Polperro: a piece of Cornish paradise

by Sophie Gledhill

Even if you've been to Cornwall before, there's always more to discover. Picturesque, historic, dramatic and bohemian, the pretty village of Polperro deserves a place on anyone's must-visit list

For one reason or another, the people of Britain are increasingly deciding to stay at home rather than go abroad for their stress-busting escapes. And if we so much as glance at parts of the Cornish coast, we can see straight away that it's not such a crazy idea.

The cult of seafood chef and entrepreneur Rick Stein has opened many an eye to the delights of such towns as Padstow, but it is the smaller and perhaps lesser known villages such as Polperro, on the southeast Cornish coast, that should quietly grasp our attention before they are pushed further down the one-way road of commercialism. If you're looking for traditional Cornish pasties, locally made ice cream, freshly caught fish, old-world pubs and cliff walks, you've come to the right place. Polperro's also the place for you if you're looking for the Cornwall you know and love, but with a range of unexpected extras. Granted you have to be on the agile side of average fitness, but once you've conquered one of the village's ascending paths leading from the harbour, and absorbed the scattered palm trees, breathtaking seascapes and more-than-pleasant micro-climate, there are times you could almost believe you were in the tropics - if it weren't for Cornwall's superior rugged landscape.

Resting places

A fair way along one of these steep climbs is the perfect house from which to soak up the panoramic views in airy and contemporary style. Accommodating between seven and 12 people, Seavue was refurbished to the highest standards in early 2009, with impressive mod cons including a house-wide sound system with speakers hidden even in the steam room and garden. Every room in the house, apart from the bathrooms, has a spectacular sea view, and from a sleeping position on the master bed you can see the picturesque harbour from one window and the open sea from the other. The kids haven't been forgotten either, with an outdoor pirate ship on which to play, so they can immerse themselves in Polperro's 18th-century smuggling history. You'll be met with a warm welcome and a much-needed quad bike to transport your luggage up to the house. For a different perspective on Polperro, and more traditional decor, stay in the cosy and well-equipped four-bedroom Willy Wilcox cottage situated on the opposite side of the bay directly above the beach (one of Classy Cottages' five properties in Cornwall).

Coastal attractions

Cars cannot be driven into the village, but that only adds to its unspoilt charm; one of Polperro's quirks is its quaint 'tram' (or, rather, disguised milk float) service. You'll also find that at high tide there's no beach to speak of, but that only adds to the excitement of the dynamic and dramatic landscape. The beach itself isn't the expansive white sandy variety that many long for in a holiday, although it's not all pebbles and there's certainly the opportunity for a spot of comfortable sunbathing. There's also little chance of boredom setting in, with rockpools, a cave and a coastal path to explore only metres away. The latter is one of the most characterful (and, I should add, most challenging) sections of the South West Coastal Path, Britain's longest footpath, which runs for 630 miles from Dorset to Somerset. If you're still craving a more substantial sandy stretch, a mile's walk can take you to the fairly well-hidden and attractive Talland Bay, and if your feet are weary you can easily explore the area by water; many tourist boats leave from the harbour throughout the day.

Refreshment stops

Polperro is remarkable for its bohemian feel and an ever-strong community spirit in the face of increasing tourism. For a real local flavour, be sure to have a pint of cider at The Blue Peter (www.bluepeterinn.awardspace.com) or The Three Pilchards (both on the Quay). Highlights in the village's calendar include its nine-day festival at the end of June, which features live music and dance, and the greatly anticipated fireworks and Christmas lights. If you feel you've had one pasty too many, or even if you don't, the Treble Cafe on Landaviddy Lane should be your next stop. Not only will you be greeted with a unique and friendly music-themed restaurant, in which you're invited to decorate the tablecloths with wax crayons, but you'll also find a refreshingly creative menu with a very satisfactory gluten-free selection. When tradition withdrawal sets back in, a cream tea or even a few nights' stay at The House on the Props on Talland Street will send you straight back in time to Polperro's thriving smuggling industry.

Visitors may often be tempted to use Polperro as a base from which to explore the more popular Cornish tourist attractions. However, the beauty of this destination is that you can happily spend days without straying from the village, simply absorbing its healing and captivating surroundings and learning to live the healthy and unhurried way of life of its 5,000 or so inhabitants.

Sophie Gledhill

In the words of Sting, 'I'm an English[wo]man in [Upstate] New York'. Cellist from Harpenden, UK, studying at Eastman School of Music, USA. Music graduate of that 'big school' in Cambridge. Aside from being surrounded by music, happiest when... keeping café culture alive, dreaming of travelling (on dream yacht), actually travelling (minus yacht), photographing travels, expanding my travel/travel photography/philosophy library, finding silver linings, taking zumba classes, improvising gluten-free recipes, spending long evenings with cheese, wine and happy, inquisitive people and airing contemplations through my blog, www.TheRabbitPerspective.com.