Sandy white beaches, subtropical plants, clear blue water sound like the British Isles to you? No? Then you haven't visited the Isles of Scilly. The Scillys consist of about 150 islands and rocks, five of which are home to just over 2,000 Scillonians. There are no crowds, very little crime and only a few roads. Yet Scilly's hub, Hugh Town on St. Mary's, is less than three hours by boat from Penzance or a 15-minute airplane ride from Land's End, both in Cornwall. Once there, vacationers usually hop between the five main islands Tresco, pictured; St. Mary's, St. Martin's, St. Agnes and Bryher on the regular ferries. And beyond the intimate, granite-clad harbors with their pubs, tea gardens and lighthouses, Neolithic settlements are scattered along the luscious Gulf Stream–fed moorland, ripe for exploration.
"The Isles of Scilly are one of the warmest locations in the U.K. in terms
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of mean temperature," says Barry Gromett of Britain's Meteorological Office.
The warmth of the people is best experienced during the summer's weekly regatta of pilot boats these six-oared rowing boats were originally used to take crew to Atlantic ships. Now on Wednesdays (women's races) and Fridays (men's), hundreds of locals congregate in Hugh Town's harbor to watch or take part. The Scillys also have one of the world's greatest concentrations of shipwrecks per square mile. Noteworthy wrecks include The Eagle, which went down just west of St. Agnes in 1707, and the anemone-covered King Cadwallen, which sank in 1906. Good underwater visibility ensures excellent scuba diving (www.scillydiving.com).
For an island history lesson, try the Star Castle Hotel on St Mary's, tel: (44-1720) 422317;www.star-castle.co.uk. Dating from 1593 and shaped like an eight-pointed star, it has a dry moat, ramparts and a bar that was once a prison. Like the Star Castle, the Scillys themselves offer a delightful step back in time. www.simplyscilly.co.uk