One building at Isle of Wight stay North House once played the part of a theatre, but the townhouse went through a few costume changes before it became Cowes’ first boutique hotel. Having also appeared as a forester's lodge and a labour exchange, the hotel doffs its stovepipe hat to past roles with period features like chesterfield sofas, brass light-fittings and working fireplaces – a welcome addition for those looking to warm iced limbs after a frosty dip in the sea. 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 sitting behind the chrome-tapped, marble-topped bar. 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.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £195.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Room rates usually include a full-English or à la carte breakfast (included in the extra-bed rate for kids).
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.
At the hotel
Terraced garden, laundry services, free WiFi throughout the hotel. In rooms: King-size beds, a well-stocked in-room pantry, flatscreen TV, Robert’s radio, Cowshed toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
We like room three, one of the Cosy Rooms, which more than merits its name thanks to its own working fireplace. The Spacious Rooms have in-room bath tubs 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.
Found outside on the walled terrace, the heated 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 wallpaper in the bar.
With the exception of the terrace 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.
Pets are welcome in some rooms, subject to room availability – be sure to mention that you’ll be travelling with them when booking – for an additional £15 a dog a night, and they get their own bed and treats – organic dog food and bowls are available too. See more pet-friendly hotels in Isle of Wight.
Children of all ages are welcome. SomeComfy and Spacious rooms fit a baby cot (£15 a night) or Z-bed (£20 a night). The Oyster Store doesn’t have a children’s menu, but the kitchen can adapt dishes from the regular menu as well as heat milk and baby food.
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.
Flooded with light and abuzz with local chatter, the Oyster Store has little need for its staff to adhere to stuffy formality. Why struggle with starched collars and waiters jackets when you can let the first-rate seafood do the talking? For something light – or to put that ‘aphrodisiac myth’ to the test – order half-a-dozen local rock oysters with a glass of champagne. Looking for something more substantial? Take on a delicious, locally-sourced whole crab, which you could wash down with a G&T made with the Isle of Wight’s very own Mermaids Gin.
With a minimalist, marble-topped bar, a retro wooden drinks cabinet and yes, that blue-and-white wallpaper, the bar is definitely our favourite spot in North House. There’s an excellent wine list courtesy of London-based merchants Corney & Barrow 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 Oyster Store is open for breakfast from 8.30am to 11.00am; the all-day menu is available from noon until 10pm. The bar operates slightly later hours, serving from noon through to midnight.
The bar menu – containing moreish nibbles, sandwiches and time-tested classics like fish and chips – is available for room service. Most dishes are available from 8.30 am until 10 pm, but some are available round the clock.
North House 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 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.
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. The most convenient of them is the high-speed ferry operated by Red Funnel, which leaves from Southampton and disembarks minutes from the hotel. It takes both foot and car passengers. The hovercraft is the fastest way to get to the Isle of Wight, taking just 10 minutes to make the journey from Southsea to Ryde on the northeast of the island. Note that it only takes foot passengers.
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 North House is The Coast Bar & Dining Room, another restaurant with a classically coastal interior that specialises in sea-to-plate dining. Try a starter of warm local asparagus with poached egg and parmesan salad, followed by the king prawn and mussel risotto, which has a citrusy tang. Italianate hearts will rise at the sight of the pizzas, which are fired in a traditional brick-lined oven. Be sure to book ahead for Thompson’s, the creation of celebrated chef Robert Thompson. Refined and rich in flavour, the food here doesn’t follow fickle trends. Try the pan-roasted Chart Farm fallow deer, crusted with juniper and served with blackberries.
On a small street in Cowes, surrounded by small townhouses all painted in various shades of blue, you’ll find North House: 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 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 thanks to the nice array of Cowshed products I happily pickled myself for a while. Afterwards, I wrapped myself in the thickest robe and relaxed on the incredibly comfortable soft-cotton-sheeted bed.
Revived, we headed for dinner in the hotels’ main restaurant, the Oyster Store. 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 bread basket. As someone who has a something of a butter vice, I particularly loved how it came in little silver crowned dishes.
We decided to sample the local seafood – Mrs Smith heroically dissecting an entire crab while I tried the sea bass. 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 soya 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. 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 North House. That evening we decided to sample the hotel’s nearby sister 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 North House.