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Heading across the sheltered Solent on the ferry, it becomes immediately clear why the Isle of Wight is one of the country's most treasured holiday destinations. Quite apart from its friendly ambience and rich history, the island is home to some breath-taking natural beauty too. For most visitors, the standard is set very high, as they disembark in the popular sailing town of Cowes. Sandwiched between the Solent, the River Medina, and the rest of the island, the entry point of Cowes boasts some of the finest B&B and hotels on the Isle of Wight.
Running along the eastern edge of the town is the River Medina. At its mouth, the river is a lively sight, peppered with pleasure boats, fisherman and regular ferries. As it heads south, to the island's heart at Newport, the river passes through some of the most peaceful, rural spots on the Isle of Wight. Water taxis from Cowes Harbour can take you all the way up, or just across to East Cowes.
The eastern part of town is home to many of the nicest bed and breakfasts. Here, guests can take in the ambience of the river, and can enjoy the sight of the water across the pontoons.
The northern edge of Cowes provides panoramic views out across the Solent and towards the mainland. The esplanade offers a gentle stroll between the town centre and some of the large, independent hotels on its edge. At the end of the esplanade, visitors will find a small beach, equally great for swimming or watching the races happen just offshore. When the beach gets crowded, there's a fantastic alternative just across the river in East Cowes.
Visitors who can tear themselves away even momentarily from the waterfront are rewarded with the delights of central Cowes. The pretty, pedestrianised streets are lined with independent shops, cafés and bars, open all year round. Some of the town's most exclusive accommodation is set just back from the centre and waterfront, by Shooters Hill. Expect enchanting maritime names like Yachter's Cottage, Bosun's Retreat and Shipshape.