Cornwall is even more beautiful without the summer crowds, says Kate Green, and you don't even need to drive to get the most out of a trip to this tip of England.
I’ve said it before – most years, in fact – but blustery winter really is the best time to go to Cornwall. No logjams of cars stuck in narrow lanes, no heaving pubs, no sharing of narrow coastal paths with the hordes.
The train’s blissfully quiet, too. We travelled all the way to St Erth, the penultimate station before Penzance, where there’s a connection to Carbis Bay (a taxi was quicker here, it must be admitted).
The Carbis Bay hotel is a delightful, comfortable, white-painted, typically Cornish cliffside hotel with spa and small outside pool. What makes it special is the new lodges tucked below, from which you can step out onto the hotel’s private Blue Flag beach. These cleverly designed havens look snug, but, once inside, they magically unfold downwards and outwards like a tardis.
Ours had three spacious, en-suite bedrooms, a hot tub, a sauna ‘pod’, a huge, open-plan living area and private garden. There was lemon drizzle cake for tea, a soothing whoosh of waves and even a friendly seal bobbing cheerfully in the sea. To the right of the wide view is St Ives (a 25-minute walk along the cliff path); to the left, romantic Godrevy lighthouse, inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse.
Our car-less state was restful, too. We walked east towards Hale, past medieval St Uny’s church, Levant, with its atmospheric coastal graveyard, and the oystercatchers and squat turnstones pottering on the mudflats. At Levant Saltings we caught the small train whose line hugs the cliff back to St Ives; impressively, it runs every half-hour but, be warned, it doesn’t always stop at Carbis Bay.
This is the time to visit St Ives. The pretty, narrow streets were calm, the many galleries besides Tate and Barbara Hepworth quiet and inviting, and an excellent delicatessen provided a picnic. Best of all is the walking, up around the headland by tiny St Nicholas Chapel, which once housed weapons and was saved from demolition by the War Office, across Porthmeor beach and far into the distance on the bracken-clad South West Coast Path towards Sennen and Land’s End.
Down in the heel of Cornwall, you can switch coasts within minutes by taxi and the outlook was strikingly different from Mount Haven in Marazion, a modern 19-room boutique hotel owned by the St Aubyn Estate. This is a more modest set-up than Carbis Bay, but exceptionally good value for money, comfortable, friendly and with fresh, local food.
Mount Haven’s money-can’t-buy USP is a prime position opposite beautiful, romantic St Michael’s Mount plus easy access onto one of the most beautiful parts of the coast path – fellow guests chiefly appeared to be walkers (with dogs).
The tide was out, so we could walk across the causeway once trodden by pilgrims for our atmospheric tour of what is surely one of the best attractions Britain has to offer (return was by amphibious vehicle, fare £3).
Our tour guide (the island is managed by the National Trust, although the St Aubyn family, who gifted it, still live there and are involved) wove an enjoyably compelling narrative, but one could also let the mind wander, imagining what it would be like to live in this beautiful place (it’s a thriving community and the chapel still has regular services) which has been a monastery, fort and family home.
Treasures include Reynolds and Gainsborough portraits, an old tidal clock, a map room, an extraordinary set of samurai warrior armour, a model of the Mount created from champagne corks – apparently it’s one of the first things the St Aubyn family would rescue from a fire – 16th-century carvings of biblical scenes and a horribly fascinating mummified cat.
Carbis Bay Hotel’s Beach Lodges can be rented from £1,200 per night, with full Cornish breakfast or breakfast hamper; 01736 795311 – www.beachlodgesstives.co.uk.
Mount Haven’s room rates start at £100; 01736 719937 – www.mounthaven.co.uk.
St Michael’s Mount is open daily from February 17 for half-term, then open with limited opening hours until the main season starts on 24 March after which it’s open six days per week (closed Saturdays). St Michael’s Mount is managed by St Aubyn Estates and run in partnership with the National Trust. See www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/explore-the-mount/national-trust for more details.
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