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Places to Visit
St Ives (1) (stives-cornwall.co.uk) – The extraordinary intensity and clarity of light at St Ives lends the place a film set quality. Its legacy as a 20th-century art colony of world importance thrives at the Tate Gallery (tate.org.uk), Barbara Hepworth’s home and sculpture garden, and Bernard Leach’s pottery. For some of the best work by today’s painters and potters visit the Millennium, Belgrave and Wills Lane galleries.
St Michael’s Mount (2), Marazion (stmichaelsmount.co.uk) – Reached on foot at low tide across a causeway, this former medieval monastery, now home to the St Aubyn family, has been sensitively restored and de-cluttered to show life on the Mount in the 17th century. The chapel has sublime stained glass. The seaward gardens are a peaceful refuge on a busy summer’s day. Open February half-term; guided tours 11am-2pm on Tues and Fri until March 15. Open daily, except Saturdays, March 18-November.
The Eden Project (3) near St Austell (edenproject.com) – The world’s largest rainforest in captivity; there’s even a waterfall inside one of the giant Biomes, and these domes are architectural wonders in themselves. The crowds can be tiresome on a dull summer’s day so visit in sunshine and enjoy all the outside exhibits. There are rock concerts in summer and ice-skating in winter. Open all year.
Newquay Zoo (4) (newquayzoo.org.uk) – One of Britain’s best zoos, Newquay has 130 species, including lions, meercats, penguins and ring-tailed lemurs that visitors can feed by hand for the price of dinner out (£45 for two). Open all year.
Trebah Garden (5), Mawnan Smith (trebahgarden.co.uk) – A valley garden full of sub-tropical plants and trees that tumbles down to the Helford River, where there’s a small beach for picnics and swimming. A good garden for a family visit as it includes an inventive adventure playground and special children’s trails. Open all year.
Tintagel (6) (thisisnorthcornwall.com) – The seat of the legendary King Arthur, this must once have been a place of haunting beauty: a medieval hamlet protected by a castle-crowned headland. There is little romance in modern Tintagel, but the 12th-century ruins are dramatically sited and the coastal views magnificent. Visit early or late to avoid the coach tours.
Land’s End (7) (landsend-landmark.co.uk) – The Cornish have never forgiven Peter de Savary for ruining Land’s End by building concrete bunkers to house second-rate "family attractions". It’s a crushing disappointment to drive to the porticoed entrance and walk through an alley of shops to the End. Instead, park at Sennen beach and walk for 30 minutes along the cliffs.
Port Isaac (8) (portisaac-online.co.uk) – Doc Martin-land and very attractive it is too – but the narrow roads of this little fishing port are clogged with tourist traffic (the Doc is very big in Australia). The town is also home to the sea-shanty singing sensation, Fisherman’s Friends, who perform on Friday evenings – except when they’re touring the US.
Lanhydrock (9) (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) – A grand house on a grand estate, it vividly evokes High Victorian ideals: the careful segregation of public and private, male and female, master and servant. The Robartes family changed very little in the 20th century so it feels as if they have just stepped out for a while. Gardens open all year; house open Mar-Nov excluding most Mondays.
Geevor Tin Mine (10) (geevor.com) – One of Cornwall’s last working tin mines, which closed down in 1990. The knowledgeable, enthusiastic guides, some of them former miners, bring the buildings to life with anecdotes of the lives of the miners as they take visitors underground. Excellent homemade pasties in the cafe. Open all year; closed Saturdays.
Porthleven (porthleven-online.com) – This deep double harbour is a lovely place for an evening stroll and there’s plenty of space on the pebble beach. There are craft shops and galleries galore, three pubs (try the Atlantic Inn for a sunset drink) and a clutch of good restaurants, including Kota, The Square, Amelie's, Sea Drift and family-friendly Kota Kai. Don’t miss the handmade hats and fleeces at Salt Cellar Workshops (open 2-6pm except Wed).
Cotehele, near Saltash (nationaltrust.org.uk) – Hidden away on the banks of the River Tamar, this Tudor house remains in a time-warp. Worth visiting alone for its truss-roofed Great Hall and collection of embroidered fabrics and Flemish tapestries in superb condition. Open daily March 12-October 30.
Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey (heligan.com) – Tim Smit’s first project in Cornwall (before Eden) remains a magical place. It covers 200 acres, so it’s possible to find peace here even in high summer. Beyond the flamboyant Himalayan spring garden are superb restored Edwardian fruit, flower and vegetable gardens. Deeper into the valley there are shady bowers and pools where dragon and damselflies dance. Open all year.
Paradise Park, Hayle (paradisepark.org.uk) – A family-run park that started as a conservation and breeding centre for parrots and macaws. Now there are otters, red pandas and penguins. Don’t miss the impressive flying displays with eagles and owls. Open all year.
Carwinion, Mawnan Smith (carwinion.co.uk) – You will probably have this garden to yourself. Like its neighbour Trebah, it threads down a river valley to the sea, but just a trickle of visitors come to admire its superb collection of 200 stands of bamboo and enjoy one of Jane’s homemade cream teas.
Rocky Valley, Bossiney – A half-mile east of Tintagel, this is a gorge in miniature: a slip of a stream tumbling over tinkling waterfalls between tussocky rocks and ledges full of wild flowers. Look out for the intriguing rock carvings in the Bronze Age labyrinth.
Lizard Point (nationaltrust.org.uk) – The National Trust, having failed to secure Land’s End, redeemed itself by grabbing The Lizard, Britain’s most southerly point. There are two good, old-fashioned cafes, a serpentine marble workshop and flying displays by rare choughs.
Polperro (polperro.org) – A real picture-postcard treasure between Fowey and Looe. Locals have sorted the traffic issue by making all visitors use a park-and-ride. Like Port Isaac, it has a fishermen’s choir, which sings most Wednesday evenings in summer.
Trewithen (trewithengardens.co.uk) – A simple, elegant Georgian mansion built in the 1720s for comfort rather than show and little altered over the centuries. The exotic sub-tropical garden, created in the 1920s, is one of the loveliest and best-maintained in Cornwall and open all summer. House tours Monday and Tuesday afternoons from April 1-July 31, from 2-4pm. Book ahead for house tours.
Porthcurno Telegraph Museum (porthcurno.org.uk) – In the 19th century Cable & Wireless pioneered international telecommunications using undersea cables that connected Porthcurno, a sandy cove near Land’s End, to India, the Far East, South America and Africa. It’s an extraordinary story and very well told here. Open Sun and Mon in winter; daily March 24-end October.
Penlee House Gallery, Penzance (penleehouse.org.uk) – This is the place to find works by 19th-century artists (Walter Langley, Stanhope Forbes and Norman Garstin), who came to paint en plein air in Newlyn and Lamorna. There is a good cafe in the historic park garden. Open all year.
Walk from Cape Cornwall to Land’s End (southwestcoastpath.com)
See at play at the cliff-side Minack Theatre (minack.co.uk)
Take a day trip by helicopter to the Isles of Scilly on a six-seater aircraft from Land's End (islesofscillyhelicopter.com)
Learn to surf with national award-winners Globalboarders (globalboarders.com)
Go on a Wild Food Walk with Rachel Lambert (wildwalks-southwest.co.uk)
Eat Rick Stein’s perfectly-cooked fish and chips in Falmouth or Padstow (rickstein.com)
Ride Britain’s longest zip-wire over a flooded quarry near Liskeard (adrenalinquarry.co.uk). No age limit!
Take a tour of the Camel Valley vineyard (camelvalley.com) and buy a bottle of its award-winning bubbly.
Try your hand at shark fishing on a charter out of Looe (sharkanglingclubofgreatbritain.org.uk)