Most visitors will know Padstow for its famous resident chef Rick Stein and his myriad of eateries, but there is so much more to this charming Cornish harbour town than fruits de mare and fine wine.
Take a drive down the winding A389 towards the coast and one of Cornwall’s best seaside towns will slowly reveal itself over the horizon. The small harbour area adorned with fishing boats and sailing yachts is the centre of town and here you’ll find all the main tourist souvenir shops, ice-cream outlets and Cornish pasty vendors. But it’s worth having a wander beyond this attractive front to find the true heart of Padstow – independent bakeries, crafts shops and traditional Cornish pubs abound, not to mention a host of other activities...
Camel trail bike ride
This bike trail has turned 11 miles of abandoned railway line into one of Cornwall’s best days out for all the family. Being an old train track gives the route an extremely flat gradient, meaning it’s a very comfortable ride for people of all ages and levels of fitness (much nicer than struggling up a windy Cornish hill!), and it’s also completely pedestrianised so it’s very safe for children.
Start in Padstow and cycle the 5 or so miles into Wadebridge at a leisurely pace; why not take a picnic with you and stop at one of the many scenic resting points along the way, watching wading birds feed on the Camel River whilst you munch on your Cornish pasty!
Bikes can be hired from a number of shops located near the start of the trail – prices start at £13 day hire for adults and £6 for children. The trail starts at the southern end of Riverside Road, right by the river.
Japanese Gardens at St. Mawgan
These Japanese-style gardens and Bonsai Nursery are a real hidden treasure just 20 minutes drive from Padstow. Take a stroll around the gardens and get in touch with your Zen side, admire Japanese miniature-architecture and watch the scores of Koi Carp whilst standing on a traditional wooden bridge overlooking the ponds. The gift shop is also a real treat for all and in particular I love the miniature Buddhas carved from wood or stone. The nursery is also home to a huge array of Bonsai trees ranging from the very small to those up to 5ft in size (trees for purchase start at £9.50).
Entry is cheap at £4.50 for adults and £2 for children as a few hours can easily be spent wandering aimlessly around. To get there take the scenic B3276 out of Padstow towards Newquay looking for signs to St.Mawgan just after the village of Trenance, there are signs in the village directing you to the gardens and parking is free.
Boat trip to Rock
One of Cornwall’s most exclusive harbour towns makes an excellent day trip, catch the 20-minute boat ride from Padstow for only £3 adults and £2 children (return). Just make sure you pack your Barbour jacket and Wellies; this place has gained the nickname ‘Little Chelsea’ because of its posh summer visitors. But strolling around the harbour, grabbing a drink at one of the many beach front bars and taking in some great views of Padstow and surrounds is an afternoon well spent.
A stroll down to St. George’s Bay beach
Some of the best things in the world come for free and when travelling these are the things I most often seek out. When the weather is nice why not try strolling down to one of the beaches in the Camel estuary (only 20 minutes walk from Padstow) and take in picturesque views of the Swallows and Amazons style sand dunes across the other side of the bay.
St. George’s Bay has one of the best sandy beaches in the area and the azure sea will put you in mind of the Neapolitan Riviera rather than the North Atlantic. Lose yourself in a book and take some lunch with you whilst watching sailing boats leave Padstow and Rock harbours; this beach is particularly quiet despite its proximity to the town and is well sheltered from the usual winds of Cornwall’s north coast.
Sample some Seafood
Ok, so we can’t mention Padstow without its most famous resident Rick Stein and his passion for local seafood. His HQ is ‘The Seafood Restaurant’ and rest assured if you are seeking quality then this is the place to go, but it comes at a cost – starters range from £12.50 to £23.50 and mains from £18 to £62.50. Don’t leave without trying the fantastic roasted monkfish with garlic and fennel; perfect with the glazed carrots with parsley and tarragon as a side.
For evening sittings it is advised to book a few months in advance, so a lunch time meal may be better if you’re short of notice.
The Seafood Restaurant, Riverside, Padstow. PL28 8BY. Reservations: +44(0)1841532700
Rick Stein may be the most famous chef in Padstow but he has some serious competition from ‘Great British Menu’ Chef Paul Ainsworth at his restaurant 'No. 6'. The young rival has a wide selection of dishes to choose from and his generous portion sizes make a refreshing change from the usual trend of offering measly quantities in upmarket restaurants. There is a noticeable Cornish flavour to the menu, with Paul’s mantra of supplying local and seasonal ingredients - the gilt head bream is a particular delight. Try the well priced set lunch for only £15 (2 courses) or £21 (3 courses).
No.6, Middle Street, Padstow. PL28 8AP. Reservations: +44(0)1841532093
Being in the most remote county in the south of England, Padstow can be a tricky place to get to, so be prepared for a few hours’ drive. From the end of the M5 at Exeter take the A30 from J31 towards Bodmin, then onto the A389 through Bodmin and Wadebridge taking you right into the centre of Padstow. If travelling on a summer weekend or bank holiday it is best to travel very early to avoid the rush of traffic into Cornwall. The A30 in particular can get very busy!
If you don’t fancy the traffic jams you can catch a train from London Paddington or Birmingham New Street to Bodmin Parkway and then jump on a local bus, this will take around 5 and a half hours and prices start from £75 in the high season – trains leave every hour.