Easy Escapes: St Ives, Cornwall

If you want brilliant beaches, good food and plenty to enjoy, you can't go wrong with the Cornish seaside in summer

If you want brilliant beaches, good food and plenty to enjoy, you can’t go wrong with the Cornish seaside in summer

Why go? For wide, clean sands, traditional seaside fun, rewarding coastal walks, fresh fish and seafood, ice creams galore… On the north coast of Cornwall, St Ives makes as good a case for the British staycation as any, with the bonus of being an historic artists’ escape with an outpost of the Tate Gallery. It’s a fair old drive for most of us, but there are various rail connections too, including First Great Western’s Cornish Riviera service, which takes just over five hours from London Paddington. The ride gets more and more scenic the further southwest you go, crossing rivers, running alongside the sea and winding through enchanting pockets of rural bliss.

Oh so pretty: beach huts on Porthminster Beach © imagepalace.co.uk

When? Now if you want the full-on summer-by-the-sea experience, or go in September after the schools go back when things are quieter but still warm. There’s plenty of cultural events to enjoy during the St Ives Festival (13-27 September, stivesseptemberfestival.co.uk), and more again in the winter – check out stivesindecember.co.uk nearer the time.

You really must… St Ives has caught the eye of artists for centuries – Turner was here in 1811 and in the 1930s the town became home to a creative colony that included the potter Bernard Leach, painter Ben Nicholson and sculptor Barbara Hepworth. Since 1993 the town has been home to Tate St Ives (tate.org.uk/stives) which doesn’t have a permanent collection but stages three exhibitions a year, currently Modern Art and St Ives, until 28 September. Buy a combined ticket that includes entry to the nearby Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, where she lived and worked from 1949-75. St Ives also has many contemporary art galleries to explore, including the stand-out Penwith Gallery (penwithgallery.com) and Porthminster Gallery (porthminstergallery.co.uk).

You can’t miss the beaches – Porthmeor has a Blue Flag for its quality of water and services. Get surfing, kayaking or paddleboarding with St Ives Watersports (stivessurfschool.co.uk) – if it turns chilly, you can pick up a (flattering) wetsuit for as little as £20. Or go horseriding on the moors with nearby Penhalwyn Trekking (01736 796461).

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside: the State Room at the Pedn Olva hotel

Stay at: The Pedn Olva Hotel (doubles from £175 with breakfast in August, pednolva.co.uk) overlooks Porthminster Beach and is just a few minutes’ walk from the train station. Classed as three star but better than that, its jumble of 30 ‘cabins’ have a bright, light feel with simple tongue-and-groove wood panelling, Lloyd Loom-style chairs and lots of creams and whites. In summer it’s worth paying a bit more for a balcony or terrace, or splash out on the lordly State Room. There’s also a roof terrace, small outdoor pool, and a restaurant that serves a decent breakfast that includes Cornish smoked haddock.

In the town centre, The Queen’s Hotel (from £89 with breakfast, queenshotelstives.com) has ten rooms in a simple, contemporary style set above a friendly gastro-pub that serves well-executed fare such as tempura tiger prawns (£6) and lamb loin with mash (£16). For other affordable places to stay around Devon and Cornwall check out the St Austell Brewery’s collection of hotels and inns (staustellbrewery.co.uk).

Catch this: fresh fish at Porthminster Beach Café © imagepalace.co.uk

Dine at: A handy stop after visiting Tate St Ives, Porthmeor Café (porthmeor-beach.co.uk) has a perfect view of beach life and serves everything from breakfast bacon butties (£3.75) to a whole baked sea bream (£13.75). Porthminster Beach Café (porthminstercafe.co.uk) is equally appealing with a smarter and more well-heeled vibe (mains around £19). Rum & Crab Shack (rumandcrabshack.com) majors on that and is set in a casual first floor room with wooden planks and beams, maritime flags and bluesy sounds. The rum (all 50 of them) and cocktail menu will hit the spot whatever the weather and the menu has tempting dishes such as chargrilled Cornish sardines (£7.95) and Jamaican ‘Run-Down’ fish stew (£10.95) – but save space for the light and zingy rum baba (£5.50)…

For a picnic, seek out The Yellow Canary Café (theyellowcanary.com), which serves excellent sandwiches and clever little takeaway cream tea kits. Always make reservations, and watch out for the dive-bomber seagulls who’ll brazenly pinch the ice cream right out of your hands.

Shack attack: you can drink and dine well at the Rum & Crab © imagepalace.co.uk

Bring home: Nautical-theme togs and robust sailcloth bags from Quba (quba.com), earthy crockery from Leach Pottery (leachpottery.com), Cornish cider from Johns Wines (75 Fore St), saffron cake and pasties.

Book now: First Great Western (08457 000 125; firstgreatwestern.co.uk) offers rail services from London Paddington via St Erth, plus there’s a Night Riviera sleeper service.

Info: St Ives Visitor & Information Centre (0905 252 2250). Devon and Cornwall (£12.99; Rough Guides) covers the region in depth. Useful websites are stives-cornwall.co.uk and visitcornwall.com.

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