The Muddy Insider Guide to Cornwall
Planning to staycay this summer? Our curated guide to Cornwall is packed with our in-the-know tips and up to date openings. Just add flipflops and sunshine.
Planning to staycay this year? Er, aren’t we all! Flipflops and surfboard at the ready? OK, let’s go.
Think of Cornwall and chances are it’s the wild landscapes and quaint fishing villages that spring to mind, or maybe the laid-back harbour towns of Falmouth, St Ives, Newquay or Fowey.
Pretty much everywhere in Cornwall has its own beauty but there’s no denying that the most popular destinations can also offer crowds and uninspiring accommodation. The key isn’t so much location as knowing how to find the gems – as even the most touristy places have them.
St Ives! Falmouth! Padstow! All beautiful harbours and picture perfect towns but among the more popular (and crowded) places to stay. If you’re drawn to a town with a harbour, we’d recommend Bude, Looe, Mevagissy, St Mawes or even Newquay (above), which has shaken off the stag party image but is still vibrant.
Get off grid
For a secluded stay, showcasing the best of the Cornish landscape you can’t go wrong with camping – but don’t run away yet – these options are cool, quirky and much more glam than your average tent with pegs. Kudhva (above), in North Cornwall, is home to treetop architectural hideouts overlooking Tintagel and the site also has it’s own reservoir for wild swimming. Botelet, near Lostwithiel, is an ancient farm with a yurt, meadow camping and beautiful holiday cottages complete with original wooden staircases and slate floors.
At Hideaway Huts, above, near Looe, you can stay in traditional Shepherd huts (with the added luxury of a private bathroom) and The Beach Hut, near Bude, is a renovated 1920s tea hut located by a secret surfing beach. Elsewhere, there’s Bodrifty Roundhouse, an Iron Age hut deep set within dreamy pastoral Penwith Moors, between Penzance and Zennor.
A 10 minute drive from pretty Padstow you’ll find the The Pig at Harlyn Bay, set in one of the county’s most historic houses. It is, as you’d expect from a PIG hotel, full of rustic glam, a bit like staying in your poshest friend’s awesome country pile, with the added bonus of two restaurants and spa treatments too.
Head to the south coast and the beautiful Roseland, where you’ll find chichi village St Mawes and Hotel Tresanton – no need to request ocean views, each of the 30 individually decorated rooms overlooks the sea and features some of the best local artwork.
Also a dead cert for stunning seaside views is Watergate Bay Hotel near Newquay, a stylish hotel and spa with activities to boot. Looking for something a tad more kid friendly – you’ll find that and more at The Esplanade which looks out right across the UK’s most famous surfing beach, Fistral, and has a surf school right next door.
Looking for a hidden gem with a private beach (above) – look no further then Hotel Meudon, Cornwall’s newest luxury hotel providing mid-century modern heaven near the Helford.
Take your pick of self-catering beauties across the county with Latitude50. If Rock is too obvious a location, try Trebetherick or even Polzeath where six-bedroom holiday home Carn Mar (above) overlooks an excellent surfing beach, as do the company’s new surf flats.
Naughty weekend away for two? Clapperboard beach cottage, The Cotton Tree, situated by the rolling dunes of Holywell Bay and Polly Joke beach offers a little luxury with a hot tub and hamper of fresh local produce on arrival.
Fancy a self-catering villa or lodge? Una St Ives fits the bill, in the countryside outside St Ives, away from the hustle and bustle of the town but within striking distance, with added on site bonus of spa, swimming pool and beautiful Mediterranean inspired Bistro.
Where to start? There are so many to choose from, but we’ve narrowed down some of our favourites. The Minack Theatre, an open-air theatre (above) jutting into the Atlantic ocean, four miles from Land’s End doesn’t just have great views of the stage – two of Cornwall’s most Instagrammed beaches provide an ever changing backdrop.
St Ives punches well above its weight when it comes to artistic endeavours, thanks in a large degree to Tate St Ives (FYI it has a super-chic Gallery restaurant with views of the Atlantic) and the less flashy but still fascinating Barbara Hepworth Museum – stroll around the late sculptor’s stunning garden, which features sculptures amid the tropical plants.
Across from Marazion, near Penzance, you can cross the causeway to St Michael’s Mount (above), a tidal island sitting plum in the middle of the bay. It takes just minutes to cross by foot, but get your timings wrong and you’ll be waiting a lot longer for the tide to go out to walk back across.
Penzance’s headliner is Jubilee Pool, an Art Deco saltwater lido which will soon be opening a naturally heated area of the pool using geothermal heat, or over near Tintagel there’s St Nectans Glen which is home to a whopper of a 60ft waterfall, plus two others and lush woodland to explore.
Not enough? Check out more of our Cornwall must-sees here.
Cornwall is brim full of amazing food and produce with foodie spots and cafés galore.
It’s been quite the summer for ex-St Tudy Inn chef Emily Scott, who opened a new place at Watergate Bay (above), released a new cookery book *and * found time to serve an intimate dinner for Boris and chums at the G7 in front of the world’s media at The Eden Project. Her new restaurant makes a delightful lunch or dinner – beach visit optional but recommended. Also high on my list for places to check out is New Yard, hidden away near Mawgan on the Lizard, which was awarded a new green Michelin star back in Jan.
Down on the south coast, the Old Brewery Yard, Falmouth, you’ll find neighbourhood restaurant MINE which offers an excellent Saturday brunch and Sunday roast and for seafood, you can’t go wrong with Falmouth’s Verdant Seafood Bar, from one of Cornwall’s best independent breweries.
For the best of both land and sea, there’s The Longstore (above), in Charlestown, a steak and fish specialty restaurant, and now also with a new outpost in Truro.
If fish and delicious small plates are more your bag, it is worth noting Fitzroy, in Fowey from the team behind Primeur, Westerns Laundry and Jolene, and Muddy Award 2021 finalists, The Rocket Store in Boscastle (below) which you’ll find on the harbour edge.
Foodie Porthleven is also well worth a visit, where you’ll find all sorts of eateries along the edge of the harbour, including another Muddy Award finalist, The Square at Porthleven as well as the music inspired laid back seafood shack, The Mussel Shoal.
Indie café JamJar is just a stones throw away from the beach in Newquay serving amazing coffee and organic lunches (takeaway available); and Temple café and indie shop, in Bude, also has an ace takeaway offering, plus don’t miss their new pop-up feasts at aforementioned Kudhva near Tintagel.
Meanwhile St Ives is home to funky Yallah Kiosk (above), serving all your classic seaside essentials – takeaway coffee, fresh juice and donuts – plus don’t miss West Porthmeor on the quieter end of St Ives’ most popular beach.
Tucked away on the Roseland you’ll find the aptly named Hidden Hut, run by Simon Stallard and team (remember him? He only cooked the beach BBQ for Boris, Biden and co at G7). It’s just by Porthcurnick, and he also runs the pizza restaurant Tatums in nearby Porthscatho.
Pubs on our to-go list include The Old Coastguard in Mousehole with its tropical gardens and views of St Michael’s Mount, The Punchbowl & Ladle at Feock near Truro, the gorgeous Ferryboat Inn on the river Helford and newbie The Peterville Inn in St Agnes.
Elsewhere, don’t miss the lovely beer garden by the river at St Kew, the waterside beer garden at the Pandora Inn at Restronguet, above, and should you wish to sail up, you’ll also love The Working Boat, underneath the Greenbank Hotel in Falmouth, complete with a mar-quay, on the, yes, quay.
You can’t come to Cornwall without trying a pasty. The title of ‘best’ is fiercely contended (and there’s even a Cornish Pasty championships each year), but our favourites can be found at Ann’s Pasties in Mullion, Chacewater Bakery near Truro or a more classic one from Malcolm Barnecutt’s in Wadebridge (they all also send them nationwide). Boscastle Farm Shop also make a goodie from their own red ruby beef steak and their cheese & onion version features local Davidstow cheese.
For ice cream, a Muddy favourite is Moomaid, in Zennor (above) – I say Shipwreck, but my daughter says passionfruit is the best flavour. It also does takeaway and local delivery. Reeves near Port Isaac is also a dead cert, a teeny bright yellow ice cream van and cafe, as is the Cornish Ice Cream Trike often found at the market Fowey Hall Hotel.
For cakes our go-tos are Kern of Kernow delivering Insta catnip iced cakes and donuts, plus Moomaid icecream, natch, from a van called Beyoncé found parked at the Boathouse by the harbour in Newquay; Ladyvale Bakery, a cheerful cake & coffee stop in Nansledan; Da Bara Bakery, which is widely voted the best for cinnamon buns and also does nationwide delivery.
Obviously Cornwall is home to the amazing Eden Project – but did you know the centre has the longest zip wire in the country? It’s a little touristy, but on a quieter day is well worth an explore. As is the Lost Gardens of Heligan, just 23 minutes drive away in St Austell, with its jungle boardwalks, rope bridges, hidden art and swings (above). Retallack Aqua Park, Saint Columb, a Total Wipeout-style waterpark is a fun day out, plus you might spot a celeb (Romeo Beckham visited once, if that floats your boat) but we rather like the decidedly more low-fi Giant Slip and Slide at St Endellion -it’s charmingly literally in a field.
Bude Sea Pool (above) is probably the most well known, but off the radar of most tourist trails is Priest’s Cove, just south of Cape Cornwall, which is well worth a visit with little ones. It’s a small lido, carved out of the rocks. And then, if it’s rock pooling you’re after Polridmouth has some excellent pools at low tide, as does Hannafore beach near Looe.
For swimming in the sea itself, we love Readymoney at Fowey, Porthpean near St Austell and Gylly Beach in Falmouth, all of which are super pleasant for a swim at the right tide.
Well known is The Camel Trail, which is beautiful but not the only flat cycling trail suitable for a family ride. Our favourite is the Coast to Coast Trail (11 miles) starting at Portreath on the north coast, to Devoran on the south. The route goes from the Atlantic to the channel, so you’re basically cycling across England in a couple of hours! Want more of a challenge? Don’t miss the newly opened West Kernow Way, a 150 mile cycle route that starts and ends in Penzance (e-bikes – and ordinary ones- are available to hire, btw).
Particularly in the current climate the beauty and draw of Cornwall is all the space – with very little else open, walking and going to the beach are going to be high up the agenda.
The very best beaches are the ones that you have to work a little to find, or at least walk to rather than drive up. Some of our favourites a little off the beaten track are Polly Joke and the wild flower meadows at West Pentire, Nanjizal near Land’s End, Gwenver near Sennen and Lantic Bay between Fowey and Polperro. If you head to Porthcurno (above) you can also find Cornwall’s least-well-kept-secret beach, Pedn Vounder just round the corner, be warned, you need a head for heights and to have tripled checked the tide times, as it is a climb up and down.
Walking any part of the SW coast path is going to be rewarding, particularly quiet stretches to enjoy the myriad wildflowers and sea birds. With that in mind, favourite stretches include The Rumps (above), near Polzeath, where you can see puffins and razorbills if you bring binoculars, Treen Cliff on the Penwith Peninsula, the tin mines on the heritage coast at St Agnes, and the wild flower meadows at West Pentire where the whole cliff is ablaze with poppies.
Other favourites are Saints Way, a picturesque ramble from Padstow to pretty Fowey; St Anthony’s Head, at the southernmost tip of the Roseland Peninsula which passes near the lighthouse and Carrick Roads, one of the largest natural harbours in the world; Bodmin Moor, up Brown Willy (nothing rude to see here, just Cornwall’s highest hill!), 420 metres above sea level.
Elsewhere, there’s the ancient woodland to explore by foot or mountain bike at the National Trust Lanhydrock Estate (above), in Bodmin. And if you fancy a challenge, climb Kit Hill, Callington, which is 334 meters above sea level at the summit. You’ll be rewarded with 360 views around Cornwall and Dartmoor, look towards Plymouth and you’ve Devon on your left and Cornwall the right, divided by the river Tamar.
And finally, for seal spotting without the crowds (they’re super-cute, all doe eyed and whiskered) head to the village of Gweek for the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, or Gwithian where you’ll see them lying right on the beach.
Giving surfing a go is a must on a Cornish getaway (no, dipping your toes in wearing a wetsuit doesn’t count). George’s Surf School at Polzeath is great for individual coaching, or there’s Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay and the Sennen Surfing Centre, near Land’s End.
Try Stand Up Paddleboarding at Polkerris or Gylly Beach in Falmouth, and there’s also Cornish Rock Tours based at Port Gaverne, near Port Isaac, which will take you kyaking, SUP, coasteering or open water swimming. Check out Camel Ski School at Rock for waterskiing and sailing schools operate in Fowey, Rock, Mylor and Falmouth. Porthoustock, on the eastern side of The Lizard peninsular, is a great spot for kayaking.
Cornwall’s unique British climate makes for some exotic gardens. We love Trebah, at Mawnan Smith, which also has a stunning beach at the bottom and Tremenheere Sculpture Garden (above) near Penzance- at times you could be in California not Cornwall. In addition to the art the cafe & plant shop with sweeping sea views make it a favourite place.
The Isles of Scilly, an archipelago just off off the coast, is a stunning collection of islands harbouring sandy beaches, subtropical plants, an abundance of wildlife and the tower of 17th-century Cromwell’s Castle.
Padstow is home to the National Lobster Hatchery, a marine conservation charity – you can visit the centre when it reopens but in the meantime, you can adopt your own lobster!
And finally, it’s still uncertain when feast nights at The Hidden Hut will be up and running again, but it’s worth watching for tickets, as is the Wild Wine Club outdoor wine suppers.
Anywhere that has a wide, west facing vista is going to be a great place to catch the sunset but some of the best beaches to catch the final rays of the day are the north coast beaches of Polzeath (above) Watergate Bay, Porthmeor in St Ives, Godrevy, and Fistral in Newquay. South coast sunsets while still dramatic and picturesque don’t have that quintessential sun dropping behind the sea holiday vibe, but the Gribben Head lighthouse and looking over to St Michael’s Mount from Marazion make some good spots to try (also think about sunrise In these spots if you’re after an iconic photo opp).