The Isle of Man is famous for the TT races but there is so much more that this beautiful island has to offer the holidaymaker, says KEN BENNETT
FOR a distinctive, tear-shaped drop of land lodged in the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man is still one of Britain's best-kept secrets.
We know it is famous for the TT, described as the world's finest motorcycle road race, which celebrates its centenary this year.
Initially, it was a one-day event for cars, but now it is a glorious two-week festival dedicated to motorbikes and bikes with sidecars.
It attracts riders and enthusiasts from around the world competing for the prestigious title and riding at breakneck speeds along the 37.73-mile mountain circuit on closed roads.
The fastest recorded lap is just under 18 minutes, with the daring, leather-clad riders averaging 127.68mph. This year, races take place between May 26th and June 10th.
For more information check out the TT's own website: www.iomtt.com
And we know about the loveable tailless Manx cats, lip-smacking kippers and succulent lamb... but did you know the island has the oldest continuous parliament in the world?
Or that this very green and pleasant real estate, just 33 miles long and 13 miles wide, still operates steam trains, electric tramcars and horse drawn trams?
Or, one of its most enticing features, that you can actually reach the island easily from the UK mainland, for a relaxing weekend break.
It takes just over an hour to fly from most UK airports, or alternatively, visitors can take a leisurely ferry crossing from Liverpool, Heysham, Dublin or Belfast.
Away from the buzz of the bikes but just as stimulating, I'd recommend delving into the island's fascinating 10,000-year history through 'The Story of Mann', brought to life by a series of open-air sites and museums.
The story begins at the Manx Museum in Douglas and leads to the award-winning House of Manannan in Peel, one of the most popular attractions, using state-of-the-art technology to recreate thought-provoking insights into the colourful past.
But, very much present day, you could easily be following in the footsteps of the stars, too, since 1995, the island has been used as a location for more than 70 films and television dramas.
Hollywood stars Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, John Malkovich, Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Bob Hoskins, Woody Harrelson, Bill Nighy, Alicia Silverstone and Lauren Bacall have all left their mark.
So too, well-known TV faces, including David Jason, Sarah Lancashire, Stephen Fry and Brenda Blethyn.
But it's a place for you to relax and expand your own personal horizons. A residential new age centre Brightlife, in the north of the island, for example, offers a range of unusual courses of yoga and creative writing to animal telepathy and past life regression.
If you're a foodie, don't miss out on a local speciality, Queenies, unique, sweet scallops usually cooked in garlic and butter and often served as a starter in the fine collection of eateries dotting the towns and villages.
And, I promise, luxury ice cream produced by Davison's, is made with 50 per cent cream - and one of the finest you will ever taste!
Finally, don't forget to offer a cheery greeting to the fairies at Fairy Bridge on the main road between Castletown and Douglas.
Shhh ... now I've given you some of the secrets: so why not visit and uncover some more? CHECK IN: Everymann has a four-night May break from pounds 273 per person, twin-share, includes return BA flight from Gatwick, accommodation with breakfast at the three-diamond Blossoms in Douglas. And they have other options. Check out: 0870 043 4224 www.everymann.co.uk/offers
For general tourism information about the Isle of Man visit www.visitisleofman.com, call: 01624 686766 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Details on Isle of Man Film click: www.gov.im/dti/iomfilm/
Other contacts: Curraghs Wildlife Park - 01624 693575, www.gov.im/wildlife; The Garrison - 01624 824885; Tanroagan - 07624 472411; Maughold Venture Centre - 01624 814240, www.adventure-centre.co.uk