I’ve lived in various places over the years, but nowhere has a creative underbelly as bewitching as Cornwall. Here, making and doing is simply a way of life; nature informs art, and art can be found in the restaurants hidden away from beach fronts; on farms where craftspeople gather in studios, from ceramicists to leather-workers, furniture designers to rum distillers; in tiny shops where owners curate the best of the county’s independent; and the hidden coves tucked away on rugged coastlines that serve as backdrops for long-table gatherings or atmospheric shoots.
There are no shortages of beautiful beaches. From the white sand ones found in the western most corner, that have been shared with voracious aplomb on Instagram (much to the annoyance of many locals), to the pebble-dashed coves that appear and disappear depending on the tide on the silky Helford River. There are the cliff-dropping wonders along the Lizard. I suppose the great thing about Cornwall’s plentiful coastline is that it’s rife for discovery: no amount of guidebooks or explicit directions will replace the wonder of stumbling upon somewhere yourself.
As someone who regards themselves as a local in absentium, I’m refraining from pointing out specific secret spots or local coves. But what I do want to do is point out the people and places we should be supporting Cornwall. The ones who are little independents just like Monoware. Who you might not know from all the other countless guides. The not-so-obvious but ever-so-talented ones. The places to eat that aren’t on every broadsheet guide to Cornwall (but a couple that are, because they’re wonderful).
Often crowded with tourists, thanks to its plentiful beaches and consistent surf, Newquay is also home to some great independents and quiet coves. I head to Pavillion for a coffee and a loaf of their stretchy sourdough, then take a walk down to Newquay Harbour, which is a great little swim spot when the tide is high. Round the corner is MMW Revolver, an independent boutique meets events space, where they sell everything from Pendleton to Snow Peak. Of late, they’ve been hosting pop ups from Cornish chef Adam Banks; July was an ode to fresh pasta, which was served up in MMW’s suntrap of a courtyard. Just next door is Box & Barber (pictured above), where you might recognise some of the plates (spoiler: they’re Monoware), which are the canvas for moreish sandwiches and salads, perfect fuel for a day of coast path walking.
For a slightly more formal affair, you won’t get better seafood than at Restaurant Emily Scott, which is located at the Watergate Bay Hotel (which would be a treat to stay in, too). Think cured fresh gurnard, spiced monkfish and bread from Pavilion, in case you hadn’t grabbed a loaf earlier. Take a walk through the hotel and indulge in their skincare line, Land & Water, which takes smells and ingredients from Cornish nature and bottles them into silky oils and soaps.
Come for the curved beaches and boat trips along the Helford River; stay for the shops, galleries, makers and food. I always make a point of stopping in at Morgan’s, a new gallery where some of my favourite makers and artists exhibit, like ceramicists Julia Whiting, Sam Marks and Tor Harrison; artists like Martha Holmes, whose dreamy sketches I’d love to line my studio walls one day; and woodworkers like Will Nock, known for his textured collection of tables, chairs and smaller objects.
My first meal in Falmouth is always a seat outside at Restaurant Mine in the Old Brewery Yard, right at the top of the old high street. The menu is small but mighty, and if they have the ex-dairy cow on there, you have to get it. Their signature crab beignets are a great way to start the meal, and the fish is always perfectly plated (this month it was hake two ways). Expect a modern take on Michelin dining in a far more chilled setting.
If you end up there for lunch, have a browse in Oaken, just a couple of doors down, which sells independent Cornish makers like Emily Settle, Marazul and A Woven Plane – and historically leather goods from Falmouth maker Francli – as well as jewellery and brass hairpins crafted by founder Ellie, who also helps organise their annual Summer Fayre, which will feature products from ceramicists and jewellers, as well as food and drink from Falmouth’s best. If you’re there in August, grab a bottle of Petrel Rum which is distilled down the way near Constantine by newcomer Elle Demaus.
Constantine & The Helford Passage
Speaking of Constantine, you have to grab breakfast at Potager Cafe (pictured above) – it’s set amongst allotments and artist studios, and you can enjoy your breakfast in the greenhouse that’s covered in grapevines or the larger one that houses a giant agave plant.
Of course a trip to Falmouth is incomplete without a drive to the Helford Passage, where coastal walks and pebbled coves are the order of the day. Stumble upon some secret spots by taking a long walk and peering out over the edge to see what’s possible to clamber down, depending on the tide. Nansidwell is a great spot, which you can walk to from Swanpool Beach if you fancy a bit of a hike. The Ferry Boat Inn, a pub right on the river in Helford Village, is the ultimate place to have a few drinks as the sun goes down. I usually set down a pint, run into the river for a quick dip at high tide, and return for some dinner as the sky turns pink.
I think of Penryn as Falmouth’s more artsy younger sister. There’s Bols Yard, which is home to Pizza Pls, where they sling out delicious sourdough pizzas and serve Verdant beers (a brewery located just up the road). If you go there during the day, stop in at Flowers With M in the corner, a beautiful florist shop owned by long standing local Marisa Martin, whose arrangements flood the homes of Penryn locals daily.
For coffee, Origin’s Warehouse (pictured above) on Commercial Road is the best place to stop by for a batch brew and a plate of eggs with Cornish speck. You can then take the long and winding walk to Flushing, which snakes along the boatyard and through expansive meadows. End up at Flushing beach for a jump off the harbour pier. Driving is also handy, especially on a Saturday morning, as you can head to The Food Barn, the new farmer’s and maker’s market between Mylor and Flushing, that sells fresh produce, fish, meat and homewares. And while you’re on that side of the Fal River, take a drive across to the Roseland Peninsula, where Simon Stallard’s (woodfired chef of The Hidden Hut in Portscathoe) new pub, Standard Inn, in Gerrans will be opening later this summer.
Another Cornish holiday destination traditionally overrun with tourists, St Ives is somewhere I like to come in the off season. October here means slightly quieter beaches and space to roam the weaving little streets. Coffee at Yallah Cafe is a must, in their new cafe designed by Felix and Jake from Many Hands. It overlooks the turquoise waters of St Ives Harbour. I love walking up to Plumbline, a tiny gallery and shop that sells the most unique objects. Then it’s usually drinks at small plates at Little Palais, where you can sip on low-intervention wines and plates of charcuterie. And if not Little Palais, definitely St Eia, another bottle shop and neighbourhood bar, whose plates are based on whatever local produce is in season.
Penzance & Newlyn
Further west in Penzance and Newlyn, there’s a new creative scene emerging. Newlyn has always been a place marked for the artists of Cornwall, thanks to the eponymous art gallery where many Cornish makers and artists exhibit throughout the year. But there’s also the rising restaurant scene, too. Head to Argoe for a taste of the lesser-known fish and seafood native to Cornwall’s vast and varied waters and 45 Queen Street for some homemade Tinkture gin and seafood small plates to be enjoyed in their sunny courtyard. A trip to Penzance automatically means a dip at Jubilee Pool, an outdoor seawater lido and geothermal pool. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, The Artist’s Residence is the place to be – it’s tucked away in the old quarter of town and is decorated with that nostalgic seaside charm.