Leave Newquay, Perranporth and St Ives to the crowds and head into the real Cornwall. Exploring the Lizard and Land’s End peninsulas is like turning the clock back to an earlier age of holidaymaking
The far west of Cornwall has it all: Grecian blue sea, golden granite cliffs and some of the best sandy beaches in Britain. Hidden in sheltered valleys are dozens of exotic gardens with plants from all over the world. There’s also a vibrant art scene with painters, potters and woodcarvers opening their studios to the public and quite a few roadside galleries.
Even in August there’s only a smattering of visitors on many sandy strands, especially at Port Kidney in Lelant and Gwithian near Hayle. Yet the swimming, surfing and bodyboarding here is just as good as at the big-name resorts further up the north coast.
Long stretches of the coast and the wooded tidal creeks are unsullied by any kind of modern development. It’s the sort of place where you backpack the kids and a picnic down to a hidden sandy cove and share it with a seal or two and a few others in the know.
The coast road from St Ives to Land’s End, one of Britain’s best drives, is often used in car advertisments. The craggy boulder-strewn moorland sweeps down to dramatic wild headlands. Iron Age stone walls enclose the luminous green fields. This brooding timeless landscape is Celtic Cornwall at its finest, littered with prehistoric villages and standing stones.
The Lizard peninsula is even more remote. A web of narrow lanes connects ancient farmsteads, dipping into copses of oaks and willows where streams are crossed by stepping stones. The cob barns, thatched cottages and polished-stone stiles look as if they have been here forever - and many probably have. This is the secret Cornwall that can only be discovered on foot.
WHAT TO DO
As well as sunbathing, garden-visiting, clambering up iconic St Michael’s Mount, scrambling down into Geevor tin mine, and walking a part of the area’s 100-mile-long coastal footpath, there are a few activities that you need to book ahead of time.
Learn to surf with Global Boarders (01736 711404; www.globalboarders.com). Lessons are taken by qualified lifeguards wherever the swell’s best but always away from the crowds. Individual lessons from £30; one-night packages £125 per person (minimum of six people) including equipment hire, two surf lessons, breakfast, lunch and accommodation in a luxury cottage above Mousehole; extra nights £50.
Take a highly entertaining guided minibus tour of West Cornwall with Cornishman Harry Glasson and learn about piskies, witches and standing stones. Harry Safari Reservations: 01736 711427.
Fly to the Isles of Scilly for the day in a helicopter. Return fares from £75; www.islesofscillyhelicopter.com.
See a play at the Minack open-air theatre; online booking at www.minack.co.uk. The 2009 summer programme is a real mix of shows from La Traviata and The Mikado to Shakespeare and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
WHERE TO STAY
The Summer House, Penzance
Five pretty bedrooms in a lovely Regency house in a quiet street near the prom. Dinner at weekends. Doubles from £95 b&b.
The Gurnards Head Hotel, Treen
A historic country inn on a wild clifftop near Zennor. Eclectic decor, scrubbed antique pine tables, candlelit dining room and a good atmosphere. Short menu of local fish and game, all beautifully cooked. Doubles from £85 b&b.
Mount Haven Hotel, Marazion
A small modern hotel with a wonderful view over Mount’s Bay from the bar and some rooms (also a great place for a lunchtime crab sandwich or a sundowner drink). Good restaurant too. Doubles from £100 b&b.
Ednovean Farm, Perranuthnoe
Fabulous location looking across fields to the sea and St Michael’s Mount. Three cosy, comfortable ground-floor bedrooms, each with its own private patio, and a great pub just a stroll away. Doubles from £85 b&b.
Landewednack House, The Lizard
A former Georgian rectory overlooking the sea with four sumptuous rooms and a heated pool. Known for its excellent dinners served en famille. The best bolt hole on The Lizard.
Doubles from £130 b&b; 01326 290877, www.landewednackhouse.com.
WHERE TO EAT
The Victoria Inn, Perranuthnoe
Cornwall’s Pub of the Year 2008. Top restaurant-standard dishes, all freshly prepared; market fish, locally reared meat, risotto and other vegetarian options. Reservations essential. About £25 a head.
2 Fore Street, Mousehole
A bright, airy bistro-style restaurant. Most tables have views over the harbour. Emphasis on fish but choice of meat and vegetarian dishes too. About £25 a head.
The Tinners Arms, Zennor
This 13th-century inn is a lovely place to watch a summer sunset. Great for a crab sandwich or a fish pie as well as seasonal specials, many slow-cooked. About £18 a head.
An excellent fish restaurant at the head of the harbour. Fish and seafood with a Pacific Rim twist, sesame-rolled marinated tuna and tempura-battered cod and chips. Seafood platters if pre-ordered. About £28 a head.
Halzephron Inn, Gunwalloe
Fabulous clifftop location on the west side of the Lizard peninsula. Good freshly prepared English favourites (casseroles, steaks, savoury pancakes) and catch of the day. About £22 a head.
WHEN TO GO
Mid-February to end March for magnolias and camellias; April for wild walks and daffodils; May for spring flowers on the Land’s End peninsula; early June for Lizard wildflowers, especially at Kynance Cove. September and October for the warm sea and good waves. West Cornwall is the warmest place in winter with daytime highs of around 8°C (46°F).
Buy sunblock and use it even in March and October. The combination of sun, wind and bounce-back glare from the sea turns faces lobster red in a trice.
HOW TO GET THERE
Train: from London Paddington to Penzance takes 5 hours.
Air: Airsouthwest flies to Newquay from Bristol, Cork, Dublin, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, London City, London Gatwick, Manchester and Newcastle. Flybe flies from Edinburgh, Isle of Man and London Gatwick. Ryanair flies from London Stansted.
Car hire: Europcar offices at Newquay Airport and Penzance Station. Better value is Hayle-based DW Car Hire (01736 754197) run by Chris and Jacqui Head, who will deliver a car to the airport or a station day and night. Rental rates from £125 a week.