Cornwall – or Kernow, as it’s known in Cornish – was once reliant on mining, fishing and farming. Following in the footsteps of artists who have been drawn to its rugged shores since the early 19th century, this pretty English county is now a centre of creativity. Fresh seafood, breathtaking beaches, quaint fishing villages, and lush sub-tropical gardens are just some of the peninsula’s pull-points.
A hint of sunshine finds British people flocking to the beaches. In Cornwall, they are spoiled for choice. The westernmost county is defined by its coastline, with over 300 miles of dunes, cliffs, coves and harbours. The coastal walks here are sublime, with the South West Coast Path stretching some 630 miles. It's also a mecca for surfers, who head to popular Newquay or the breaks elsewhere on Cornwall’s 200-odd beaches.
Perched on the Atlantic Coast, the tiny fishing village of Port Isaac is a picture-perfect introduction to Cornwall. Narrow streets lined with whitewashed cottages wend through the village, heading to the harbour where local fishermen land their daily catch. Follow the cliff-top path to Port Gaverne less than two miles away, browse the galleries in the village, or catch the Fisherman's Friends, a shanty group, singing in the harbour on summer evenings.
A half hour’s drive away is Padstow, where celebrity chefs like Paul Ainsworth and Rick Stein have set up shop. As well as being a foodie favourite, it’s a charming working fishing port. Surrounded by seven golden beaches, it’s also the start and end point for the Camel Cycle Trail, a disused railway line turned cycle path that runs between Wenfordbridge, Bodmin, Wadebridge and Padstow.
Another hour along the peninsula is the quintessential British seaside town of St. Ives. It should be compulsory to consume a cream tea here; the scones slathered with jam and clotted Cornish cream. This tiny town with big views is the epicentre of arts, with the Tate St Ives gallery overlooking the ocean and the Barbara Hepworth Gallery celebrating the life and works of the sculptor in the gardens and studios in which she created much of her work. St. Ives in season is bustling, so consider staying at nearby Carbis Bay for a more peaceful setting.
More outdoor art can be found at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, in a sheltered valley overlooking St Michael’s Mount. Large-scale exotic and sub-tropical planting within the gardens provides the backdrop for an evolving programme of contemporary artwork. Should the views inspire, St Michael’s Mount is a mere half hour’s drive away. Separated from the town of Marazion by the sea, the castle-topped island is a brief stroll over the causeway or a boat ride, depending on the tide.
Yet another hour along the coast, atop a cliff, is the Minack Theatre, a unique open-air amphitheatre that puts on a full programme of drama, musicals and opera every summer. Even without the acting, the venue is spectacular, offering similar views to Land’s End, without the distraction of family-fun themed attractions.
Heading up the South Coast on the return journey, the Eden Project is one of Cornwall’s most well-known attractions. The iconic dome-shaped biomes nestled in a crater house the largest rainforest in captivity, and a plethora of plants, exhibitions and artworks. After an afternoon here, the hilly, seaside village of Polperro is the ideal spot to replenish the soul. Tiny fisherman’s cottages cling to the hills, tumbling towards the harbour, its beauty belying its history as a smuggler village.
Just as Italy stands tiptoe to the south, Cornwall shakes its leg to the west, and like a ripe Italian wine, Cornwall is guaranteed to leave you wanting more.