Foresters Hall once played the part of a theatre, but the townhouse went through a few costume changes before it became Cowes’ first boutique hotel, including the eponymous forester's lodge and a labour exchange. And the hotel doffs its stovepipe hat to past roles with period features like chesterfield sofas, brass light-fittings and working fireplaces. The owners have a genuine flair for decor too, cleverly combining the traditional with the more contemporary: take the stripy deckchairs by the pool, or the retro wooden drinks cabinet. Perhaps our favourite feature is the blue-and-white printed wallpaper in the same room, reminiscent of foam-tipped waves breaking softly across the walls – a promise of the coastal scenery that awaits.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £295.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates include a continental breakfast buffet.
Ask the concierge for a map of the Boat Trail, a four-mile walk that takes you through East and West Cowes. Taking you down some of the oldest streets and passing many historical points of interest, it's an excellent way to see the whole town.
The hotel is closed from 1 to 31 January each year.
At the hotel
Heated outdoor pool, wellies and bikes to borrow, free WiFi throughout the hotel. In rooms: King-size beds, a well-stocked minibar, flatscreen TV, Robert’s radio, Nespresso coffee machine, tea-making kit, and Cowshed bath products.
Our favourite rooms
We like Room One thanks to its own working fireplace; or Room Three has an in-room roll top bath tub for romantic fire-side soaks. If it’s a room with a view you’re after, ask for one in the part of the hotel that was once a theatre, as many of these rooms look out to sea; Room Fifteen's is particularly impressive.
Found outside on the walled terrace, the heated saltwater pool is surrounded by wicker chairs and parasol-covered tables – the perfect place for an after-dip drink.
Blues, whites and marine stripes – you’ll look great next to the decor.
With the exception of the pool and lawns, all of the public areas are wheelchair accessible; however, the historic nature of the building means that guest rooms are not yet able to accommodate wheelchair users.
Welcome. One under-5 can stay in one of the rooms, otherwise there are no extra beds so children over 12 will need their own room. Please let the hotel know if you’re bringing the little Smiths so they can help with arrangements.
You won’t find any single-use plastics in the rooms here; similarly refillable cleaning products are used throughout. Every room has an individually controlled thermostat and fan, plus smart technology in rooms ensures lights are switched off when you’re not in.
There are no bad tables here, but those by the windows get the most light and a garden view. On a warm day, soak up the sun while dining alfresco on the terrace.
Something that'll knock the wind out of your fellow Smith's sails.
Start the day with homemade granola, yoghurts, baked bread and pastries, boil-your-own eggs and freshly-squeezed juices at Foresters Hall’s breakfast bar. For lunch and dinner, head to the Brasserie by Smoking Lobster, ablaze with local chatter and serving up first-rate Italian and French fare from local produce and seasonal ingredients. For something light, order a bowl of homemade pasta. Or for more substantial eating sessions, take on the delicious, locally-sourced fish of the day (so local that the hotel are on first-name basis with fisherman Justin), paired with a custom cocktail shaken by in-house mixologists. Bigger groups are welcome to use the hotel’s private dining space; just let reception know in advance and they can set it up for you.
With a minimalist, marble-topped bar, and a retro wooden drinks cabinet the bar is definitely our favourite spot in Foresters Hall, and the open fireplace makes this a particularly cosy corner come winter. There’s an award-winning wine list curated by Foresters Hall's owners as well as a discerning whisky and gin selection – this includes the Isle of Wight’s very own Mermaid’s Gin, which has proven quite the catch with locals and visitors alike.
The breakfast bar is open daily from 8.30am until 10am; lunch and dinner is served Wednesday to Sunday at the Brasserie. Bar is open from midday until 11pm.
Not available, but you’re unlikely to miss it when the sea-facing terrace is just steps away.
Foresters Hall sits near the top of Sun Hill, a picturesque street in Cowes’ Conservation Area. A stone’s throw from the water’s edge, it’s enviably located by shops, restaurants and yacht clubs.
Southampton is a 20-minute drive away and the closest international airport, serving domestic routes and some European airports. Those flying from further afield should aim for London Heathrow; from here, it’s around 90 minutes by car to reach the ferry terminals at Southampton and Portsmouth. Flights and transfers can be arranged with the Smith24 Team (call 24 hours a day on 03331 306 820).
There are frequent trains from London Victoria and Waterloo to both Southampton and Portsmouth, which are also well-served by trains from Bristol, Oxford and Manchester.
There's no parking on site, but there's a public carpark around a five-minute walk from the hotel on Park Road. Or, you can use the on-road parking at Church Road and Ward Avenue (free for two hours before 6pm and between 6pm and 8am). The hotel can arrange valet parking, for the cost of your parking only. The island’s well-maintained roads and convenient car ferries have made arriving by car a popular option. If you’re looking to hire on the mainland, most of the big car rental firms are available near the ferry terminals in Portsmouth and Southampton. Cars can also be hired on the island itself, though the choice of make and model might be slightly more limited.
Still the only way on and off the island, ferries are the order of the day. For those on foot, the most convenient of them is the Red Jet high-speed catamaran operated by Red Funnel, which leaves from Southampton and disembarks minutes from the hotel. Red Funnel also has a car ferry, which takes both foot and car passengers, and disembarks in East Cowes (which connects with West Cowes via a floating bridge). The hovercraft is the fastest way to get to the Isle of Wight, taking just 10 minutes to make the journey from Portsmouth (Southsea) to Ryde on the northeast of the island. Note that it only takes foot passengers. Or, there's a helipad in Northwood, a five-minute drive from the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
If you’re experiencing some of the island’s plentiful sunshine (it averages around 2,000 hours a year), head eastward to Sandown Beach. A wide stretch of gently sloping golden sand, Sandown is backed by cafés and restaurants and has a view of the white limestone cliffs up the coast. Another great seaside attraction is the chairlift at the Needles Landmark Attraction, around 35 minutes from the hotel by car. From your vantage point, you’ll get an excellent view of the Needles, three distinctive chalk stacks that rise tooth-like from the sea. Those hoping to sample local tipples should head to the Isle of Wight distillery, based at Rosemary’s Vineyard in Ryde. The island’s only distillery, it produces the renowned Mermaids Gin alongside more leftfield creations like Apple Pie Moonshine. West Wight Alpacas let you take the reigns as you walk these fluffy critters through their fields and the Garlic Farm in Sandown is a gloriously green family-run estate where you can learn and taste and pet dinky ponies.
Just down the road from Foresters Hall is the award-winning Smoking Lobster, where Asian-inspired seafood and sushi awaits, and The Coast Bar & Dining Room, another restaurant with a classically coastal interior that specialises in sea-to-plate dining. Italianate hearts will rise at the sight of the pizzas, which are fired in a traditional brick-lined oven. Be sure to ask reception to book ahead for The Hut, the celebrated beach restaurant at Colwell Bay serving fish tacos and lobster.
On a small street in Cowes, surrounded by small townhouses all painted in various shades of blue, you’ll find Foresters Hall: the first truly boutique hotel to open in this Isle of Wight hotspot. The feeling of calm when you enter it is immediate.
We’d escaped London for a girls’ weekend in search of delicious food, a relaxing atmosphere, a new area to explore and some fresh South Coast air.
As we were shown to our room, staff pointed out free cookies (they disappeared quickly), a nicely stocked minibar and the fluffiest of waffle robes. So far, so ahh.
The bedroom was spacious and chic – sensitively styled to the town’s nautical roots but with a modern twist of dove greys, clean whites and contemporary furniture. It turns out the hotel’s owners run their own home and interiors shop in town, and they’ve used their decorative know-how to masterful effect.
I hopped into the bath immediately (something I’d been dreaming of for every minute of our three-hour journey) and happily pickled myself for a while. Afterwards, I wrapped myself in the thickest waffle robe and relaxed on the incredibly comfortable soft-cotton-sheeted bed.
Revived, we headed for drinks and nibbles in the hotels’ bar. Our waiter didn’t bat an eyelid at our opening less-than-standard drinks request (tequila and soda – apparently the cleanest and best hangover-free drink around) while we got stuck into the warmed olives.
For dinner, we decided to sample the local seafood at the Brasserie by Smoking Lobster – Mrs Smith went for the crab croquettes while I tried the crispy squid. The rest of the menu was suitably seasonal and portions generous. We eventually waddled back to our room.
We rose the next morning and decided to pick staff’s brains about what to do and where to see. Cowes itself is definitely worth a wander, we’re told. So too is Osborne House (Queen Victoria’s country palace). Breakfast first, though, and we’re offered a lovely mix of continental options as well as delicious eggs with avocado (the Millennials’ favourite). My lactose-intolerant Mrs Smith was cheered when staff easily sourced her some oat milk.
It’s around a four-mile walk there and back to Osborne house – and it's worth the uphill part. The palace has been beautifully restored; home to Queen Victoria’s personal art collection, some dazzling chandeliers and, recently, Judi Dench and co, who filmed Victoria & Abdul here (and rumoured to have stayed in Room Twelve). Visitors can wander the extensive gardens and visit the private beach which has a lovely café selling knickerbocker glories and coffee.
After our day of walking, the re-stocked ‘treat’ tin full of cookies was very welcome on our return to Foresters Hall. That evening we decided to sample the hotel’s nearby restaurant, the Coast. The menu is more European influenced – with lovely pies and a good selection of wines (courtesy of London-based merchants Corney & Barrow). The desserts in particular were highlights: sticky toffee pudding with honeycomb ice-cream was most definitely worth the calorie count.
On our last day, we took a tour of the hotel’s outdoor area – where there’s a heated alfresco pool. In stylish greys and with lots of wicker chairs and daybeds, it would be the perfect place to relax on a hot English summer’s day. There’s also a well-styled patio drinking area with mismatched vintage chairs and tables and a fire pit for when the temperature drops. Staff even have a well-stocked basket of locally made wool blankets for further warmth.
Inside, the hotel bar compromises of two rooms: the first with a log fire and beautiful china-blue wallpaper; the second a library-style hideaway painted vivid egg-yolk yellow – the perfect place to play board games, read a newspaper or just hide away from the world for the weekend.
We’d ticked all of our restful-girls-weekend boxes and it was, sadly, time to return to London. Victoria might not be around to enjoy this area any more, but given how attentive, helpful and charming our hosts were, we certainly felt like queens at Foresters Hall.