Cornwall is gorgeous! Stunning beaches, spectacular hiking, charming little towns and ancient history. Cornwall’s got it all. I highly recommend THREE magical DESTINATIONS in Cornwall–the Isles of Scilly, St. Mawes and Portloe–each different one from the other.
ISLES OF SCILLY
There are 150 Isles of Scilly, of which five are inhabited by a grand total of 2,200 people. These Cornish islands are the westernmost part of England. They offer beaches, kayaking, sailing, birding, hiking, golf and biking. A lot of places offer these BUT what makes the Isles of Scilly magical? Their windswept wildness and natural beauty; lack of commercialism, crowds and traffic; wild horses gracefully meandering the heath-covered moors; children going to school by boat; and stumbling upon ancient stones while hiking its hills. Stay for at least three full days, but five would be so much nicer.
Temp’s on the Isles of Scilly are above 50 degrees 360 days of the year, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Due to these temperatures, flower farming thrives here. Surprising flora and fauna (seals and puffins) live on the islands, due to their isolated location. It’s easy and fun to island hop by public boat service.
Getting to the Isles of Scilly
- FIRST take the Great Western Railway from London to Penzance (5.5 hours) “Rail hounds used to say the real name of the GWR was ‘God’s Wonderful Railway,’ and it’s easy to see why once the train leaves London and ventures into some truly iconic countryside. Castles, rivers, puffy clouds, thatched roofs, it’s all here. Sit on the left side” for best views. (Departures magazine, 2015)
- NEXT take taxi or Isles of Scilly Travel Shuttle from Penzance (not particularly scenic) to Land’s End airport and catch the 20-minute helicopter flight west to St. Mary, one of the Isles of Scilly.
- NOTE: Of course, if you want to be a party pooper, you can always fly from London to Land’s End.
STAY on the Isles of Scilly
- Hell Bay Hotel (on the island of Bryher)—Bryher is two kilometers long by one kilometer wide, so the views from the hotel are of water and meandering wild horses on the surrounding moors. The hotel is very attractive (neutrals with enough splashes of color to add happy) with spacious bedrooms, a spa, heated swimming pool, bar, restaurant, large terrace for dining, and nice ambience. Bryher is traffic-free, w/ half a dozen houses, a bar, convenience store and deli. (25 suites, some with balconies, most w/sea views)
SEE THE SIGHTS on the Isles of Scilly
- Tresco Abbey Gardens–Outstanding! Tresco is the island closest to Bryher. These gardens are spectacular and feature highly unusual subtropical plants, thanks to the Gulf Stream effect and tall windbreaks constructed by the garden’s designers…all set in the ruins of a 12th century priory; five generations have built this garden over decades, collecting plants from all over the world specially for this garden. From its website: “Many of these tender floral gems would stand no chance on the Cornish mainland, less than 30 miles away. Yet even at the winter solstice more than 300 plants will be in flower. All in all, the tropical garden is home to species from 80 countries, ranging from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa.” It’s heavenly!
- Bronze age and Celtic ruins
- Spectacular beaches, like the one at the top of this post
- Wild horses
- Bird watching is big here!
- Hiking and biking.
Back on mainland England, St. Mawes is a charming small town on an idyllic small bay, approached by classic narrow Cornwall lanes. I recommend you stay at least three nights.
STAY in St. Mawes
Hotel Tresanton–This is a smallish and comfortably sophisticated hotel. It is quite perfect! All bedrooms, which are beautifully decorated, have views across the little bay to the St. Anthony Lighthouse. It has a restaurant, bar, and very attractive gift shop. (30 rooms, some with a balcony or terrace)
SEE THE SIGHTS in St. Mawes
- Just back from St. Mawes, my cousin highly recommended the hike to see St. Just in Roseland’s church, as well as The Watch House restaurant in St. Mawes.
- See the bottom of this post for more sights to see near St. Mawes, which is nearish Portloe.
Portloe is a tiny village that looks just like Portwen, the fictitious fishing village featured in “Doc Martin,” a public TV hit show. Portloe is nestled in a charming cove and tiny harbor, surrounded by cliffs and headlands. When we were there several years ago, Portloe had only two commercial establishments: a nice pub (good fish pie) and The Lugger Hotel. It was great, so genuine! I suggest you stay at least three nights.
STAY in & near Portloe
- The Lugger Hotel–Charming, updated 17th century inn located on the water, with an attractive restaurant. (22 rooms, some with a terrace, plus a 2-bedroom cottage available for rent)
- The Nare Hotel–We walked along the spectacular Cornish Southwest Coast Path from Portloe to The Nare Hotel, stunningly located on a huge, undeveloped cove with huge, crescent-shaped beach. The NH has the cove all to itself! The Nare is not in a town but is self-contained with its own restaurant , bar and other amenities. (36 bedrooms and suites, some with balconies and terraces)
SEE THE SIGHTS in & around Portloe
- The Cornish Southwest Coast Path–Hike the footpath along the gorgeous coast!
- The Lost Gardens of Heligan
- Tregothnan, the largest private botanical garden in Britain
- St Just in Roseland (two miles north of St. Mawes) is famous for its 13th-century “St Just’s Church, St Just in Roseland set in riverside gardens luxuriantly planted with semitropical shrubs and trees, many of which are species rare in England. The church perches on the edge of a tidal creek beside the Carrick Roads on the Fal Estuary just outside the main village. The path from the road to the church is lined with granite blocks carved with quotations and verses taken from the Bible,” per Wikipedia. My cousin just hiked from the Hotel Tresanton to St. Just and reported that it was WELL WORTH the trek through some mud. She wished she had seen the Hotel Tresanton’s wellies, set aside for the use of its guests!
- National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth
- St. Michael’s Mount–This striking National Trust property is the English equivalent of France’s Mont St. Michel.
From the St. Michael’s Mount website: “By the time of the Norman conquest in 1066, St Michael’s Mount had come into the possession of the monks of its sister isle, Mont St Michel in Normandy. In the 12th century it was their hands that built the church and priory that still lie at the heart of the castle today. From 1193 when the Mount was seized by Henry La Pomeray who disguised his men as pilgrims, through the Wars of the Roses in 1473 when the Mount was held by the Earl of Oxford, to the Civil War, when Royalists valiantly held back the forces of Oliver Cromwell – the Mount has weathered many times of battle. Gaze out across the rows of cannons which once drove a Napoleonic ship to its capture on Marazion beach or peer up to the top of the church tower where the first beacon was lit of the series that warned London of the approach of the Spanish Armada.”
Literary Traveling Companions: “The Shell Seekers,” by Rosamunde Pilcher and “Rebecca,” by Daphne du Maurier
DVD’s to Watch in Advance of Your Trip to Get You into the Cornwall Mood: “Doc Martin” PBS series