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With its rolling farmlands, sweeping beaches, boundless skies and bustling towns, Cornwall’s coast reels you in and captures the imagination. Small wonder then that artists, poets and explorers have chased the famous Cornish light, which for centuries has coloured some of Britain’s most beloved paintings. It was a haven to Romantic artist J.M.W. Turner, who recorded every wisp of cloud and arch of hill in his sketchbooks, and it still plays host to a thriving art scene.
As our train sped away from London Paddington, we watched as collages of countryside unfolded into open water. Collecting a car at Bodmin’s sleepy station, we started our quest to uncover the county’s many charms. We were deprived of GPS, so relied on the goodwill of locals to point us in the right direction. And the area provided the perfect landscape for us to get lost. There were times when we arrived at dramatic cliff edges when we should have been on an A-road, or at dreamy wheat fields when we should have been by the sea. But Cornwall has an ease to it that makes going off-piste such an important part of the journey.
Under the April sun we dipped in and out of latticed coastal towns linked by lush countryside, lurid rapeseed fields and cliffs framing the wide, vivid sea. From the painterly airs of St Ives to food-obsessed Padstow, there was something to be discovered at every turn, with Michelin-starred restaurants tucked in beside award-winning fish and chip shops and antique pubs.
One thing connects it all; a pleasing, breezy gentleness. The locals exude an infectious easy charm, calling you ‘my love’ and ‘darling’ more often than not. Maybe it has something to do with the fresh coastal air, or a shared pride in the place. But in a matter of hours, Cornwall can feel as though it’s entirely yours, ready to be discovered at your own pace. There is too much beauty here to stay rooted in one spot. So hire a car and explore the Cornish coast; a place that feels a bit like another world, and a lot like home.
First Stop: St. Ives
The hopelessly romantic St Ives hauls in visitors summer after summer, and for good reason. The town leans towards the sea, with white and blue houses toppling over each other as they meet the water’s edge. In warm weather, locals love nothing more than a barefoot walk on the beach with their dogs, or an afternoon pint looking out to sea. Chock-full of jewellers, craft shops and galleries, St Ives has a history of bohemian creativity that remains alive and vital today.
Pit Stop: Newquay
Newquay is the surfing capital of the UK and the perfect place to take to the water, whether you are a first-timer or a seasoned boarder. Deep, rugged cliffs run down to wide beaches, where dogs sprint to the tide’s edge and paddle boarders limber up to dive in. The endless pathways offer days of walking, winding up at one of many pubs and restaurants.
Second Stop: Padstow
Head to the bustling port town of Padstow if you’re hungry and ready to wander. Skirt around the edges of the sparkling port, which is scattered with artisanal ice cream shops, cafés and buskers. Lovingly nicknamed ‘Padstein’, this is the home of Rick Stein’s most treasured eateries, and serves some of Cornwall’s most celebrated food. Take a long afternoon to explore this small but teeming town, which will leave you with memories of pastel-coloured buildings and swooping seagulls.
Third Stop: Port Isaac
The fishing village of Port Isaac appears suddenly on a dramatic landscape of jagged green cliffs and swirling tides. Sandy 18th-century houses face out to sea, while on the small stretch of beach you will find local fishermen pulling in their catch of the day. Port Isaac is a village of simple, old-world pleasures, with a timeless and unhurried charm.
Final Stop: Fowey
A patchwork of peppermint, powder blue and buttery yellow houses, Fowey is a tiny but enchanting town arching around the deep, still waters of Fowey Estuary. With its timeworn church and narrow, precipitous streets, this waterside town appeals to a wide range of visitors. The town is the former home of novelist Daphne du Maurier, and her legacy can be still be found in Fowey’s small but lively literary culture.
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