Cornwall may be famous for its cream, spectacular natural coastline and artistic heritage - but it’s also a great place to go green, with plenty of eco-gems to discover in St Ives
It wasn’t the most promising start to a green UK mini-break. Misreading the sign to St Ives’ island car park, we took the wrong turn and ended up in the narrow high street, inching our way past shoppers. Despite being a no-go zone for cars, the nonchalance of the pedestrians and appearance of another car with a flustered-looking driver and passenger clutching a map showed we were not the first – or last – to make the same mistake.
The moral of the story is that it’s probably far better to leave the car at home, especially with parking spaces being as rare as hens’ teeth during the summer months. But it gave us our first, albeit unintentional. glimpse of another scarcity: a shopping street mainly comprised of individually-owned shops.
After the slightly frazzled introduction to St Ives, we learned our lesson and spent the next few days getting around under our own steam. With fantastic local walks, and a good train and bus network, it’s easy to take carbon-friendly steps. Most Cornish National Trust properties offer discounted admission to visitors arriving by train and several are accessible by ferry from the Fal estuary.
As it turned out, we ended up staying much closer to our holiday home, a decision influenced by the wealth of local attractions and the fantastic apartment that took the term self-catering to a lofty new level. Opened last year, following a £1.5 million refurbishment, the five-star Sail Lofts have breathed a new lease of life into a group of 18th and 19th-century buildings originally used as drying lofts for nets and sails surrounding a courtyard once used for processing pilchards, once the mainstay of the local economy. Today the complex is made up of 12 airy and beautifully appointed contemporary apartments a pebble’s throw from Porthmeor Beach.
Local slate and stone has been used in the sympathetic re-building project and interiors and exteriors feature reclaimed wood and other materials. The apartments showcase the work of local artists and a specially commissioned sculpture of a pilchard-pressing barrel dominates the courtyard, acting as an eye-catching reminder of the past. This year several working artists’ studios will open on the site.
Unlike holiday homes where the term ‘self catering’ roughly translates as having to lug everything you need with you, at Sail Lofts you can certainly travel light. After seeing the welcome hamper, ultra-modern kitchen appliances and cupboards packed with every imaginable culinary gadget and gizmo, our plans changed (yet again) and we spent most nights eating in. It might take a bit of finding first time, but persevere and you’ll eventually come across Stevens fishmonger near the corner of Fish Street and Back Road East. With a gleaming counter spread with the catch of the day, it’s worth going early to get the best choice. For other bits and pieces there’s a well-stocked shop just down the road and some reassuringly traditional fruit and veg shops in the town, where nothing is shrink-wrapped and brown paper bags are the norm.
Days soon took on a leisurely routine, with a bracing pre-breakfast walk along sweeping Porthminster, or one of the other beaches, bringing us into nodding acquaintance with the early-morning dog walkers who take to the sands before the surf dudes. Next day we worked up an appetite by heading over the grassy hill across the road from Sail Lofts, once the site of a coastal fort. Depending what time of year you visit you might be lucky enough to spot seals and dolphins.
We spent plenty of time re-visiting the shops - on foot this time, and dodging other lost drivers. Sea Salt, the first fashion brand to have clothes certified to Soil Association organic standards, sells a terrific range of items that are easy on the eye and the conscience (4 Fore Street). Foodies won’t be able to resist scrummy hand-made Cornish chocolate from the French-style shop Chocolat (12 The Digey) and feel-good sprouting seeds and other natural goodies from Living Food of St Ives (Pier House, Quay Street).
When it comes to eating out, or in, the ubiquitous Cornish pasty can be found at every turn and in every guise, including traditional beef, lamb, cheese and chive, vegetable and vegan at places like Pengenna Pasties ( 9 High Street). One of the best restaurants in town is Alba, in the former lifeboat house. Line-caught fish and local produce feature on the menu and a local forager provides the restaurant with peppery wild watercress and edible seaweeds. For the best harbour views, book table 5, 6 or 7 upstairs. For something less formal, try Blas Burgerworks (The Warren), a world away from your average burger-flipping outlet. Home of gourmet burgers made from naturally reared free-range meat, the restaurant has a strong ecological ethos, from furniture made from reclaimed materials or sustainable sources to its recycling policies.
If you fancy a trip out of town, an interesting local attraction is Paradise Park, in Hayle. It’s home to the World Parrot Trust charity, first prize winners in BBC Wildlife Magazine’s Zoo Conservation Awards for Excellence. The trust has helped support and fund vital conservation work for over 40 species of parrots in 22 countries and the park’s 150ft-long ‘big flight’ aviary established new standards in housing birds.
For obvious reasons, many people are drawn to St Ives in the summer but if you don’t mind going with the flow weather-wise, it’s a wonderful year-round spot. Out of season, when the Atlantic wind blows across the north Cornish coast and the waves break onto uncrowded beaches, it’s an atmospheric destination and easy to see why it’s so beloved of painters and authors and home to one of only two Tate galleries outside London. And once the cobwebs have been blown away, you can retreat back to the comfort of your luxurious home from home and cosy on down.
So if you want to self-cater in style in a classic British seaside destination, then point your compass in the direction of Sail Lofts and leave your footprints on the sand.
Sail Lofts apartments are open year-round and in addition to week-long stays, short breaks are sometimes available outside the peak season. Accommodation in one-bedroom apartments start from £299 per week and the three-bedroom Slipway apartment, which has a large balcony, starts from £1,032 per week. Prices include a welcome hamper containing items such as hand -made soaps, fresh bread, local cheese, tea, coffee, sugar and milk and a local paper.