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Ventnor is a small and picturesque seaside resort situated on the South-East coast of the Isle of Wight. It is built on the steep slopes at the base of St. Boniface down, and as such, some of the roads which lead down to the resort are the steepest in the UK. I remember one particular road which my old Fiat Panda just refused to drive up - even with a run-up!
The town came to prominence in Victorian times when the railway rolled into town, and its seaside air was supposed to be beneficial to the sufferers of tuberculosis. The town had its fair share of celebrity visitors, and Charles Dickens lived nearby - presumably making the most of the warm climate and great views.
The seafront really is picturesque, and although the beach is more gravely than sandy, it proves to be a popular place for and sunbathers and swimmers during the summer month. The town has even got it's own Hollywood style sign, which spells out VENTNOR in concrete blocks at the top of one of the nearby cliffs - see if you can find it on Google Earth.
Due to the amount of sunshine it gets (one of the sunniest places in Britain), and Mediterranean feel (although not at the moment!) Ventnor supports a wide range of wildlife which isn't usually seen in the UK. Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis) can be seen darting in and out of the cracks in the rocks at the Western end of the Esplanade, and there is a range of plant life which thrives in these conditions.
Out of all the Island's seaside resorts (including Ryde, Sandown, & Shanklin), I find Ventnor to be the least tacky, and most architecturally impressive. Similarly, the new developments which have been built in the last few years have been designed with a style which is in keeping with the current architecture on display. The new fish market for example looks very impressive indeed, and is next to a industrial boatyard which tastefully blends in to the surrounding area.
If it's a decent meal that you're after, Ventor has a good selection of restaurants at which to dine out. 'The Spyglass Inn' at the end of the Esplanade serves excellent food, and has a great outlook across the vast expanse of sea which leads to France. For more of a trendy dining experience, 'The Met' Tapas Bar is perfect for an evening snack, and has a decent atmosphere too.
The town has all manner of bed and breakfasts and hotels - one of which was thrust into the media spotlight a while back when Amy Winehouse was reported to have consumed large amounts of alcohol in the place. I stayed there myself a few weeks later, and I swear I could still smell the vodka ;) Many of the larger hotels are situated high up on the slope which leads down to the seafront, and as a result the views across the sea are very impressive.
Stray away from the seafront area and you'll find the shops - which to be honest aren't anything special. You've got your usual selection of estate agents and charity shops, and it's probably on a par with the town at Sandown or Shanklin, but by no means brilliant. If you want a decent shopping experience on the IOW, it's probably best to visit either Ryde of Cowes. Therefore it's the Esplanade which is best place to hang out for tourists - plus it's steeped in history with a thriving smuggling trade over a century ago.
Ventnor has a wide range of events throughout the year, from the carnival which takes place in the middle of August, to the International Jazz Festival that attracts some big names from the genre. Similarly, music fans will enjoy the Winter Gardens venue, which has started attracting some big name bands in the last few years. Other places of interest include the beautiful Botanic Gardens which are creatively landscaped and have a great range of temperate species from around the world. It also has a hot house, which, although small, provides something to check out on rainy days.
The town is easily accessible by car, and there is plenty of parking spaces due to the large La Falaise Car Park at the end of the Esplanade. It's here that you can find the Wall Lizards which I mentioned earlier. Continue walking past the car park and you'll begin a cliff top walk which leads around to a small town called 'Steep Hill Cove' which is a really picturesque location, and a great place to stop for an ice cream.
Of all the Island's seaside towns, Ventnor is without doubt the most quaint and charming. Diners are extremely well catered for, and when the sun shines, it's a very nice place to be. There is plenty to see and do, but it's also just a good place to come and relax. Good food and good music, combined with an impressive Esplanade area makes Ventnor a very nice place to visit - highly recommended.