It’s a well-known fact that the further west you travel, the wilder Cornwall becomes. The Atlantic Ocean batters the shoreline, and ancient moorland and gorse-topped cliffs are punctuated by tiny fishing villages and abandoned mine stacks. So, if it’s an authentic Cornish experience you seek, consider heading west…
Penzance draws in considerably fewer crowds than its stylish counterpart, St Ives. But in recent years this westerly town has really come into its own. Today, a number of small galleries, boutique hotels and artisanal businesses call its historic lanes home.
In recent years Penzance has gained significant recognition within the Cornish art scene. The Exchange on Princes Street is little sister to nearby Newlyn Art Gallery; an internationally renowned institution that has been bringing world-class art to south west England for over 120 years. In its former life, the building acted as the town’s telephone exchange, so The Exchange retains its original industrial feel. The gallery has exhibited major works from international and national artists, along with community-based exhibitions celebrating local talent.
At the top of historic Chapel Street, you’ll find Cornwall Contemporary. Opened in 2006 by Sarah Brittain-Mansbridge, this bright and spacious gallery is set out over three floors and show-cases the work of established and highly respected artists, alongside work by up-and-coming art school graduates.
Of course, art lovers and nature lovers alike should discover Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens. In a sheltered valley, not far from Penzance, renowned artists James Turrell, David Nash and Richard Long have combined subtropical planting with unique modern art installations. As well as the sculpture gardens themselves, Tremenheere offers an excellent cafe, gift shop and plant nursery (specialising in rare and unusual succulent varieties).
The western tip of Cornwall is a food lovers paradise, with freshly caught seafood in abundance and plenty of award-winning restaurants. The most coveted venue in town is The Shore, overseen by Bruce Rennie. This celebrated restaurant offers a small and ethically sensitive menu, with an emphasis on seafood and fresh, local produce. Expect fish straight from the day boat and vegetables from nearby growers. A small but well-formed wine list accompanies the menu, along with a selection of unique gins and locally crafted beers.
Elsewhere, The Clubhouse at The Artist Residence serves smoked and wood-fired local cuisine from their cosy, timber-clad venue. The Cornish Hen deli is the perfect place to stock up on local produce, and Totti offer simple but delectable Neapolitan pizzas.
The fishing village of Newlyn is only a brisk 20-minute walk along the seafront from Penzance. Its historic harbour is world famous for its fishing fleet and has been in use for hundreds of years (The Mayflower even stopped here in 1620 on its voyage to the New World).
Thanks to its top-notch fishing credentials, you’ll find some of the best seafood in Cornwall here. Chef Ben Tunnicliffe eschewed the fine-dining label and opened The Tolcarne Inn back in 2012. Now headed by Matt Smith, you can expect a daily updated blackboard menu showcasing the catch of the day and seasonal ingredients from local community farms and market gardens. Listen to the tinkling sounds of fishing boats outside as you sit by the fireside and soak up the traditional atmosphere with a pint of real ale among the locals.
Movie buffs will no doubt love The Newlyn Filmhouse. Set in the converted JH Turner & Co fish merchants building, this indie cinema screens everything from the latest mainstream films to art-house pictures. Everywhere you look there are traces of the building’s past, brought up-to-date with contemporary furnishings and objet d’art. The onsite restaurant and bar are both worth a visit in their own right, with eccentric d.cor, an eclectic menu and a good selection of drinks.
Coastal footpaths wind their way out of the village, offering plenty of spots for sea swimming or paddling. Newlyn’s little-known beach, Sandy Cove, is also a great spot for shell hunting or combing the pebbles for beautifully polished sea glass.
Few places are as quintessentially ‘Cornish’ as the tiny fishing village of Mousehole. Just a 15-minute drive from Penzance (or an hour or so walking, if you want to brave the coastal air), Mousehole is blessed with outstanding views, great surf and some seriously gorgeous holiday rentals.
The only watering hole in Mousehole is The Ship Inn: a busy little pub that’s part of the St Austell Brewery family. The food is fairly standard pub grub, but they pull plenty of pints and serve some great local ales and ciders.
Want to book the best restaurant in town? That would be 2 Fore Street. It’s got a laid-back bistro vibe and is situated right on Mousehole harbour. Menus change regularly, so there’s always something to take your fancy, whether that’s a hand-picked crab salad or lemon sole fillets with salty samphire.
Mousehole is a community that holds steadfast to its traditions. Every December, its picturesque harbour is illuminated by hundreds of twinkling Christmas lights. Visitors travel from far and wide to watch the town light up and locals have fondly dubbed the proceedings ‘Mouse Vegas’.
St Michael’s Mount
St Michael’s Mount is a magical little tidal island crowned by a medieval castle. After a steep climb to the top, you’ll be rewarded with outstanding views and beautiful island gardens. The Mount’s historic stone walls harbour a multitude of plants, from tiny succulents to giant agaves. Inside the castle, you can wander century-old corridors and unravel the history of the St Aubyn family, who have lived on St Michael’s Mount since the 17th century.
Since the island is owned by The National Trust, make sure you remember to bring your pass with you; else the entry fee is £16pp.
The Minack Theatre
Follow the coast round to Porthcurno and you’ll find one of the most extraordinary places in all of Cornwall: The Minack Theatre. Lovingly carved into a hunk of cliff, The Minack Theatre offers magical performances against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. Its dramatic setting and stunning views of Porthcurno Bay are well worth experiencing, however excitement at The Minack comes from its open-air performances. There’s something quite special about watching a cast of actors perform their art as the sun sets behind them and the stage lights up in technicolour.
When you hit Lands’ End you’ve gone as far west as possible without getting your feet wet. Congratulations. Why not get your photo taken at the famous Lands’ End sign or pay a visit to one of the area’s many tourist spots? Here you’ll find interactive amusements ‘Arthur’s Quest’ and ‘The End to End Story’, as well as Greeb Farm and the West Country Shopping Village. Personally, we prefer to savour the rugged coastline and striking sea views with a brisk coastal walk – each to their own!
For more Cornwall holiday inspiration, why not get your hands on our Cornwall Travel Guide?