A world of its own, yet only 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall, Tresco is unlike anywhere else in the UK. The second largest of the Isles of Scilly archipelago, it’s a private, pocket-sized playground of empty white beaches, botanical gardens, and wild, untouched nature.
There’s something about islands that captures the inner child in all of us: the slower pace of life, the magic of being surrounded by the ocean, the far-off feeling of mainland reality. Nowhere is that truer than on Tresco, a sub-tropical island hardly more than three miles squared that receives the highest sunshine hours in the UK.
The island is privately run by the Dorrien-Smith family, who’ve had it on a lease from the Duchy of Cornwall so long that it might as well be theirs. The family dynasty began when Augustus Smith came here in 1834, having been appointed Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly. Nearly two centuries later, the island relies almost exclusively on tourism, and yet they refuse to let the wild sides be ruined. You can stroll for hours across heather and rocky outcrops at the northern tip of the island entirely undisturbed, or sail to the Eastern Isles for a picnic on a sandy spit without seeing another soul. That said, there’s an understated luxury that permeates all angles of Tresco too: the fact that helicopter is by far the easiest way to arrive; the collaboration with Liberty Prints and Mustique on display in the island’s boutique clothes shop, Lucy-Tania; the Tresco Island Spa; and the stock list at the island’s only supermarket, where English sparkling wine and venison are widely available. Words like ‘rare’ and ‘special’ do scant justice to Tresco: it is unique.
The Packing Edit
Refurbished extensively this year, the New Inn’s sixteen bedrooms are all about coastal florals, whitewashed linen, and the chic yet cosy B&B experience many travellers are looking for on the island. ‘Nostalgia’ was the brief for interior designer Tania Streeter (a long-standing friend of the island), and she’s got it in boatloads, with vintage Roberts Radios and hues of the English seaside. There’s a fridge with fresh Scilly milk to help yourself to, a sumptuous afternoon tea in the pub, and a roaring log fire on cooler evenings.
The Flying Boat Cottages
These are the island’s timeshare stalwarts (which are rented out to non-timeshare owners too) – stylish New-England style houses which couldn’t physically be any closer to the beach. They offer access to the spa, just a few metres away, whilst also providing the cosy seclusion of your own home and well-equipped kitchen. The artwork on the walls is all original, commissioned by Gallery Tresco, and often informally for sale if you fall in love with a piece.
Sea Garden Apartments
A halfway house between a self-catered cottage and a B&B, these one-bedroom boltholes are designed for couples and are available by the night or by the week. A couple of minutes’ walk from the Ruin Beach Café, the cluster of little cottages have got their own indoor swimming pool in Old Grimsby, as well as access to the main spa and tennis courts.
EAT + DRINK
The New Inn
Aside from its handful of boutique hotel rooms, The New Inn is the island local. A much-loved pub with a beer garden in summer and roaring log fire in winter, the alehouse is a gathering spot for islanders and tourists alike who come together for pub quizzes and the odd folk band sing-along. Linger over a pint of Cornish Rattler at the Driftwood Bar, or sit outside to enjoy sea views. During the summer months, you’ll find Head Chef Liam Caves firing up the Ox Grill on the terrace, cooking fresh mackerel, island-caught lobster, and Cornish beef burgers over coals.
The Ruin Beach Café
An antidote to the hearty pub food you’ll at the New Inn, The Ruin on a sunny evening feels positively Mediterranean. Start with rosé and aperitivo on the terrace, before heading inside for wood-fired pizza (using exclusively island wood) and grilled meat, fish, and vegetables, ideal for sharing. It opens each morning from 9AM, tempting guests from the self-catered cottages around Old Grimsby harbour with fresh pastries and excellent coffee.
The Crab Shack
Even in paradise, island fever is a thing. Get off Tresco for an evening and hop across to Bryher (the smallest of the five inhabited islands) for a rustic pop-up banquet at The Crab Shack, a former barn adorned with Portuguese cataplanas and fishing nets. On select evenings from May to September, a no-choice menu of crab, mussels, and scallops fresh from the surrounding waters is a sell-out event popular with islanders and visitors alike. In 2022, the Crab Shack is open most Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The shelves of Tresco Stores – the island’s “provisioners” and only supermarket – are almost comical in their levels of bouji-ness. Whispering Angel, gluten-free pasta, fresh lemongrass, and a selection of artisan chocolates abound. For picnics, grab homemade scotch eggs, hot Cornish pasties, and a selection of olives and charcuterie from the deli counter before cycling off to find a beach all to yourself.
WHERE TO SHOP
Learn to sail at Hut 62
A family business run by Scilly born couple Dan and Robyn, Hut 62 is the recent reincarnation of long established Bennett Boatyard, based on the neighbouring island of Bryher. Only too happy to help, the couple will deliver traditional wooden sailing boats, Laser Picos, and a range of motorboats to Tresco for as little as a half-day hire; the perfect vessels to explore the turquoise waters of the Scillies. They also have transparent-bottomed kayaks, designed for spotting shipwrecks, seals ,and all manner of marine life below, and stand-up paddleboards for hire.
Unwind at the Island Spa
Open to everyone staying in cottages or The New Inn on Tresco, the indoor pool, steam room, sauna, and gym are a welcome respite from the odd grey day on Scilly (yes, they do happen). After an icy sea dip, there’s nothing more welcome than warming up here and then treating yourself to a massage in the spa. Classic wellness and beauty treatments (using exclusively Ilã products) are accompanied by more unusual options such as a Tibetan Ku Nye acupressure treatment, warm bamboo massage, or CBD facial.
Stroll around Tresco Abbey Gardens
For keen horticulturalists, the sub-tropical Abbey Gardens are reason enough to visit the island. Thanks to the island’s unique microclimate and long sunshine hours, plants that thrive here wouldn’t survive outdoors anywhere else in the UK. Within stone walls, palm trees, and Californian cypress trees shelter some 4,000 plant specimens from across the southern hemisphere and subtropics, from Brazil to New Zealand, Burma to South Africa. Among towering blue agapanthus, Bird of Paradise, and Mexican Furcraea shrubs, you’ll find a ruined 11th-century Benedictine Abbey, and Lucy Dorrien-Smith’s unique Shell House. Make sure too to pay a visit to the Valhalla Museum, where for over 200 years the Dorrien-Smith family have been collecting figureheads from shipwrecks. Note that the gardens close promptly at 4PM, after which time the family enjoy the grounds to themselves.
Enjoy a coastal walk
Tresco is home to some of the finest beaches in the world, and there’s an unbridled joy in feeling like you’ve discovered one all to yourself. Pentle Bay and Appletree Bay are perennial favourites, but the calm water of Farm Beach at New Grimsby, just in front of the Flying Boat Cottages, is among the best for a late afternoon dip at high tide. Across the south of the island, grassy sand dunes make for magnificently peaceful coastal walking, while the exposed northern point is home to Cromwell’s Castle, a 16th-century artillery fort weathered by centuries of storms.
Resident island yogis Gem Hansen and Esmeé Halliday can be called upon for a range of yoga practice and meditation classes on Tresco, with private and group classes throughout the year. On sunny day, classes are held in the Abbey Gardens or sandy Appletree Bay, with the new Flying Boat Studio in New Grimsby serving as a back up for cooler weather. Wellness breaks in spring and autumn incorporate a fuller yoga programme, with Lucy Aldridge flying in to teach Iyengar Yoga to more experienced practitioners.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Being remote is what makes these islands so deliciously appealing, and yet the fact that the journey from London to Tresco takes as long as getting to the Bahamas can’t be denied. Faffing time is hugely cut down by Penzance Helicopters, which takes just 15 minutes to fly from Penzance straight to Tresco. Standard flights costs start at £134.50 each way.
Once on Tresco, you can get everywhere in a matter of minutes. Hiring bikes from seasoned local Graham (from £16 per day for an adult bike) is a real perk though, giving you freedom to explore further without the worry of cars on the roads.
*DISCLAIMER: Travel restrictions are changing daily, so please check the latest government advice before you book anything. Visit Gov.uk for more information.