It might lack the rugged granite cliffs and seablown grandeur of the north coast, but Cornwall’s southern side has ample charms of its own: gentle creeks, green meadows, quaint harbours and world-renowned gardens such as Trebah, Trelissick, Heligan and Glendurgan, as well as the futuristic biomes of the Eden Project.
If it’s the classic Cornish combination of lofty cliffs, sweeping bays and white-horse surf you’re after, then Cornwall’s north coast fits the bill. Battered by Atlantic breakers and whipped by sea winds, the shoreline between St Ives in the south and Bude to the north is arguably the county’s most dramatic stretch of coast.
Isles of Scilly
While only 28 miles west of the mainland, in many ways the Isles of Scilly feels like a different world. Life on this archipelago of around 140 tiny islands seems hardly to have changed in decades: there are no traffic jams, no supermarkets, no multinational hotels, and the only noise pollution comes from breaking waves and cawing gulls.
Few seaside towns in Cornwall boast such an arresting location as Falmouth, overlooking the broad Fal River as it empties into the English Channel. Surrounded by green hills and blue sea, Falmouth is an appealing jumble of cobbled lanes, salty old pubs, slate roofs and trendy cafes.
The unofficial capital of Cornish surfing is also the north coast's busiest, brashest town. Newquay has had a bad rap over the years: a favourite hang-out of beer boys, beach bums and backpackers, it has a well-earned reputation for the county's rowdiest nightlife, thanks to a surfeit of pubs, bars and clubs that feel closer to southern Spain's Costa del Sol than Cornwall.
Cornwall’s southern coastline takes a sudden wild turn around the Lizard Peninsula, where fields and heaths plunge into a melee of black cliffs, churning surf and saw-tooth rocks. Cut off from the rest of Cornwall by the River Helford, and ringed by treacherous seas, the Lizard was once an ill-famed graveyard for ships, and the peninsula still has a raw, untamed edge.
The Atlantic Highway
This grandly named stretch of road (known more prosaically as the A39) stretches all the way from the Devon border into Cornwall's northeastern corner. It's an area that feels a little cut off from the rest of Cornwall, but it gives access to some of the county's prettiest fishing villages – there's a good reason that the hit TV series Doc Martin was filmed here.
If anywhere symbolises Cornwall's changing character, it's Padstow. This once-sleepy fishing port has been transformed into one of the county's most cosmopolitan corners thanks to celebrity chef Rick Stein, whose property portfolio encompasses several restaurants, shops and hotels, as well as a seafood school and fish-and-chip bar.
Overlooking the majestic sweep of Mount's Bay, the old harbour of Penzance has a salty, sea-blown charm that feels altogether more authentic than many of Cornwall's polished-up ports. Its streets and shopping arcades still feel real and a touch ramshackle, and there's nowhere better for a windy-day walk than the town's seafront Victorian promenade.