The south Cornwall coast has compelling towns and quaint fishing villages aplenty. Here’s the lowdown on where to go in the south of the county.
When most people think of the south Cornwall coast, it’s probably those sweeping views from the Lizard Peninsula and the strikingly blue waters of Kynance Cove that come to mind first. But beyond the most visited highlights, there’s a whole world of gorgeous seaside towns, beautiful bays and some fascinating history.
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Stretching north from the Lizard, via Falmouth, Truro and right up to Plymouth in Devon, the south Cornwall coast is a wonderfully rugged landscape. With rocky coves and pebbly beaches, it might not have the spectacular Caribbean-worthy sands of the north, but there’s still plenty to fall in love with.
If you’re planning a trip to Cornwall, don’t miss these glorious stops along the county’s stunning south coast.
Best for tranquility: Fowey
Wandering Fowey’s (pronounced ‘Foy’) narrow backstreets sloping steeply down to the water is one of the many simple joys to be found here. This pretty place was once a rope and ship-building hub, but those industries are long gone from Cornwall’s shores and it’s now a gorgeous waterfront town with pretty winding lanes, quaint shops and galleries and a spellbinding view across the harbour to the town of Poluran.
Spend an hour or so in Fowey Museum learning about the town’s heritage before heading down to the water to have sundowners overlooking the mouth of the River Fowey.
There’s a ferry connecting Fowey to Mevagissey, another beautiful seaside town, and once you’ve explored the harbour area, you shouldn’t miss a trip to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. An entire day is needed to see it all, really, but if you’ve only a few hours, settle for getting lost awhile in their ‘jungle’ before having a cuppa and some cake in the excellent on-site café.
Also stop in for a tour and tasting at the nearby Colwith Farm Distillery. Their small but superb operation produces various flavours of potato vodka – with potatoes grown on their own farm – and a brilliant dry gin. Sitting atop a gently sloping hill, it's possibly the most picturesque distillery in England.
Where to stay: Splash out on a night or two at Fowey Hall. At the very top of the town (it’s a steep but rewarding walk from the harbour), this glorious hotel set in a beautiful old mansion built by the founder of Fowey has spectacular views over the water.
There’s also a brilliant restaurant serving Cornish wines (try the Camel Valley sparkling) and delicately prepared local produce. Plus, there’s an Elemis spa with dreamy views out to the ocean and a hot tub on the terrace.
Best for a long-weekend: Falmouth
This university town has it all: gorgeous beaches, brilliant pubs, a decent high street with boutiques, bars and restaurants… Falmouth is the ultimate all-rounder.
You can get out and about on the water at Custom Quay, where boats depart for small coastal villages like St Mawes and St Anthony, or from Gyllyngvase beach where you can hire kayaks and SUPs.
Where to stay: Base yourself right on the beach at St Michaels Resort. Recent renovations at St Michaels have put this hotel well above the rest in town, with beautifully furnished bedrooms and the best spa in the southwest.
Book into a Beach House room for views of the ocean, and don’t miss out on treatments and the incredible hydrotherapy pool in their Elemis spa.
St Michael's Resort/Booking.com
Best for a secluded seaside stay: Talland Bay
In the height of summer the south Cornwall coast gets incredibly busy. But an excellent place to avoid the crowds is at Talland Bay. While most visitors to this area of the Polperro Heritage Coast head to Looe or Polperro itself, fewer will turn down the single-track lane that leads to this rocky bay.
From Talland Bay you can walk east to Looe, which has a more traditional seaside town feel with an arcade and good beach, or west to Polperro for more quaint village vibes.
Where to stay: There’s not much choice here, but with Talland Bay Hotel on the hill above the water that doesn’t matter. It’s quirky and contemporary with some unusual art and Alice in Wonderland themes, and the service is top-notch. Its two-AA-Rosette restaurant serves fantastic food with a view (think Cornish talbot and scallops from Looe Bay) plus many of the bedrooms have sea views too.
Courtesy of Talland Bay Hotel
For a quaint escape: Charlestown
If you’re a Poldark fan, you’ll recognise Charlestown’s brilliantly-preserved 18th-century harbour. This dinky waterfront town has featured in all manner of TV shows and movies, including Taboo with Tom Hardy and Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp. But most recently it has stood in as Truro in the BBC’s hugely popular drama, Poldark starring Aidan Turner.
For non-Poldark fans, the area has exceptional food in establishments like The Longstore (order the moreish seafood chowder) and a fascinating history of wreck diving chronicled in the Shipwreck Museum. Plus, there’s usually a tall ship docked in the harbour, which only adds to its old timey feel.
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Where to stay: Book into the Pier House Hotel which overlooks the water. Sundowners on their terrace are essential.
Top tip: If you like the sound of all these places, why not spend a week exploring the entire south Cornwall coast? Book into the brilliant, fully-equipped holiday homes at The Valley Cornwall, where you’ll have a pool and games room at your disposal and can easily access much of the coastline without having to battle the often heavy traffic of Falmouth or Truro.
Fun for all the family: The Eden Project
Thanks to the climate here, gardens in Cornwall are ten-a-penny, but none are quite as spectacular as The Eden Project. This place is so much more than just a garden. There's plenty of fabulous foliage, but The Eden Project is also an education centre. Kids or not, the enormous, iconic biomes set within an old china clay quarry are a thrilling experience.
If you’re brave enough, climb the rainforest biome’s lookout – suspended from the ceiling 100 feet (30m) above ground – to get a view over the canopy, and book for lunch in the wonderfully herbaceous Mediterranean biome. There are information boards all around, explaining how the ecosystem works and thrives, and there’s even a zipwire that zooms above the whole complex should you feel the need for more high-octane thrills.
Where to stay: The Eden Project has its very own accommodation onsite, perfect if you want to spend a day or two at these incredible gardens. There’s a YHA hostel with dorms and private rooms or wild camping available within the grounds.
The best option, though, are the Land Pods – elevated wooden pods made from environmentally-friendly, recycled materials, they sleep up to four and come with a barbecue outside for cooking under the stars. You can even open the roof to get a view of the sparkling sky on a clear night.
Main image: Lukasz Pajor/Shutterstock
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