Review by Fiona Duncan, published 7th June 2011.
I have my nephew Harry to thank for finding this brilliant new place on the Isle of Wight. "Aunty Pog" (for that is me), he emailed, "you've got to check it out. It was wonderful."
I know I'm losing my touch when my 20-something relations start telling me where to stay rather than the other way around, so I hastened to Ventnor (no hardship; I am particularly partial to Ventnor).
Harry found Hillside on www.TripAdvisor.co.uk, where it is currently No 1 of all the island's hotels. If it weren't for this, I doubt Harry would have found out about it either, for its owners have elected to eschew branding and marketing in favour of "growing slowly", they say, adding: "We are very wary of accolades, of giving people expectations as opposed to happy surprises; and we know we are only as good as the last meal we served, the last guest who left contented."
What a great attitude. And what luck for us that Hillside, a mellow stone Georgian villa with an unusual thatched roof that was purpose-built as a hotel in 1800, has fallen into such talented hands. Gert (who is Danish) and Anna (who is English) are genuine hosts, genuinely interested in all their guests, and in Hillside they have created a magical setting: a Scandinavian-chic essay in pristine white, the perfect backdrop for their stunning Danish designer furniture, lighting and contemporary paintings.
Incredibly stylish and potentially impractical this guesthouse may be, but it is airy, harmonious and tranquil, and guests respect the owners' faith in them not to spoil it, some taking off their shoes to pad about on the all-wool carpets.
Hillside's past – it was at one time the home of the poet John Sterling, and often visited by his great friend Thomas Carlyle, as well as Dickens and Thackeray – is respected too, charmingly displayed in photographs and documents on the walls of the bar. The 12 all-white bedrooms have colourful vintage Welsh wool throws, V-Spring beds and 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton linen.
So what's not to like? For the best of reasons, Gert and Anna do have some unusual rules. They've come up with them to create a calm, manageable haven, but while they suit many, they don't suit all.
"No dogs and children under 12" is fine; "bookings by telephone only", so that Anna can personally talk to prospective guests, is brilliant; but stipulating a minimum two-night stay, even during the week, drinks served only at 6.30pm and the excellent set dinner promptly at 7pm, and no drinks, including tea and coffee, allowed in the bedrooms, is more of a problem.
Except that once guests get used to the rhythm, they do feel soothed. Having baulked at first, I know I did, and I know Harry and his wife, Rachel, did too. By the way, Harry, if life at the Bar doesn't suit, you can become a hotel guru, too.
- 151 Mitchell Avenue, Ventnor (01983 852271; www.hillsideventnor.co.uk); £68 per person per night, including breakfast. Access limited for guests with disabilities. Ferries: Wightlink (0871 376 1000; www.wightlink.co.uk; from £53 return for a car and up to four passengers)
THE BEST WALK
Walk from Hillside to delightful Bonchurch, next to Ventnor, with its charming pond and Pond Café, and its enchanting old church (look for John Sterling’s grave), then down to the fishermen’s cottages and coast path and back to Ventnor via a pint at the Spyglass Inn. Carry on along the Esplanade to the lush and tropical Botanical Garden and along the Undercliff to Steephill Cove, lined with pretty cottages plus a seafood restaurant fit for castaways on a desert island, a crab shack and a beach café, all with glorious sea views.
Alternatively, walk up to St Boniface Down, the highest point on the Isle of Wight with views across the sea to the south and across the island to The Solent to the north. Look out for the memorial to a 1962 plane crash.
WHERE TO EAT
Try the authentic tapas bar in Ventnor, El Toro Contento (www.eltorocontento.co.uk), the Michelin-starred Hambrough (www.robert-thompson.com), under the aegis of young chef Robert Thompson. Or at the Royal Hotel (www.royalhoteliow.co.uk).