferry crossings from Portsmouth or Lymington. Short breaks available from £94 per person.
Niton Barns, Blackgang Road, Niton, Isle of Wight, PO38 BT (01983 731506; nitonbarns.co.uk).