At times Cornwall feels a lot more like the Caribbean than England – it’s unlike any other part of the UK.
The beaches are quite correctly described as spectacular and the rolling hills behind the sea have that quintessential British feel to them.
The Cornish summers are also hotter and sunnier than one might ever expect; you’ll see many a sunburnt Brit wandering from pub to pub, lathered in aloe vera throughout the warmer months.
And even though it takes a while to get to by train, it is certainly worth a venture – even if it’s just for a long weekend. You just need to pick the right part of Cornwall to use as a jumping off point.
The most frequented town in Cornwall would have to be St Ives – and once you arrive it will be clear to see why. The town juts from the mainland and into the sea, creating several little beaches, the most famous being Porthmeor – the Bondi Beach of England.
It’s known equally for its great surf conditions and its hyper aggressive seagulls, and always boasts a lively footfall. If you’re wanting to avoid a crowd, it isn’t hard to reach some of the calmer – but no less beautiful – beaches such as Carbis Bay and Porthminster.
The very best thing to do in St Ives is to hike along a stretch of the South West Coast Path to the little village of Zennor. It is a gruelling walk of steep inclines and the occasional detour through farms full of roaming cows and sheep, and will take you a couple of hours to traverse. But the reward is some truly stunning scenes across the countryside as it hits the Atlantic.
End your excursion at the local pub where the beer is cheap, the grub hearty and the music live. Then all that remains is to catch a leisurely bus ride back into town.
For those wanting to take things at a slightly slower pace, the seafront Tate St Ives gallery is a huge attraction with its rotating modern art exhibitions, focusing on British artists. In fact, the entire town is full of art galleries selling wares; St Ives is packed with creatives.
This odd little town down the very bottom of the UK is also worth visiting for several reasons.
Firstly, just off the coast is the famous St Michael’s Mount – home to a fairytale castle, tropical gardens and enough history to fill a few textbooks. But what is most fascinating about St Michael’s Mount is the fact that it can be reached by foot when the tide is low, becoming a little island at high tide that is only accessible by a cheap boat ride.
A pro traveller’s trick is to use Penzance as a hub to access the best bits of South Cornwall – it’s a vast region so making every minute count is essential.
Head down to the famous beach of Porthcurno to feel as if you’ve really escaped the UK. The white sandy beach is sandwiched between rocky cliffs. On one side perches the old outdoor Minack Theatre where you can watch all kinds of live performances under the stars. And a little-known secret about this beach is that, if you climb along the opposite rocks, you can reach a hidden cove – there won’t be a footprint in sight.
From Penzance tourists can also easily reach Land’s End, the surfing town of Sennen, and the cute little town of Mousehole (don’t let the name put you off).
St Agnes is a picturesque village on the north coast of Cornwall – significantly smaller than the above-mentioned areas – and is where you go to really get away from it all. You will find a thriving community with plenty of shops and restaurants on the main road as well as a handful of galleries and workshops.
From the main village, walk down to Trevaunance Cove with its ruined harbour. There are four different beaches easily accessed from the village and dramatic coastal walks with some breathtaking scenery filled with relics from the past. These include the iconic Wheal Coates engine house, now part of Cornwall’s World Heritage status and the inspiration behind the original Poldark books.
We recommend hiring a little cottage in St Agnes for a few days, from which you can strut out for numerous long walks; make it your home away from home.
This much-loved fishing village is where Doc Martin was filmed.
The postcard village is a collection of narrow winding streets lined with whitewashed cottages that head down to the harbour – a place local fishermen can be spotted landing their daily catch. Live on nothing but fish and chips for your entire stay here, sampling each of the local interpretations.
Again, like most of Cornwall, Port Isaac is close to several walking trails through the countryside and coast. Those wanting to go a little faster can cycle the famous Camel Trail from Padstow to Wadebridge.
It’s also not only a summertime destination. Yes, the beaches are made for swimming on hot balmy days, but you’ve also got to love winter walks on the beach and sitting by the fire playing board games while looking out on Cornwall’s never ending beautiful views.
Lead image by Adam Burton (Visit Britain)