As well as its surfing, spectacular coastline and stand-out dining, the other thing Cornwall is famous for is art. And St Ives is the epicentre of the Cornish art scene, thanks to its long creative history. It’s little wonder the former fishing village has become such an artistic hub, the natural landscape has long been a feast for the eyes and soul. Now it’s become one of the most sought-after holiday destinations, too. Here’s why we love it.
Cornwall is already well-known as the nation’s favourite holiday destination, thanks to its beautiful coastal towns and villages, which tumble down steep winding roads to the sea. From the pretty ports of the south coast to the beautiful beaches of the north coast, the county is the perfect British getaway, combining natural wonders with high-end eateries and world-beating beaches.
But it’s also an art hub and the heart of the scene is lovely St Ives, West Cornwall. Early last century, the fishing village became a thriving art colony and the centre of the British modernist movement. Now it’s full of galleries, including the Tate St Ives, Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, Leach Potterymuseum, Newlyn School of Art and the St Ives School of Painting.
Where to stay
Carbis Bay, just next to St Ives, was the spot chosen to host the recent G7 summit, and little wonder. The stunning bay is the ultimate in Cornish luxury. One of the newest destinations there is Una St Ives – a luxury lodge resort consisting of one to four-bedroom self-catering lodges and villas that combine modern comfort with sustainability. The high-end lodges were built with solar panels, cedar cladding, lamb’s wool insulation and triple-glazed windows and the resort has a heat recovery system. The clever living roofs are sedum, designed to form a tightly-knit blanket of blossoms that blend into the landscape and provide insulation at the same time whilst also improving air quality by producing oxygen.
We loved our lodge, with its balcony overlooking the stunning scenery and stylish but comfortable interiors with every little detail thought of, including original local artworks on the walls.
Una St Ives is all about doing as little or as much as you want, from reading a book in the lovely grounds, to using the indoor infinity pool and gym for those days when it rains (yes, it sometimes rains in Cornwall) or enjoying a treatment at the spa. The pretty spa offers everything from massage treatments to facials and I loved the Elemis products.
We also enjoyed being able to choose between eating at home, in one of the many local restaurants, or staying on the resort for dinner in the restaurant, Una Kitchen. Headed up by award-winning Cornish chef Glenn Gatland, it’s all about Mediterranean-inspired dishes made from fresh, local ingredients. Don’t miss the woodfired pizzas, they were absolutely delicious.
What to do
St Ives School of Painting: If you fancy yourself as a bit of an old, or young master with the brush, you can make use of your time in St Ives by enrolling in a class at the St Ives School of Painting. St Ives has been a magnet for major artists for years, including Turner, Whistler and Walter Sickert and it also attracted writers including D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf who, it’s said, was inspired to write To the Lighthouse by Godrevy Lighthouse. After World War II, modern artists formed a school of abstract artists for which St Ives was to become famous. The St Ives School of Painting has been running since 1938 in the same studios where Leonard Fuller taught the first drawing class. Now it runs art classes for everyone from beginners to accomplished artists looking to finesse their skills and is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours, or a few days.
Tate St Ives: For proof how important St Ives is to the arts scene, is the fact it is home to its own Tate. The art gallery is in a beautiful 1930s building right on the edge of the ocean, with stunning views that capture the light that so inspired the modern art movement. It’s a must-visit for anyone coming to St Ives. Make sure to book ahead for a timed-entry ticket, especially during peak season, as it’s very popular.
Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden: The Tate also manages the lovely Barbara Hepworth Museum, another must-do on the St Ives’ tourist list. Artist Barbara Hepworth moved to Cornwall with her family at the outbreak of World War II and the studios she lived and worked in from the 1940s are now the museum, as her work and home was given to the nation after her death in 1975. “Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic,” Hepworth said and it’s the same experience for anyone who visits it now, with her sculptures still laid out in the garden where she placed them. It’s a lovely, peaceful place to spend time in.
Leach Pottery: Another wonderful art space and museum is Leach Pottery – one of the most respected studio potteries in the world. It was founded in 1920 by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada and opened as a museum in 2008, with the aim to be an “ambassador for pottery” and “champion of the handmade”. I took a tour and can’t recommend it highly enough – you can watch the artisans working on their pottery, learn the craft and imbibe the fascinating history of the space. You can also get your hands dirty and have a go with one of their classes or courses and if your own work is a bit wobbly, then luckily, they have a shop which is a great place to get yourself some new tablewear.
Where to eat
As well as arts and crafts, St Ives is also a gourmet epicentre, so you are spoilt for choice when it comes to food. Three restaurants in St Ives make it into the Michelin Guide, including Porthminster Beach Café, Porthminster Kitchen and Porthmeor Café Bar and you are spoilt for choice from fabulous seafood and fine-dining, right down to the famous Cornish ice-cream and pasties.
However, for something really memorable, then go to Ugly Butterfly restaurant in neighbouring Carbis Bay. I can honestly say this was one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in. Set within the Carbis Bay Hotel estate, with its private beach, this was the location for the G7 summit and you’ll feel like a world leader when you dine there.
Chef Adam Handling, of Covent Garden’s Frog restaurant fame has created a sustainable luxury restaurant using hyper-local ingredients including seafood and foraged food. The view from the oceanfront restaurant, with floor to glass windows is frankly insane, it’s so spectacular and the bright, open, sleek and stylish interiors have an intimate atmosphere. The food is served like an art form and it is the perfect place for a special occasion or very intimate dinner.
I loved the fact it’s also a zero-waste restaurant and offers snacks and small plates made using ingredients usually discarded. I strongly recommend trying the tasting menu, which is a true feast for the senses, the presentation is so beautiful that you don’t want to eat it, but when you do, the unique and unexpected flavours are a delight.
Eating here isn’t just eating out, it’s a whole experience – one, like my stay in St Ives, I will never forget.