The Royal Hotel has pedigree. Queen Victoria liked to call in at the hotel, it was called Fishers back then, for afternoon tea or dinner, whenever she was in Ventnor. An immaculate striped lawn, dating back to 1832, could tell a tale or two.
Queen Victoria’s patronage, she had fallen in love with the Isle of Wight on her first visit aged 12, allowed the elegant four-storey hotel to change its name to The Royal. Those visits explain the regal coat of arms adorning the dining room’s royal blue carpet.
No surprise then that the very first Michelin Guide, published in 1911, recommended the Royal Hotel. Only 30 hotels, and that includes the Royal, have been honoured in every subsequent edition.
The Royal does elegant nostalgia with stylish grace. Throughout the hotel, pictures record two of the 19th Century’s great discoveries: black-and-white photography and trips to the seaside. Photographers froze penny-farthing bicycles whizzing past pastel-shaded ladies with their crinolines and parasols. Donkeys gave rides on beaches featuring those prudish bathing contraptions.
Around the bar, there’s another collection of black-and-white images, this time telling the story of owner William Bailey’s love of motor-racing: evocative memories of a glamorous era when it was more about the driver’s skills than computer-generated data. Maybe it’s their heroic spirit that has prompted the discerning Bentley Owner’s Club to book all 51 rooms for a get together later in the year. That pedigree is still developing
William Bailey bought the hotel in 1994 from Trust House Forte and refurbished judiciously. Many an owner would have thrown out photographs of waiters on skis serving St Moritz style. Images from the Cotton Club and romantic dinners for two aptly enhance the glamorous ambience of the bar and reception area.
Above all, the Royal has location. Not just sea-views from the higher rooms but an enviable micro-climate. Down below, at the Botanical Gardens Ventnor’s sub-tropical climate enable a huge variety of plants to flourish. Warmth, I vivid hot-poker plants and palm trees have earned Ventnor the nickname of “England’s Madeira.”
Yet, the gardens of the south-facing Royal Hotel, sheltered by the Undercliff and mature trees, seems to have their very own micro-climate too. Guests, relaxing on sun-loungers by the pool, are frequently fond of sentences such as, “Its warmer here than in Athens / Nice / Rome.” Climbing pink geraniums clamber up the hotel’s walls and fuchsias are flowering weeks ahead of their mainland cousins.
It is just a short stroll down a lane to join the Coastal Path that winds, for 57 miles, around the Isle of Wight’s shoreline. A path that passes through both tranquil downland and bucket-and-spade beaches, also overlooking rugged cliffs and busy harbours.
But many of the Royal’s guests never leave the idyllic serenity of the gardens. Across the road, steep steps take them to a high viewing point that looks down on the coastline, there they open their picnic hamper, prepared by the Royal’s kitchen, and admire the views.
The Royal’s two AA Rosette restaurant pulls in diners from all over the Isle of Wight. Queen Victoria would feel at home in the high-ceilinged majestic splendour lit by several chandeliers. There’s a rural stability to the large oil paintings, a touch of Constable and Gainsborough, in the calming landscapes. Service is regally attentive too, you are never waiting too long for an order to be taken or delivered.
At its heart, the menu has The Royal Favourites such as Crab and Prawn Gratin or Smoked Haddock Risotto for starters. Day boat fish, perhaps a choice of three, a sirloin steak and lamb sausages are regulars for the main course. The chef knows that many visitors are exploring the Isle of Wight for a week so it’s an extensive menu with at least a dozen main course options.
Providing a recipe for the signature dessert in the Royal newsletter is a nice touch. Guests can attempt to make 10 ramekins of Rhubarb Crumble Soufflé. Even if amateur Masterchefs replicate the delicious contrast of crunchy crumble and light rhubarb-flavoured soufflé they still have the challenge of creating the accompanying custard ice-cream.
Hopefully, Greg Bailey, the new Managing Director, will continue the tradition of “A Gourmet’s Diary” In the newsletter. Greg, son of owner William, “missing the smell of the sea and the crashing waves”, has hung up his stethoscope as a doctor, to return from the mainland, to manage the hotel. With its high-ceilinged spacious rooms and light bathrooms, the Royal has many innate advantages. But times are changing, Dr Bailey will have the ongoing challenge of preserving the elegance of a bygone age with guests ever-demanding expectations.
Tell Me More About The Royal Hotel
The Royal Hotel, Belgrave Road, Ventnor, Isle of Wight PO38 1JJ
T: 01983 852186
Rooms begin from around £140 including breakfast.
Book directly with the hotel or check here for the best deals.
Check Wightlink for ferry timetables from Lymington and Portsmouth
Visit Isle of Wight provides full details of the island’s attractions and services.