Everything about the Isles of Scilly is ever-so-slightly different; not quite English, but not exactly foreign, either. When you walk through the doors of the tiny Land’s End Airport terminal, you’re greeted by a modernist fireplace – giving guests a sample of the islands' comparatively warm climate – hanging artworks and a vista of the runway with the odd Cessna scattered across surrounding fields. It’s like being invited into someone’s living room.
These 240 islands, of which only five are inhabited, are famous for being practically self-sufficient, gastronomically speaking. Every month fishermen and farmers bring their produce from the smaller islands to Hugh Town’s town hall for the monthly food market. Locality is celebrated right across the Scillies, from the grass fed beef of Tresco, the lamb of St Mary’s Peninnis Farm, St Agnes’ Jersey cows, creamy Veronica Farm fudge from Bryher or – an island speciality – the Scilly Gorse, a rare tropical tasting flower.
I visited when the market was in full flow. As you walk into the town hall, the salty sea air from the fresh crabs, caught less than a few hours previously, mingles with the sweet freshly baked pastry and the shouts of the traders touting their wares.
Both novices and foodies alike will find the offerings both exciting and confusing at the same time. Nowhere else in the British Isles has such access to wildlife-rich seas and unpolluted pasture side-by-side.
I knew I was staying in the famed Star Castle, but I had no idea of its beauty until the car pulled up outside its towering grey stone walls. This castle was once the most secure prison in Britain, built in 1593 overlooking the largest settlement of Hugh Town. However, the dominating secure walls are deceptive. Inside, the plush castle rooms are filled with original features, with wooden-beamed ceilings, two-poster beds and uninterrupted views across the windswept sea and 7,000-vine vineyard.
The Star Castle’s former dungeon is now a relaxed bar, and the castle restaurant sits nestled between uncovered stone walls and a roaring fireplace. While you’re nodding off and getting toasty, owner, Robert Francis, is likely to be out on his fishing boat catching the fresh crab and lobster for his guests.
For such small islands, there is an unrivalled choice of award-winning restaurants, many of which have been run by the same family for years. One such esteemed establishment is Juliet’s Garden Restaurant, a restored wooden barn, with beech-wood furniture and panoramic views overlooking Porthloo Beach, the harbour and the tiny islands jutting out of the blue sea.
Juliet adds a continental twist to local seafood, with a firm favourite being the seafood special, which consists of smoked salmon neatly wrapped up with tiger prawns, local crab, smoked mackerel paté and a chunk of granary bread. The fresh, salty smell of the piled-high plate, bright with oranges, pinks and whites, makes this a memorable seafood feast.
Not too far from Juliet’s, Spero’s Beach Café is located on Porthmellon Beach in a bright wooden beach hut. Seaside towns right across Britain are famous for their fish, chips and mushy peas, but Spero’s adds a unique luxurious Scilly twist, serving up a big portion of beer battered catch of the day, garden peas, chips and tartare sauce.
As with all things food-related on the islands, everything on the plate was happily swimming or growing just hours before. The fresh smell and taste of the food on my plate blended beautifully with the saltiness wafting from the sea just feet away.
It’s the simplicity – untouched and authentic – that makes the food of the Isles like nowhere else in the UK. Generation after generation has farmed the land and fished the sea, and traditional methods are being kept alive – and updated – by innovative and entrepreneurial islanders who are rightly proud of their heritage. Among this collection of tiny islands you will find a heady combination of fresh, local food, gentle sea breezes, homemade produce, sandy coves and incredible history, all waiting to be discovered.
NEED TO KNOW
• The Isles of Scilly are to host the 6 day Walk Scilly event, which invites visitors to join locals and experts on various themed walks around the islands.
• To learn more about travel to the Isles of Scilly, visit visitislesofscilly.com
• Tickets for the Scilly Skybus can be bought from islesofscilly-travel.co.uk
• Scilly’s inaugural Regatta will take place over the August Bank Holiday Weekend, celebrating the islands’ maritime heritage.
• Rooms at the Star Castle Hotel are from £75 per night. Star-castle.co.uk