Great Drives in Hampshire: 2 - Isle of Wight

The Rolls looks quite at home in front of The Royal Hotel

The Rolls looks quite at home in front of The Royal Hotel - Credit: Archant

The second in our series, Mark Whitchurch heads across the water for a regal experience in a Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé

The route

Our Great Drive this month explores the delights of the Isle of Wight, once considered paradise by Queen Victoria, today this haven of sandy beaches and idyllic country roads is a tranquil holiday destination brimming with charm.

We start our tour in the southerly resort of Ventnor, established as a Victorian health resort due to its unique microclimate. It retains much of its history to this day with its esplanade still lined with bath huts heading out onto the sand and shingle shoreline with views of the English Channel beyond.

We stayed at The Royal Hotel, which sits majestically above the town with spectacular sea views and is an intrinsic part of Ventnor’s Victorian history as Queen Victoria visited the hotel in 1844. Now a family-run, four star affair, The Royal offers the discerning guest an indulgent experience. With a backdrop of Victorian and art deco architectural splendour, overlaid with a clean modernistic ambiance, there is a warm welcome where children are encouraged to be seen as well as heard!

Black and white pictures that hark back to Ventnor’s glory days line the walls. Beautifully presented bedrooms set the tone for a premium, yet relaxed experience. Formal and more relaxed dining options are available to suit the mood, and stunning floral displays entice you into the gardens, where the kids can play in the pool whilst you wile away the hours with a good book.

Following a hearty breakfast we head north along the coast on the A3055 with some lovely sweeping roads and stunning views out to sea. Upon reaching Shanklin, we went inland on the A3020, through Sandford and Godshill with its model village and chocolate shop nestling within a network of wonderfully flowing roads with speeds never exceeding 40mph. With expansive views of the island’s interior, we reach Blackwater, where it’s right onto the A3056 and along a ridge road with more spectacular views across the island’s unspoiled pastures. Downend Road links you to The Downs Road and the views continue.

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We paused for refreshment and to explore one of the island’s popular yet less obvious tourist attractions. The Garlic Farm, as part of Mersley Farm, with its shop, restaurant as well as educational experiences and tractor tours of the garlic beds proved to be an enlightening experience.

Garlic growing was established to meet the needs of the French soldiers garrisoned on the island during World War II. Today the farm cultures 30 different types of garlic, with more being added each year as owner Colin Boswell travels the world in search of new varieties.

Back on the road, Rowlands Lane took us north to the A3054 in Binstead where we cruised towards Fishbourne, Wootton and finally the A3021 to our final destination.

Osborne House is English Heritage’s jewel in the crown on the island. The private home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert away from their court life in London, the Queen once described Osborne as a ‘little paradise’. Once an exciting place for Victoria and Albert’s young Princes and Princesses to grow up, today Osborne is a wonderful place for children to explore and bring history to life.

Now restored to its former glory, the Swiss Cottage, created by Albert in 1853 to provide his children with a place to be educated and learn their royal duties through play, is today particularly popular with youngsters. We enjoyed exploring the surrounding vegetable gardens, Victoria Fort and Albert Barracks, the children’s personal museum as well as the cottage itself, half of which is devoted to hands on learning for the children of today whilst the other is preserved ‘as was’.

Take a stroll to the beach to enjoy a tranquil crowd-free stretch of sand, whilst during the school holidays, the children can enjoy a Punch and Judy show. The house itself also proved popular thanks to ‘Noble’, Queen Victoria’s dog, who guided the kids around the house to find Her Majesty’s lost gloves!

The car

A Rolls-Royce for the flamboyant - the Phantom Drophead Coupé introduces the spirit of the Cote d’Azur to the Isle of Wight! An imposing machine that encourages custodians of these exquisitely crafted cars to take to the wheel, lower the roof and enjoy one of the most rewarding motoring experiences money can buy.

A car that evokes a spirit from a golden age of motoring oozing with art-deco styling and opulence, the sculpted form is altogether sleeker than the four-door Phantom, with the design drawing much of its style and inspiration from the elegant J-class yachts of the 1930’s. The brushed aluminium bonnet, windscreen aperture and teak rear deck design cues accentuate this nautical lineage.

Open the graceful ‘coach style’ door to be met with the aroma of premium leather and wood which beckons you within. The interplay of ‘book-matched’ wood veneer, leather and polished metal combine to provide connotations of a motor yacht cabin.

Whilst the dashboard echoes those of Rolls-Royce models from half a century ago, it also bristles with the latest technology, thanks to parent company BMW. Press a button to reveal a full size sat nav screen and i-drive controller. Cleverly placed cameras make parking in tight spaces a breeze.

The theatre of driving such a machine is something to be savoured. The evocative view down the substantial bonnet focuses your vision towards the figurine of Eleanor Thornton. Hold the delicately proportioned steering wheel and with the roof raised, experience motion without sound. Alternatively, lower the cleverly designed roof to enjoy an unrivalled open air experience.

Enhancements to the air suspension enables the Drophead Coupe to offer a more dynamic experience when cornering compared to its saloon brother. Performance is nothing short of breath-taking, with power coming courtesy of a hand-built 6.75-litre V12 engine producing 453 bhp. 531 lb of torque is passed through a new eight-speed gearbox which changes gear so seamlessly you don’t even notice.

With a starting price north of £300,000 - and our test car costing considerably more, thanks to the offerings from Rolls-Royces Bespoke services - the price of a Phantom Drophead Coupe is as imposing as the car itself. However the opportunity to hold that beautiful steering wheel, admire the Spirit of Ecstasy at the end of the bonnet and experience the seamless power was a dream come true.


Great Drives in Hampshire: 1 - Brockenhurst to Beaulieu - Motoring enthusiast Mark Whitchurch takes us on the first of his Great Drives series, through the New Forest and on to Beaulieu Autojumble, in a Land Rover Discovery Sport

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