Where to remain, what to eat and issues to do within the Cornish port city

Travel essentials

When to go

Cornwall is having a bit of a moment in 2021. With overseas holidays increasingly challenging, half of Britain seems bound for the South-west this summer – and with them, the leaders of the free world, who are congregating on Carbis Bay (1), near St Ives, for the G7 summit this weekend.

Not that this corner of Cornwall really needs the extra publicity: St Ives has long been celebrated as one of Cornwall’s prettiest (and most popular) port towns. A photogenic muddle of cobbled lanes, slate rooftops and winding alleys, it has been an artists’ haunt since the late 19th century, and these days it is one of the county’s biggest tourist magnets (and a notorious hotspot for second homes).

Summer is always busy, so to see the town at its best, visit in early spring or late autumn, when the crowds are lighter, beaches emptier and accommodation much easier to come by.

(Map: i)

Better still, come in winter: you will have the town largely to yourself, and storms often bringbig surf and impressively wild seas to the coastline. It is also the time of year when you will be able to appreciate the qualities that attracted artists to St Ives in the first place – the quiet winding streets, quaint architecture, golden beaches, and above all, its special quality of light. For more information, see stives-cornwall.co.uk.

Where to stay

St Ives has a huge choice of accommodation, but it’s not cheap (even basic B&Bs are pricey these days). You will need to book months ahead if you want to visit at peak times.
Boskerris Hotel (2) in Carbis Bay is a swish choice. Its stylish rooms, wraparound sea views and sleek décor – not to mention a fantastic outside terrace – feel more French Riviera than Cornish coast. B&B from £200.

In the middle of St Ives, Primrose House (3) is a smart little 11-room hotel refurbished in fashionable Scandi style – plenty of curvy wood, mid-century furniture and twisted willow. There is a fun loft suite accessed via a steep stepladder. B&B from £140.
West by 5 (4) is a good value B&B, situated in a classic Edwardian terrace offering pleasant rooms and harbour views. B&B from £90.

How to get around

St Ives is a compact town, easily explored on foot – but the traffic in high season is hellish, and parking is expensive and devilishly hard to find. A better way to arrive is by train: leave your car next to the station at St Erth and catch the scenic branch line, which trundles along the coast to St Ives station (5) for three memorably scenic miles. A day return ticket is a bargain at just £4, too (greatscenicrailways.co.uk).

Saturday

Start the day

Stroll down to the waterfront for breakfast and a first-class flat white at Yallah Coffee (6), the St Ives outpost of the Cornish roastery (yallahcoffee.co.uk).

Don’t miss

The big-ticket sight is, of course, Tate St Ives (7), a striking white curl overlooking the sandy sweep of Porthmeor Beach. It explores the history of the local art scene, with a revolving display of works by luminaries including Barbara Hepworth, Terry Frost and Peter Lanyon. It also hosts a major seasonal exhibition by a modern artist; this year it is South Korean artist Haegue Yang. The gallery has also recently received a multi-million-pound, award-winning extension – so is well worth revisiting even if you’ve been before. Visit is by pre-booked timed slot, adults £10.50, under-18s free, tate.org.uk/visit/tate-st-ives.

A joint ticket is available which includes entry to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden (8), housed in the artist’s former studio on Barnoon Hill. The highlight is the delightful little back garden, filled with the artist’s striking sculptures – and informed by her lifelong fascination for the shapes, textures and forms of the Cornish landscape. Timed bookings essential, free for Tate members, adults £7, children free, tate.org.uk.

A general view of the harbour at the popular tourist seaside town of St Ives, close to The Carbis Bay Estate hotel and beach (Photo: Getty)
A general view of the harbour at the popular tourist seaside town of St Ives, close to The Carbis Bay Estate hotel and beach (Photo: Getty)

Equally influential, in its own way, is The Leach Pottery (9), situated a little out of town at the top of steep Higher Stennack. Founded in 1920 by the innovative potter Bernard Leach and the Japanese ceramicist Shoji Hamada, it is still a working studio and offers classes. Booking essential, £8, leachpottery.com.

Time for a drink

There is nowhere better for an evening pint than the slate-roofed Sloop Inn (10) (sloop-inn.co.uk), one of the town’s oldest pubs (pulling pints since 1312). It occupies a prime position along the harbour wall – arrive early if you want an outside table. Or, for craft beers and a fine view over St Ives’ rooftops, head uphill to the Brewhouse Café (11) (stives-brewery.co.uk).

Dinner reservation

For sea-view dining, the long-standing Porthminster Beach Café (12) (porthminstercafe.co.uk) remains the best choice, with a panoramic terrace overlooking its eponymous beach. Despite the name, this is more continental bistro than beach café, serving crispy lemon sole, seafood broth and full-blown fruits de mer platters.

Sunday

Go for a stroll

Dodge the crowds by rising early and heading out along the South West Coast Path. One option is to walk eastwards from Porthminster Beach around to Carbis Bay, or the flat, quiet sands of Porthkidney a mile beyond.
Alternatively, walk westwards from Porthmeor Beach to the headland of Clodgy Point (13): you will be surprised by how wild the Cornish coast feels even this close to St Ives. On your way back to town, make a detour around the promontory known as The Island (14), topped by a tiny sailor’s chapel.

Lunch break

You can’t come to Cornwall and not eat a pasty. The local’s choice is Pengenna Pasties (15) (pengennapasties.co.uk). Controversially, it favours a top rather than side crust – still a matter of heated debate among aficionados.

Porthminster beach, Cornwall (Photo: Education Images/Getty)
Porthminster beach, Cornwall (Photo: Education Images/Getty)

Get painting

If you feel inspired to explore your artistic talents, book a course at the St Ives School of Painting (16) (schoolofpainting.co.uk). A stone’s throw from the Tate on Porthmeor Beach, it runs taster workshops and longer courses covering everything from life drawing to experimental landscape painting.

Learn to surf

St Ives Surf School (17) (stivessurfschool.co.uk), on Porthminster Beach, offers lessons for both novice and experienced surfers, as well as paddleboarding, kayaking and coasteering trips.

A surf school on Porthmeor Beach in St Ives (Photo: Loop Images/Getty)
A surf school on Porthmeor Beach in St Ives (Photo: Loop Images/Getty)

Explore the moors

West of St Ives unfold the wilds of Penwith: a craggy, gorse-covered expanse of granite outcrops, treeless moors and seablown coast. It is studded with engine houses and minestacks left over from the heyday of Cornwall’s mining industry. Geevor Tin Mine (geevor.com) offers fascinating underground tours, while the clifftop workings around Botallack (nationaltrust.org.uk/botallack) provide one of west Cornwall’s most famous coast views.

The area is also home to many ancient stone circles, Iron Age forts, menhirs and burial tombs (known locally as quoits or dolmens). It is a fabulous area to explore on foot, but you will need an OS map to find the more out-of-the-way spots. For a cracking pub lunch, try the Gurnard’s Head (gurnardshead.co.uk) near Zennor.

Ask a local

Joshua Quick, forager, Wild St Ives

Josh Quick (Photo: Supplied)
Josh Quick (Photo: Supplied)

“The St Ives School of Spirits offers brilliant gin-blending workshops. The three-hour course covers distilling techniques, cocktail-making and Cornwall’s smuggling history – and you get to go home with your own bespoke gin.”


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