Stretching down the coast, rugged and windswept Cornwall is a haven for artists, surfers and foodies. Wander through the winding cobbled lanes of tiny villages, bask on sweeping, sandy beaches, trek over grassy clifftops or sip cream teas in cosy cafes. Dotted with tiny villages and small market towns among verdant fields and forests, Cornwall on England’s westernmost peninsula is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The wild scenery has been the inspiration for some of the UK’s most notable works of literature and art, rousing the imaginations of figures such as Virginia Woolf, Daphne du Maurier, Dylan Thomas and Barbara Hepworth, who spent time in this county working on their masterpieces. When the sun sets on a day of coastal hedonism, you’ll be rewarded with enticing boltholes to retreat to: from quaint inns and pubs to plush villas and farmhouses. Expect roll-top baths, sea-view suites and spa-blessed beauties…
When to go
The summer months are hugely popular in Cornwall, with the county receiving some of the most sunshine hours in the whole of the UK. Spring time will be significantly less busy, and an ideal time for exploring and hiking among fresh blooms and fragrant fields. September and October are ideal after the summer crowds have disappeared and the weather remains balmy. The sea temperatures are warmest in these months following summer, with impressive waves making for exhilarating surfing. Hardy folk ought not be put off by the wild winters that this corner of the country experiences – Cornwall is truly a year-round destination, with various indoor and outdoor pursuits to choose from. Driving is highly recommended in this rural region with limited transport links and fair distances between attractions.
What to do
With hundreds of beaches, coves and sandy estuaries to explore, the obvious choice is to head to the Cornish coast. Cornwall has some of the best beaches in the UK, and the country’s top surf spots are found here, drawing thousands of people each year, keen to take to the waves.
The rural inland also boasts many beauty spots such as Bodmin Moor (and the chance to spot its fabled ‘beast’). Between the stunning Polperro peninsula and the pretty town of St. Austell is the Eden Project, two giant greenhouses, the larger simulating the climate of a rainforest, the other a cooler Mediterranean atmosphere. Set inside a former clay pit and housing a huge array of exotic flora, the two huge biomes built from inflated plastic and steel host many interesting exhibitions about ecology, designed to engage and entertain the whole family. For a shock to the system, adrenaline junkies must have a go on Britain’s longest – and fastest – zip-line that send visitors soaring at up to 60mph over the biomes’ rooftops.
Land’s End is a popular pilgrimage, enticing the crowds from all over to come and explore the mainland’s western-most point, as well as nearby Lizard Point, the country’s most southerly outcrop. Hiking up to the clifftop Minack Theatre, where you can watch open-air performances against a glorious ocean backdrop, is not to be missed.
St. Michael’s Mount is a small tidal island in Mount’s Bay that is linked to the town of Marazion by a granite causeway that is accessible at low tide. The tiny islet is crowned by a pretty castle with a Norman-era church and subtropical gardens. The island is visible from the pretty town of Penzance which has prehistoric origins.
Known for its great surf beaches, a trip to Cornwall without hitting the waves would be a trip incomplete! Newquay’s Fistral beach is the most popular spot, with rolling waves year-round and established surf schools for beginners. The town is also notorious for its nightlife that is especially lively during the surf festivals in the summer months. The gentler waves at Polzeath are great for beginners to practice, whereas Praa Sands on the south coast has a unique shape that creates fast, hollow waves, popular with experienced surfers.
What to eat
It’s not all freshly-baked pasties in Cornwall, although sampling these bad boys is rather like a rite of passage. St Ives Bakery on the town’s main thoroughfare is a firm favourite, tempting visitors in with a packed window display of pasties and other delights, or Sarah’s Pasty Shop in Looe steps up the game with breakfast pasty (including sausage and baked beans) or fishy Friday’s mackerel pasty.
Cornwall’s diverse dining options fully exploit the natural larder that the landscape offers, and range from informal inns to fine dining, with the sea’s bounty taking pride of place in beach shacks, cosy pubs and award-winning haunts. Michelin-star-studded Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Port Isaac makes the most of the coast’s remarkable seafood, transforming it with delicate and piquant flavours. The daily-changing tasting menu focuses on fish caught that day in the surrounding waters and is paired with exclusive wines from Cornwall and elsewhere. Paul Ainsworth’s Number 6 in Padstow also boasts a Michelin Star for its modern take on traditional dishes. Dinners are paired with bread made on site within its beautiful Georgian townhouse. The more informal and family-run Ben’s Cornish Kitchen in Marazion serves up simple dishes with an artistic twist, and is receiving high praise in local and national press.
But aside from becoming a burgeoning mecca for haute cuisine, strung across the Cornish shores are an array of cosy inns and seaside pubs where you can sample home-brewed ales from the well-deserved comfort of an armchair, made especially romantic when the inevitable rain begins to lash the windows. And of course make sure not to leave the county without sampling a traditional Cornish cream tea, complete with warm, crumbly scones, clotted cream and homemade jams.
Where to sleep
Quirky and characterful, each of the 23 rooms at this seaside hotel has been individually designed by different artists. A bright colour palette and natural wood panelling along with sumptuous restaurant and beer garden make this stay a seriously Chic Retreat.
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Just a short walk from Padstow Harbour, this award-winning boutique B&B is a tranquil place to stay in Cornwall. Owners Mark and Tonia have designed the seaside retreat beautifully, with antique furnishings closely imitating French style. Celebrity chef Rick Stein’s restaurant is just down the road.
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With spectacular views over the Camel Estuary, this 20-room boutique hotel in Wadebridge is perfect for beach-goers, sea-dippers and surfers alike. With a seafood restaurant run by celebrated chef James Nathan, plenty of local artworks and nautical décor, St. Enodoc truly embraces the Cornish spirit. The luxurious spa and outdoor pool will delight pleasure seekers looking for a slower pace of a Cornish break.
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Cornwall is easily accessible by car and has excellent train links to London, including Heathrow and Gatwick airports, as well as other principal cities such as Birmingham and Bristol.