A whizz down the A303 (to our knowledge, the only road to be immortalised in a Kula Shaker B-side) or a leisurely railway trip from London leaves you cast away in the rugged, nautically inclined and unabashedly historic county of Cornwall. The setting of many a myth and legend, Tudor forts, terrifying tales of pirates and bootleggers, and stories of hardy tin miners, Cornwall has a past that sure runs deep. But the Cornwall of today is altogether a more refined affair – a cliff-pinched wonderland of coastal walks, fine dining, bijoux cafes, modern art and maritime-chic hotels.
It’s impossible, maybe even illegal, to leave Cornwall without consuming at least one Cornish pasty (aka ‘oggy’ in these parts) – the inimitable pastry parcels of beef, potato and swede or turnip are found everywhere. For something a little more sophisticated and a little less hand-held, pop into one of veteran chef Rick Stein’s smattering of restaurants in and around Padstow. His does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Seafood Restaurant is within easy reach of the stylish Scarlet hotel. Then there’s the acclaimed Nathan Outlaw and his (equally Ronseal-monikered) Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Port Isaac, serving a scrumptious seafood tasting menu matched with wine flights. Of course, it’s not all fancy-schmancy dining . Cornish pub grub can be exemplary; try the award-winning Star & Garter overlooking the water in Falmouth – particularly handy if you’re staying in the nearby Scandi-themed Sandy Duck.
In the market for a superyacht? You’ve come to the right place. For those still awaiting approval for their Amex Black Card, Cornish shopping mostly consists of perusing independent boutiques for locally crafted trinkets and art. Take home some nautically themed and lustred stoneware from Port Isaac Pottery, or claim a slice of Cornwall’s tin-mining history with a piece of tin jewellery from Blue Hills in St Agnes. Since the decline of mining and fishing, Cornwall has reinvented itself as an arts hub with painters and sculptors inspired by the scenery and selling their works in Cornwall’s towns. Galleries such as Belgrave and Porthminster in St Ives have helped established this town as the centre of the movement.
Weeks could be spent tramping the trails that hug the coastlines and ripple over the moors, imagining you’re in a Daphne du Maurier novel or an extra in Poldark. For drama of the non-TV variety (and for those with more like a day or two to explore), Lizard Peninsula at the end of Cornwall is hard to beat for impressive scenery. Waves crash on the sheer cliffs and gulls circle overhead as you take a bracing coastal walk. For another spectacular coastline, head north and walk from the vast surfers’ paradise of Watergate Bay (with its seaside hangout The Beach Hut) to the sublime Mawgan Porth where the eco-chic Scarlet hotel is found. It takes around an hour to crack the windswept coastal path and weary limbs can be soothed in the hotel’s clifftop hot tub. For anyone looking for a less blustery romantic stroll, a walk around the picturesque creeks of Mylor after a pint and lunch in the prettiest-of-pretty Pandora Inn is sure to set hearts a-flutter – arrive by boat (natch) and you can moor at the inn’s pontoon.
The open-air Minack Theatre is impressively carved into the cliffside and overlooks the waves below – hard to beat for acoustics or atmospherics. Try to tear your eyes from the view while you catch a performance from a rousing Cornish male voice choir or indulge in a fix of Shakespeare. If you find yourself staying at Olga Polizzi’s Hotel Tresanton or Nearwater in St Mawes, you’re only a quick ferry hop away from Falmouth, a characterful sailing town that holds big and bustling festival weeks – Falmouth Week Regatta and Falmouth Oyster Festival. If you’re visiting at other times the museums, Tudor castles and sights in the town are more than enough to while away a day. Post-explorations, head to the cosy Gylly Beach Café for sundowners under a blanket with sea views. Creative folk will love St Ives (it has its own Tate Modern) and will feel right at home in the Trevose Harbour House Sands Studio.
Featured image is Cadgwith Cove on Lizard Peninsula; photo via Getty