Cornwall can be overrun with tourists – but there are still quiet cliffs and coves where you can watch the sunset alone and in silence. From Falmouth and St Agnes to Tintagel and St Ives, I pick five
I shouldn’t even be writing this. The definition of "secret" is, after all, concealed or hidden knowledge. However, if you are heading down to England’s beautiful south-west coast this summer, here are a few of the less well-known places to enjoy a spectacular Cornish sunset.
Chapel Porth, St Agnes
Sandwiched between Perranporth and St Agnes – with a breathtaking cliff-top walk spanning the two beaches – Chapel Porth is nestled in a steep valley hugged on either side by cliffs. Popular in summer with surfers, and in winter with dog walkers (dogs are banned in the summer months), it has huddles of rock pools to explore, lots of granite boulders to climb and warm sand beneath your feet. A charming beach café provides a warming cup of tea as the sky fades to pinks and ochres overhead.
As dusk settles, head into the charming village of St Agnes and warm up with some food and a drink at The Driftwood Spars – an excellent pub and hotel close to the curved cove of St Agnes beach. Inside, you will find an award-winning restaurant – and you can treat yourself to a pint from a range of ales brewed on site in the microbrewery. Upstairs at the Driftwood, they have cosy rooms – most with a nautical theme – where the sound of the waves crashing against the nearby beach will lull you to deep sleep.
Pandora Inn, Falmouth
Reachable on foot, by bicycle or by boat, this 13th-century Inn sits on the curve of Restronguet Creek. Grab a glass of something cold and admire the panoramic views across a river dotted with sailing boats to the hills beyond. Take a seat on a pontoon reaching out into the water, and listen to the sound of the water lapping against the shore.
From here, it is a 15-minute drive to the harbourside town of Falmouth. Threaded with narrow streets, it has a lively arts scene and a diverse mixture of bars and restaurants. Grab a coffee and home-made cake at the quirkily named Babahogs, an independent art gallery and café, and finish the evening with a late drink at the Chain Locker pub where outside seating gives you a quayside view of the distantly bobbing boats and harbour lights. The St Michaels Hotel & Spa is set in its own sub-tropical gardens and is opposite Falmouth’s Blue Flag beach. Most of its tranquil rooms offer sea views and some have private patios leading right out into the garden.
Tintagel, North Coast
Local legend has it that King Arthur was born in this castle. One look at the spectacular views as you make the steep but rewarding climb to the top of the cliffs, and you can almost believe the tales of a legendary king and his mercurial wizard. Much of the stronghold is in ruins, but it is the sweeping expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and the windswept moorland greeting you as you reach the summit that quickens the breath. Start making the climb down well before dark, however, or you will find negotiating the weather-worn path a real trial.
Also worth a look is the slit in the bottom of the cliffs known as Merlin’s Cave. The narrow entrance broadens out into a traversable route, leading you to an exit at the back where you can watch the wind-heaved waves crash against the cliffs. Beware incoming tides, which are faster than you think.
You can stay in any number of hotels and guesthouses in the nearby town of Tintagel. Should the surfeit of Arthurian-themed hotels and inns become too much for you, there are always the tucked-away villages of Port Issac and Boscastle to explore. Stay at the perfectly placed Mill House Inn – a small but friendly hotel and restaurant in the next valley along from Tintagel. It's perfect for unwinding in front of one of the open fires beneath exposed beams.
Spend your day in this charming town, where you can explore the labyrinthine cobbled alleyways and lively local arts scene. Watch the surfers battling the swell of the waves outside the Porthminster Café or eat a pasty on the sea wall and try to fend off the gulls. As the day turns to dusk, make your way to St Nicholas’s Chapel on the peninsula known confusingly as "the Island". From this awesome vantage point, you can see Godrevy Lighthouse and beyond it Porthmeor Beach. Bring a flask and a blanket and cosy up, waiting for the first glittering stars to make an appearance.
St Ives is a jumble of galleries, cafés, b&bs and guesthouses, the best of which is Primrose Valley Hotel – an award-winning converted Edwardian villa just moments from Porthminster beach, another Blue Flag recipient. In the evening, take your pick from some of the many seafront restaurants, most offering fresh fish and seafood – or grab some fish and chips and a bench on the seafront.
Goonhilly, Lizard Peninsula
The Lizard and the surrounding area are well worth a visit at any time of day. There are dramatic reaches of unkempt moorland, hunks of rough-hewn cliffs and coves cut into them, appearing like fissures in the earth. On the Goonhilly Downs, the satellite dishes of Goonhilly Earth Station loom alien and distinctive on the horizon, like downed spacecraft. The perfect place to see them is driving along the B3293 from Helston where, at twilight, the dishes themselves take on a War of the Worlds significance. Park if you can, and catch the last rays of the sun filtering through these gigantic structures.
The nearby Parc Brawse House is the perfect base for exploring the Lizard Peninsula – well-known for its beautiful coastal walks. This reliable b&b offers modern but simple rooms, some with views across the clifftop to the sea beyond.