48 hours in. . . Cornwall, an insider guide to England's wild west

Gill Charlton
Cornwall spreads over England's rugged southwestern tip, and is a county of pretty harbour villages, coastal walks, traditional pubs and spectacular beaches.

Wild moorland, Grecian blue sea and world-class fish and chips

Cornwall is on everyone’s lips these days. Those lingering shots of wild moorland, Grecian blue sea and soft pale sand in every episode of the BBC’s Poldark have drawn visitors from around the world. Despite such popularity the county retains its cloak of tradition and sense of isolation. Yet hidden behind the stone walls of farmhouses and fishermen’s cottages are stylish apartments and restaurants where acclaimed chefs serve up the finest seafood.

The largely unspoilt coastline inspires Enid Blyton-style adventures: tripping through fields fringed in wildflowers to a remote beach; digging around in rockpools that are works of marine art, and swimming with seals or learning to surf a wave. Beyond the beach there is plenty to entertain, from wildlife conservation centres and hands-on farm experiences aimed at children to historic sub-tropical gardens, steam railways and working mines, reminders of the county’s rich industrial heritage. A few days of breathing fresh, clean Cornish air, eating fish straight from the sea and sleeping deeply in a clifftop eyrie is the perfect antidote to the stress of city living.

Hot right now . . .

Gill Charlton, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the hottest things to do and places to stay and drink this season.

Stay

The century-old Carbis Bay Hotel (Carbis Bay; 01736 795311) has transformed itself into a luxurious beachside resort with sumptuous rooms in the main house, three restaurants and state-of-the art beach lodges just feet from the sea.

The best hotels in Cornwall

Fine dining, a superb spa, water sports, a pool and myriad accommodation options can be found at Carbis Bay Hotel


Drink

Camel Valley Winery (Nanstallon; 01208 77959) won 10 international awards in 2018 for wines from its vineyard near Wadebridge. Book well ahead for its Wednesday Grand Tour and Tasting at 5pm which includes its bestselling Cornwall Brut sparkling wine: £18 per person

The best bars and pubs in Cornwall

English sparkling wine is growing in popularity – taste some award-winning varieties for yourself at Camel Valley Winery

Do

For 10 days from May 25th 2019, more than 200 painters, sculptors, potters, jewellers and textile artists will be taking part in Open Studios Cornwall, opening their studios to the public, some offering hands-on activities for families. Don’t miss Krowji, a former Grammar School converted into dozens of artists’ studios in Redruth. 

• The best things to do in Cornwall

Don’t miss Krowji, a collection of dozens of artists' studios in Redruth

48 hours in . . . Cornwall

Day one

MORNING

Start the day in Fowey on the south coast. Park at the Bodinnick Ferry and cross the river to start the four-mile circular walk to Polruan. The house on the right, Ferryside, was Daphne du Maurier's first home in Cornwall. Head uphill and take a footpath marked Hall Walk on the right. The path skirts the estuary, rising and falling through oak woods, with constantly changing views over Fowey.

After crossing Pont Pill strike uphill to the medieval Cornish church of St Wyllow (where du Maurier married) and drop down to sandy Lantic Bay before heading west to the boat-building village of Polruan and the foot ferry back to Fowey. Head for the quayside King of Prussia (3 Town Quay; 01726 833694), named after the infamous smuggler John Carter, for the best fish and chips in town.

You can walk from the beautiful Lantic Bay (pictured) to the pretty boat-building village of Polruan Credit: acceleratorhams/acceleratorhams


AFTERNOON

Visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan (Pentewan; 01726 845100) near Mevagissey, a brilliant reclamation of a productive Victorian estate garden by Tim Smit, the man behind the Eden Project. If the thought of navigating narrow roads between high hedges doesn’t scare you, take a rollercoaster drive from Mevagissey through the historic fishing communities of Gorran Haven, Porthluney Cove and Portloe, which provide plenty of chances to stop for a dip.

It’ll be time for tea when you reach yachtie St Mawes. Book ahead for afternoon tea at The Idle Rocks (Harbourside; 01326 270270), a feast of finger sandwiches, bite-sized cakes and locally grown Tregothnan tea served on its elegant harbourfront terrace.

The Lost Gardens Heligan were designed in the style of late 19th-century 'gardenesque' Credit: MARTIN SIEPMANN


LATE

Cross the River Fal on the King Harry Ferry where ocean-going tankers moor up to wait for a buyer. In Falmouth, where sailors used to drink and fight in the narrow opes, today you’ll bump into students from the nearby university. Newly renovated Pennycomequick (The Moor; 01326 311912) became an instant hit with locals for its convivial atmosphere, choice of local brews and farm-grown food.

Local booze, good food and a lively setting make Pennycomequick a great pub to spend the evening Credit: ELLIOTT WHITE

• The best restaurants in Cornwall


Day two

MORNING

Delve into Celtic Cornwall today with a tour of the Land’s End peninsula. Start the day by taking a short boat ride (or walking the causeway at low tide) from Marazion to St Michael’s Mount. The terraced gardens are filled with exotic species and the castle looks very handsome after its recent renovation.

Then drive – or take the open-top hop-on-hop-off bus from Penzance – along the south coast to reach the photogenic golden funnel of Porthcurno. A cliffside path climbs to the magical open-air Minack Theatre (01736 810181) and museum to its creator Rowena Cade. Note that seats for shows are rarely available on the day. Book online well in advance and bring warm windproof clothes and a rug even on a summer’s evening.

Land’s End, England’s most westerly point, was known to the Romans as Belerion, Seat of Storns. To get a real sense of what that means walk there from Sennen Cove where the Old Success Inn (01736 871232) serves up a delicious fish platter.

Be sure to book ahead for shows at the magical open-air Minack Theatre Credit: MARTIN SIEPMANN


AFTERNOON

The B3306 coast road from St Just to St Ives crosses a landscape of extraordinary beauty: drystone walls dating back to the Iron Age radiate from ancient farmsteads enclosing luminous green fields that stretch into the sea. Drop into the village in Zennor to see the famous carved mermaid in its medieval church.

Arrive in St Ives in time to catch the latest show at Tate St Ives (Porthmeor Beach; 01736 796226). The gallery reopened in 2018 having doubled in size to show more of its permanent collection of 20th-century modernist art. A few minutes away is sculptress Barbara Hepworth’s home and studio.

Spend an afternoon at the Tate St Ives followed by Barbara Hepworth's home and studio (pictured) Credit: (C)John Warburton-Lee Photography ((C)John Warburton-Lee Photography (Photographer) - [None]/John Warburton-Lee


LATE

Head for Porthmeor Beach and watch the sun sink into the cerulean sea as surfers catch the last wave of the day. In pole position is Porthmeor Beach Café (01736 793366) which serves superb tapas. The owners also operate West Beach Bakery further along the sand. The stone-baked pizzas are superb.

Cornwall is blessed with an amazing coastline – Porthmeor Beach is one such example Credit: Education Images

The best pubs and bars in Cornwall

Where to stay . . .

Luxury Living

The Scarlet is the ultimate escape for grown-ups. It’s an outstanding example of how a hotel can be both luxury and eco. The spa has a big treatment menu, clifftop outdoor hot tubs and an indoor pool with a big sea view. Newquay Airport is just 10 minutes away.

Doubles from £240. Mawgan Porth; 01637 861800

Experience a restorative coastal escape at The Scarlet, an adults-only, eco-friendly retreat

Boutique Bolthole

Two new catered suites with knock-out views over Mount’s Bay have been added to Chapel House, an elegant six-room hotel in a listed Georgian house. The decor is a feast for the eyes as covetable antique pieces take their place alongside modern designer icons. Personally run by owner Susan Stuart it has a convivial air as guests mingle over drinks in the double sitting room or the pretty walled garden.

Doubles from £160. Chapel Street, Penzance; 01736 362024

Relax amidst a backdrop of seaside hues and spectacular coastal vistas at Chapel House

Budget beauty

Each of the double rooms at Ednovean Farm, a handsome converted granite barn, has its own terrace as well as access to the flower-filled Italianate gardens. There’s a magnificent view across the sea to St Michael’s Mount. There’s a hearty breakfast and plenty of sound sightseeing advice. Dinner is a short walk across the fields to the Victoria Inn pub.

Doubles from £100. Perranuthnoe; 01736 711883

The rustic origins of the building have been retained at Ednovean Farm, while the inside rooms have a French country style that is enhanced by the old granite walls

• A complete guide to the best hotels in Cornwall

What to bring home . . .

A nautical T-shirt from Seasalt, a Cornish clothing company with branches in all the bigger resorts.

On Fore Street in St Ives, John’s - The Liquor Seller (01736 795797) has a big range of local gins, craft beers and wines. Load up on local cheeses at Cheese on Coast (01736 793411) a few doors down. Across the way at no. 62 is the Raw Chocolate Pie Company (01873 739034) making its own dairy and gluten-free chocolate bars that really are delicious.

There is plenty to pick up from St Ives, including lovely Cornish cheese from Cheese on Coast

For a fleece beanie or a stylish sunhat visit Claire Francis in her studio at Salt Cellar Hats (Salt Cellar Hill; 01326 565707) in Porthleven.

The county is filled with award-winning nurseries: check out Duchy Nursery (Cott Road; 01208 872668) in Lostwithiel or Trevenna Cross (01736 763880) on the A394 at Breage near Helston.

You can take home a delightful selection of plants from the Duchy Nursery – but help yourself to a cake or two in the award-winning café before you leave

Forgotten to buy a present: drop by the Mid Cornwall Galleries ( St Austell Road; 01726 812131) on the A390 at St Blazey Gate.

When to go . . .

Spring comes early here. Daffodils bloom in January and camellias and magnolias in mid-February, when many gardens open to the public. Himalayan azaleas, rhododendrons and daphnes are at their best in April and May is the peak month for hedgerow flowers and edible plants.

June and July are usually dry and warm, never hot. August can be wet and the roads clogged with traffic. September and October are usually glorious. The water is at its warmest and the surf’s up. Winters are mild and damp, perfect for exploring the sheltered valleys with their own micro-climate on the Land’s End and Lizard peninsulas.

Know before you go . . .

Essential information

• By air:Flybe flies daily from London Heathrow, Southend and Manchester with seasonal direct flights from six other UK airports.

• By train: Journey time from London to Penzance is five hours on Great Western Railways. Advance fare tickets released 11 weeks before travel; from £50 return.

• By car: Don’t use the "shortest route" option on your sat-nav. It will take you off faster A-roads and down lanes no wider than a car. Never use it to navigate around fishing ports as you’ll end up on footpaths. The wise use the park-and-ride schemes.

• Opening times: Last orders for food in restaurants and pubs is usually 8.45pm with no exceptions, even in high summer.

• Tourist information: For advice on events and attractions visit visitcornwall.com.

• There is a patchy bus service county-wide, with extra summer services in tourist areas. Find routes and timetables by phoning the Traveline on 0871 200 2233.

• The 300 bus runs a summer open-top hop-on-hop-off service from St Ives to Land's End perfect for getting back to the car after a coast path walk.

• Fal River Links, a network of ferries, boats, buses and trains, is a great way to explore the River Fal between Falmouth, St Mawes and Truro.

• To reach the Isles of Scilly, which lie 30 miles offshore, take the daily ferry from Penzance or light aircraft from Newquay or Land’s End. For online booking for the Scillonian ferry and Skybus flights, visit see islesofscilly-travel.co.uk or call 01736 334220.

• Most towns and larger villages have a metered taxi service. Ask in the pub or village shop for a taxi number.

Author bio

Gill Charlton is a regular writer in the Telegraph’s travel pages. She has lived in Cornwall for 20 years and loves to walk along the coastal path and reward herself with a proper steak pasty and a pint of Betty Stogs ale.

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