Hugely popular during the pandemic for summer escapes, Cornwall is magical in winter too, as Katie Wright discovers.
Ducking into the diminutive St Ives Bakery, where rows of pink and white marbled meringues are stacked in the windows, the inviting aroma of freshly baked pastry envelops you like a warm hug.
Rumour has it that the Fore Street bakery sells the seaside town’s finest pasties, and when I arrive in the early afternoon there are only a handful of the day’s shortcrust delicacies left.
Keen to expand my horizons, instead of the traditional Cornish variety I select a steak and stilton pasty, devouring the thick pastry pocket filled with chunks of tender beef, root vegetables, gravy and tangy blue cheese straight from the brown paper bag while perched on a low wall at the seafront, a few minutes’ walk downhill from the bakery.
These baked goods are popular with the locals, too, I discover, when a huge seagull swoops down behind me and grabs the last chunk of mine right out of my hand.
Later, as I wander along the winding cobbled streets of St Ives, I spy in the window of a gift shop an apron illustrated with a seagull and the words: ‘Pasty thief of St Ives’. If only I’d known.
There’s lots to see as you munch and mooch your way around West Cornwall’s picturesque fishing port. Since the late 19th century, it’s been a magnet for painters wanting to take advantage of the beautiful light, and is now home to many small, independent galleries as well as Tate St Ives, showcasing works by modern artists linked with the area.
Hiking along the rocky path that leads around St Ives Head, it’s not hard to see why artists flocked to the region. On the other side of the steep promontory, bright sunshine illuminates beautiful Porthmeor beach, where scores of surfers are scattered in the sparkling, jade green waves.
Even more breathtaking, Gwithian Towans beach is located on the other side of St Ives Bay. There, grassy sand dunes make way for a huge, flat expanse of white sand. In the distance, whitewashed Godrevy Lighthouse (made famous by Virginia Woolf’s novel To The Lighthouse) sits atop a tiny outcrop. A few brave wetsuit-clad surfers limber up then jog out, boards under arms, into the whitewash.
Feeling a chill just watching them dive in, I head in the opposite direction back to the dunes and the Hungry Horsebox, a mobile cafe housed in a converted horse transportation box, to indulge in their ultimate hot chocolate, a cup of silky-smooth hot cocoa topped with whipped cream, two wafers, a flake and toasted marshmallows on a stick, plus crumbled homemade praline, sprinkles and more marshmallows – the perfect antidote to Gwithian’s bracing coastal winds.
If surfing or wild swimming aren’t your cup of tea, there is one way to take a dip in Cornwall without having to brave biting sea temperatures. Opened last year, the UK’s first geothermal lido, part of the art deco Jubilee Pool complex, extracts water from a 410-metre well to keep the shallow saltwater pool at a balmy 30 to 35 degrees C.
The water feels wonderful when I first wade in, but I have to keep paddling to stay warm enough during the hour-long session (£11.75 for an adult; jubileepool.co.uk).
Even more steamy than the geothermal pool is the hot tub I sink into that night (and every other night) on the terrace of The Gate House, the three-bedroom former rectory in which I’m staying on the Clowance Estate.
Situated at the far end of the 97-acre estate, surrounded by trees that are starting to shed their autumn leaves, the property feels secluded and cosy yet spacious, with an open-plan kitchen/dining area and conservatory that opens onto the terrace.
With delightfully comfy beds (the sheets are five-star hotel-level soft) and virtual silence at night, the luxurious bedrooms are ideal if catching up on sleep is top of your holiday priorities.
The main Clowance manor house was the seat of the St Aubyns family until 1839. Now the building houses a reception, a cafe-bar, the swimming pool, gym and spa.
From Scandi-style A-frame lodges to converted houses, all properties are self-catered, meaning the kitchens are very well-equipped (I get particularly excited about the immaculate drawers full of cutlery and utensils) and supermarket delivery drivers are used to dropping off grocery orders straight to your door.
Last year, the estate was forced to close due to coronavirus restrictions, but once lockdown ended and UK travel opened up, Cornwall became a hugely popular summer staycation destination.
“It’s been a bit up and down,” says resort manager Wayne Gilbert. “The impact on the business was massive.”
Now though, Clowance is almost back to full capacity and the team is relishing being in the spotlight.
“It’s given us a good opportunity as a company to show people what we’re all about,” says Gilbert, who enjoys welcoming back guests who “love the sights and the quirkiness of Cornwall”.
With renewed travel restrictions due to the Omicron variant, staycations are looking even more attractive again, and as my visit proves, Cornwall makes for a brilliant break all year round, not just in summer.
If country walks, stunning scenery and charming seaside villages float your boat, you’ll find a lot to love here – just make sure to watch out for the seagulls.
How to plan your trip
Luxury Lodges is a collection of hotel-quality, self-catering lodges in the UK’s most spectacular and desirable holiday destinations, with two night stays starting from £1,075. For more information on Clowance, visit luxurylodges.com/clowance.