The UK’s Isolated Scilly Isles Provide The Ideal Island Escape

New helicopter access, a thriving gastronomic scene and enhanced opportunities for stargazing have put a trip to these remote islands on global travelers’ radars. Just last year, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chose the Isles of Scilly for their own secluded getaway.

The isolated archipelago, which is made up of around 140 uninhabited islets along with five inhabited islands, lies 28 miles off South West England’s Cornish coast.

Covered with flowering heathland and fringed with pristine sandy beaches, this designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty provides an immersion into laid-back island life as well as this part of the world’s untouched environment. Swim with seals, visit artisanal distilleries and gaze up at the stars of Dark Sky Discovery Sites. Tuck into lobster sandwiches from a family-run seafood seller and stop by the oceanfront studio of a local artist.

Early 2020, Penzance Helicopters launched its scenic new Penzance to the Scilly Isles helicopter service, transporting passengers from the Cornish town to the islands of Tresco and St Mary’s in just 15 minutes. This service providing an aerial view of the jewel-like archipelago was then elevated in September with the introduction of its new AW139 aircraft.

On the islands, the already thriving community-based tourism offering is also being added to with exciting new options.

Truly dark and unpolluted skies make the Scilly Isles the ideal spot for stargazing. So much so that one of the five main islands, St Martin’s, is now home to the new state-of-the-art Cosmos Observatory. Located within a Dark Skies Discovery Zone, what’s now the UK’s most south-westerly observatory is built with the ambition of attracting stargazers from across the world. This community observatory is the focus of the Scilly Dark Skies Week, which is slated to take place for the first time in October 2021.

It’s within moments of this observatory on St Martin’s that you’ll then find the recently launched, locally inspired distillery, SC Dogs. The Scilly Isles’ first and only rum distillery, SC Dogs was set up between 2019 and 2020 by a family whose history on the islands can be traced back over 320 years.

Through the rum and vodka it produces, SC Dogs aims to celebrate the sea, sunshine and storms of these islands along with its connection to the community. Each product tells the story of a character in St Martin’s past, starting with a white rum dedicated to the founder Andrew Walder’s great great grandfather, John Nance, who was a rum smuggler. Most recently, the distillery launched a Tresco Estate honey spiced rum using honey from Tresco Abbey Garden.

Another 2019 launch was the opening of craft gin maker Scilly Spirit Distillery on St Mary’s. As well as producing Island Gin, which was inspired by the 1665 Scilly shipwreck of a vessel carrying peppercorns from Java, the distillery hosts tours and tastings, along with a gin making experience drawing on over 60 botanicals in the on-site Gin School.

Joining this burgeoning spirits scene are several local winemakers. Holy Vale Wines grows pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris on the south-facing slopes of St Mary’s island. You can join tours and tastings here, as well as at St Martin’s Vineyard. Having arrived on the islands last year, this established vineyard’s new winemakers are now working towards organic certification for their production of whites, reds and rosés.

To get to closer to the islands’ great outdoors, wildlife enthusiasts head off St Martin’s with Scilly Seal Snorkelling—an operator that’s accredited by WiSe, ensuring safe and sustainable interaction with marine wildlife—to see seals in their natural environment, while others take a boat, SUP or kayak out with The Sailing Centre in St Mary’s or Tresco.

One of the islands’ greatest appeals is the ability to explore them entirely on-foot, or by rented bicycle, with boats transporting passengers between each island throughout the day. You can set out on windswept cliff-top walks, stroll between the shops of artisans making up the islands’ creative communities and seek out hidden spots such as secluded bays, flower fields and vineyards.

While you’re here, you can base your at stay at one of the oceanfront Sea Garden Cottages on Tresco or what’s said to be the Scilly Isles’ highest rated hotel and restaurant, the beachside Hell Bay Hotel on the neighboring island of Bryher.

On Tresco, an island that has been under the stewardship of the Dorrien-Smith family for nearly two centuries, exploration of the beaches, clifftop ruins and the lush Tresco Abbey Garden is paired with time at Tresco Island Spa, sunrise beach yoga sessions, an introduction to local artists at Gallery Tresco and a taste of local ingredients at The Ruin Beach Café and The New Inn.

Over on Bryher, a day spent exploring the rugged coastline, heading out on excursions such as sailing and getting to know island businesses including Bryher Gallery and Island Fish finishes with a gastronomic experience at the seasonal Crab Shack or fine dining restaurant of the island’s New England-style hideaway, Hell Bay.