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the gentle south

South Cornwall

This pocket of Cornwall is a little gem — discover beautiful fishing harbours lining the coast, rolling countryside crisscrossed with miles of walking and cycling routes, quiet sandy beaches, and some of Cornwall’s best-loved visitor attractions just a stone’s throw away. It’s also brilliantly connected to two of Cornwall’s largest hubs — visit nearby St Austell for museums and great places to eat and drink, and Truro further south for independent boutiques and the city’s beautiful Gothic-style cathedral. This part of the coast has a rich maritime history — you can find out about shipwrecks, smuggling and the once-thriving pilchards industry in fascinating museums.

You’re also well-placed for visiting the Roseland Peninsula, one of Cornwall’s undiscovered gems — a place of secluded beaches, brilliant places to eat right on the coast and wonderful wildlife. From here you can catch the car ferry to Falmouth and explore further south if you wish. And if the surf is calling you, Newquay on the north coast is an easy half-hour drive.

You could stay in

The South Cornwall guide

Historic harbours

One of the best things about this area of south Cornwall is the number of historic harbours dotted along its coastline. Charlestown, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most picturesque, its Georgian harbour and tall ships floating within its old walls has graced the screens of many a period drama (Poldark fans are sure to recognise the backdrop). Further south, Mevagissey was once the centre of the pilchard industry and remains a bustling harbour to this day, its lovely harbour surrounded by green sea cliffs which have provided inspiration to countless artists over the centuries. An hour’s walk south along the coast path from Mevagissey is the tiny harbour town of Gorran Haven. Little changed over the centuries, its sandy beach a popular spot for bucket-and-spade families and fish and chip suppers.

Gateway to the Roseland Peninsula

The Roseland Peninsula is a magical, little-travelled area cut off from ‘mainland’ Cornwall by the Fal River, which cuts a wiggly course east from the National Trust gardens at Trelissick. The greatest draw are its beaches, which feel almost Mediterranean in summer when paddleboarders and kayakers drift lazily between the sheltered coves that dot the coastline. The area is awash with brilliant beachside eateries, such as the Hidden Hut, perched above Porthcurnick beach, the wonderful Thirstea, a cafe in a converted horse box set back off Carne beach, and Shillakabooky Beach Hut on Pendower beach. Beyond the beaches, there’s plenty to see and do — stroll around the harbour town of St Mawes and its castle (from here you can catch the 20-minute ferry to Falmouth for the afternoon), tackle a section of the coastal path, go rockpooling at Porthcurnick, browse galleries in Tregony or visit gardens at Caerhays and Tregothnan.

Things to do

The Eden Project

Perhaps Cornwall’s best-loved attraction, the former clay mine has been transformed into a multi award-winning attraction, housing the world’s largest indoor rainforest with thousands of plants in eight interlinked giant greenhouses, or ‘biomes’. Children will love the rainforest canopy walkway, rope bridge and waterfall, and the fragrant and colourful Mediterranean biome with ancient olive trees, vines and herbs. Outside there’s thirty acres to explore, sculpture, art and architecture, and an educational centre hosting demonstrations, workshops and courses on sustainability. In the summer, the site hosts music concerts and art exhibitions in the grounds at the popular Eden Sessions.

Forever Cornwall Camel Trail Bikes

The Pentewan Cycle Path

This 3.5-mile route follows the old railway line which brought China clay from the hills above St Austell to Pentewan; from here, you can continue on to Mevagissey — a couple of miles north — along the The Cornish Way cycle route. It’s largely traffic-free, making it a great family-friendly cycle route, with its meandering wooded route running close to the riverbank. You can take a detour to the Lost Gardens of Heligan along the way, or link up with the Wheal Martyn to Eden Project Trail and other Clay Trails.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

For seventy years, following the outbreak of WWI, the beautiful gardens of Heligan were lost to the outside world, only to be rediscovered in 1990 under a thick blanket of brambles. The restoration of Heligan’s 200-acre site has now become the largest garden project of its kind in Europe. There’s masses to see; you’ll need most of the day to explore the various gardens. There’s the jungle with its boardwalks and rope bridge, the productive kitchen gardens (which supply the cafe) and flower gardens, best visited in the warmer months. The Italian garden has a distinctly Mediterranean feel, whilst the 200-year old Pleasure Grounds has beautiful pathways winding through historic plants.

Places to eat

Heligan Kitchen

Most of this cafe’s ingredients come straight from the 200-acre estate, travelling just 157 yards from field to fork. With the rest of their produce coming from within Cornwall, they are justly proud of their seasonal and sustainable approach to food. The menu changes regularly, with fresh salads and barbecues in summer, perfect for lazy afternoons out on the picnic benches, to winter warmers and stews to curl up with in front of the log burner. Their tasty cakes and afternoon teas are popular throughout the year.

The Crown Inn, St Ewe

This friendly, family-run 16th-century pub in the heart of pretty St Ewe is a great place to stumble across for lunch or a pint of award-winning ale in the big garden at the back, where you get wonderful country views across to the ‘Cornish Alps’ in the distance. The pub is particularly popular for its Sunday roasts and its fish and seafood, with the likes of Cornish sole, local mussels and lobster gracing the large menu. Inside, it’s traditional and cosy, with comfortable oak settles by open fires and friendly staff. Whatever the hour, expect lots of bustle from locals, dog walkers and families. Exactly as a pub should be.

Harbour Tavern Mevagissey Cornwall

The Harbour Tavern

Right on the quay, the Harbour Tavern is a traditional-looking pub serving not-so-traditional pub food. The menu features all the pub classics, such as fish and chips and burgers, as well as a Cornish-inspired tapas menu, making use of the freshest, locally caught fish that comes in each day. They also have their own woodfired pizzas, which can be ordered to takeaway if you can’t find a spot inside. The first-come-first-served policy means you’ll need to tip up early in peak season if you want to guarantee yourself a table.

Beaches

Hemmick Beach

At low tide, hundreds of little coves and caves are revealed on this hidden little beach, tucked around the headland from Gorran Haven. The small National Trust car park, about a quarter of a mile up the steep hill, is the closest parking, but don’t let the steep access put you off — this unspoilt stretch of sand and shingle is one of our favourite south Cornwall beaches. It’s worth trekking up the path up through the woods to Dodman Point — the highest point on Cornwall’s south coast — where you will be rewarded with stunning views across to the Nare Head and Vault Beach.

Pendower

This National Trust beach is dog-friendly year round; at low tide it merges with Carne beach next door to create one long expanse of sand over a mile long. It’s also home to a quirky café set back from the beach — the Shallikabooky Beach Hut is the place to refuel on light snacks, pasties, ice creams and hot drinks, including delicious hot chocolate with all the trimmings. Kite surfers and bodyboarders come to play in the sheltered waters, whilst the stream which runs down the beach entices youngsters with nets and buckets.

Vault Beach

If you don’t mind a little walk to get here (about 15 mins from the car park), this off-the-beaten-track beach is one of south Cornwall’s best and is relatively quiet even in peak season. The wide, gently shelving shale beach stretches for over a kilometre and is great for swimming and snorkelling, especially towards Penveor Point where you’ll find rookpools. Stick to the eastern end unless you want to bare all — the western side is unofficially a nudist beach. It’s not far from Gorran Haven if you need to nip into the shops for picnic supplies.