St Ives, Cornwall

I’ve just spent 5 days in the beautifully quaint seaside town of St Ives, renting an apartment overlooking the harbour and taking in all the colour, quirkiness, Cornish charm and fresh sea air which this wonderful corner of England has to offer.  Somehow though, sea air always makes me feel so lethargic… or is it just that feeling of being on a holiday specifically for the purpose of relaxing which lulls me to sleep? It may well be either, but the perfectly beautiful views across the bay from St Ives, and the experience of the town itself will always make a visit here so very memorable, that so many domestic British travellers will come back year after year, making it an especially desirable destination.  Price-wise though it’s not too bad in comparison with some other British holiday destinations for short breaks as we managed to get an apartment which easily slept 4 for under £600 for a week.

We also had a car which meant that not only did we drive here but we spent a day out, exploring the surrounding area where there is plenty to see.  For me though, I could happily have spent all my time in St Ives – there really is so much to do, especially if the weather is good.  There are boat trips to see seals, guided walks with different themes, museums, an abundance of galleries, great shopping, and plenty of different eateries and pubs to suit a variety of tastes.

This little town is full of personality too; not least in it’s architecture, as it’s a mish-mash of really narrow, cobbled streets (you can barely believe a car could drive down most of them as you can almost touch the wall on both sides at the same time!)  There are stairways and passageways between the houses and buildings where rental apartments, shops, and private homes precariously sit, as if they’re trying to scramble over the buildings in front of them just to get a view of the sea.  It’s hard to believe there is much room in the buildings themselves as they seem so small from the outside, but our apartment was pretty spacious and had everything we needed.  On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine this town being an ancient haven for smugglers and pirates many years ago, not least because of it’s labyrinthine narrow streets and ramshackled buildings, but also because of it’s old low-roofed watering holes (the oldest pub claims to date from 1312!) and because it’s one of the first inlets on the English mainland which is pretty much sheltered from the Atlantic storms.  Smuggling was in fact rife here until at least the mid 19th century and the guided walks will regale stories of the antics of various noteworthy yet shady characters from St Ives past.

We’d sort of set out to cook at home most nights, however we actually ate out all but one evening, and I became particularly enamoured by Cornish crab on this trip (crab has never really appealed much to me) and suddenly I was trying locally caught crab at pretty much every meal we ate out!  Fish is definitely the local speciality but there are just as many alternatives so if you don’t like fish you mustn’t let that put you off.  All the restaurants also seem to be competing with each other a bit so you can get a good meal without spending too much.  Except Pizza Express there are not really any of the usual chain-style restaurants, and one of my favourite finds was in fact a gourmet burger joint called ‘Blas’ (a Cornish word meaning taste or relish) which is of course not typically Cornish but I was really impressed with the place.  They have a great ethos whereby everything they use in-house is from renewable sources (even the energy in their restaurant is apparently generated from renewable sources!) and all the food they use comes from local sources… and on top of all that, there’s great, friendly service and the food is to die for!

There’s a huge culture for water-sports here, mostly dominated by the surfing crowd, but we also noticed some kite surfing, jet skiing, and when we arrived there was a swimming gala taking place in the harbour!

St Ives has been a haven for artists for many decades too, attracting the likes of sculptors, painters, and potters such as Edward Leach, Barbara Hepworth, Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson.  Today, their legacy remains not only with a branch of the famous Tate Gallery (Tate St Ives) and the Barbara Hepworth Museum, but also the seemingly hundreds of independent galleries with artists working in various mediums, touting their self produced wares.  Some of my favourite work was the stained glass, but there is also some great work in watercolour, and some really lovely pieces of sculpture.

The beaches in and around the town are golden sanded making them easy to walk on, and edged with a beautiful aquamarine ocean which changes colour constantly with the light and the tide.  Even when the sky was cloudy the sea seemed to sparkle.  It’s easy to see why the town has drawn so many artists in the past, and continues to inspire today.

Seals in St Ives Harbour

Shopping options in the town seem to be centred on Fore Street, and The Wharf, which run parallel to each other and the harbour, but there are plenty of other shops to be found in the little nooks and crannies around the quieter parts of the town.  It’s a town which is easy to walk around and although its pretty small it’s easy to get turned around and not recognise where you are, but getting lost here just feels like part of the adventure, and it doesn’t take much to get back to the main drag anyway.  Shops are pretty much split between artwork and gift shops (and it’s easy to spend most of your day browsing the array of wares here), but there are also plenty of good clothing shops, bookshops, and some amazing confectioneries and bakeries which of course all sell the ‘obligatory’ Cornish pasties in many different flavours.  Many of the shops overlook the harbour, where you’ll find pleasure boats and fishing boats rising and lowering with the tide, and one evening when we were walking home, there was a family of seals playing beside the harbour wall, much to the amusement of many of the visitors… although the seals kept coming up out of the water to have a look at us and see what all the fuss was about!

St Ives is easy to get to either by train from London, which is about a 5-6 hour journey through some amazing English scenery, and costs from about £60 upwards for a return if you book in advance.  Alternatively, you could fly in to the nearest airports, which are Newquay or Plymouth and both have scheduled services offered by no-frills airlines connecting through London or various other UK and European airports.  Accommodation in the town comes in all shapes guises and is available at both ends of the budget spectrum, and as there’s so much on offer it’s advisable to book in advance but also to shop around to get the best deal.  However, there are also often some good last minute deals and ridiculously low prices in the low season.  The weather is good from about late March through to late September, but with such good accommodation deals in the winter its worth considering as this is when the town is far quieter and looks just as beautiful, but bear in mind that outside of the peak season, many establishments and attractions close down.  This shouldn’t put you off though as the town would make a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of every day life for a week or two even in the quiet season… in fact I’m already considering a trip back here in December!