If you fly to St. Mary’s from the British mainland (a 15-minute journey in a plane so small you can touch the pilot’s shoulder), the Isles of Scilly below look like a glittering Caribbean archipelago of cobalt-blue sea and empty white-sand beaches. Once you’re on the biggest Isle, it actually feels like you’ve journeyed back in time. Its isolation and bijou scale give it a unique and welcoming charm and a sense of community so strong that a recent job ad for a police constable on “possibly the most enviable policing post in the U.K. or even the world” went viral.
Even the wildlife feels retro here. Birds whose populations are dwindling on mainland Britain—starlings, sparrows, swallows, blackbirds and song thrushes—don’t just flit all around St. Mary's, they are so tame that they'll eat out of your hand. If the weather's good, hit the beach. There are so many gorgeous stretches of soft white sand that you’ll rarely be more than a 10-minute walk away from one of the finest beaches in the U.K.—and there’s a good chance you’ll have it all to yourself. (Pelistry Bay and Porth Mellon are the locals' favorites.) The rhythm of the Isles of Scilly is dictated by the timetables of the small ferries that zip between them; wherever you are on one of the islands, you can usually see the others, a sensation that adds to the intimacy of the place.