For years, this southwest archipelago 28 miles off the Cornish coast was a tucked-away treasure, a small slice of exotic paradise to those in the know. Now, the secret is out, but it doesn’t make it any less of a must-visit, particularly if you’re after a dreamy beach break without flying halfway across the world.

Across five inhabited islands and many uninhabited ones, there are more than 35 beaches to choose from, so you’ll always find your own spot. There’s also history to be uncovered in Bronze Age burial sites and Civil War forts plus countless outdoor activities – hiking, cycling and kayaking, to name a few – and many restaurants and pubs to make you feel right at home.

The best way to get a taste of what the isles have to offer is by sailing between them. ‘Tripper’ boats and other vessels ferry passengers around the archipelago, letting them soak up the tranquillity of uninhabited islands such as beautiful Teän and beach-blessed Samson. The Scilly Isles is a little warmer and sunnier than the mainland, so it makes visiting the region even more enjoyable. Here’s how to start your exploration…

4 MUST-DOS

 

Explore St Mary’s

The archipelago’s largest island is the entry point for air and ferry travel to the Scilly Isles, but if this brings to mind images of a hectic transport hub, think again. With a population of around 1,800, St Mary’s is no metropolis, but there’s still lots to do, so to take advantage before you depart for more remote corners. Hike the coastline in leisurely fashion, or hire a golf buggy for a unique and even more leisurely exploration.

Culture vultures can head to Phoenix Craft Studios in Porthmellon to see artists producing anything from ceramics to screen prints in their studios. Great local restaurants and pubs are also plentiful – enjoy ocean views from perfectly located tapas joint, Dibble & Grub, and enjoy a pint in the historic Mermaid Inn or traditional folk music at the Old Town Inn.

 

 

St Martin’s Vineyard

With just over a hectare of vines producing around 3,000 bottles a year, St Martin’s may be one of the UK’s smallest vineyards, but it’s beautifully located. Started in 1996, the vineyard now grows and presses a range of grapes – predominantly for white wines – including Reichensteiner, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

Self-guided tours and tastings are available, and the route also takes in some of the site’s bounty of wildflowers and birdlife. If you fancy extending your stay, cosy, well-equipped shepherds’ huts can be hired.

 

 

Tresco Abbey Garden

Developed around the ruins of a former Benedictine abbey, this resplendent subtropical garden houses more than 20,000 plants originating from around 80 different countries. But as well as palms and pelargoniums, bamboo and bright-red lobster claws (Heliconia rostrata), similarly impressive colours can be seen across the garden’s wildlife, which includes red squirrels and golden pheasants. There are also nautical artefacts from some of the many vessels that have met their fate in the Scilly Isles’ waters. Hundreds of ships that encountered treacherous ends here have created a huge concentration of shipwrecks.

 

 

Wildlife Spotting

The Scilly Isles are a wonderful place to see all kinds of wildlife. Birdwatching is popular here, and you’ll be able to glimpse a good variety, including Manx shearwaters (the Scillies are one of the few places in England where these seabirds breed), puffins, cormorants and razorbills. Colonies of grey seals also inhabit the Scillies’ waters year-round, although the best time for sightings is the breeding season between August and December. Excitingly, there are also native species to be found, such as the Scilly bee and the lesser white-toothed shrew.

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