On the doorstep in St Ives, from a very Cherished Cottage
We tried to go somewhere else. We really did. But when half-term push comes to shove, it has to be St Ives. Whilst there are many near and far-flung places we’d love to explore, sometimes it’s just too tempting to just stomp one’s stomping ground. Maybe we’re not alone, but we’re incredibly, incurably mad about St Ives.
A holiday in St Ives: firm family fixture
Our annual pilgrimage to the place has become a firm fixture, full of family rituals, from A30 shrieks of ‘tin-mine!’ heralding our imminent arrival, to return-journey whines (that’s front and backseat) of how deeply unfair it is that we can’t stay here forever (a sadness only slightly assuaged by wafts of pasty shoe-horned into the boot).
If you haven’t been to St Ives before, you’re no doubt wondering what’s so special. For us, it’s the fact that it’s the only place we know where we’ll park up on day one and not clap eyes on the motor again until we’re packing up to leave. And that’s because whatever seaside frame of mind we’re in – beach and binoculars, museum and modern art, pasty and people-watching (oh dear, two pasty references already), everything we could want from our precious away-days is right here. Little wonder that when you look around, everyone it seems, is not only chilled-out but having an achingly-good holiday.
Finding the Cherished Cottage
Despite the many holiday rituals, the one thing we’re not consistent on is the where-we-stay bit. And that’s because in a town where every nook and cranny hides yet another tempting holiday cottage, basic curiosity teases you into never staying in the same one twice. At least, this was our cottage policy until we found this cottage which is so minimalistically chic, so full of character and so well located, it’s ticking boxes we didn’t even know we had.
Alluringly-named Red Sails Cottage is tucked away in the lose-yourself labyrinth of narrow fishermen’s lanes – higgledy-piggledy cottages at every turn – known as Downalong, arguably the epicentre and beating heart of St Ives. We found it through Cherished Cottages (not, incidentally, a remote and faceless digital organisation, but a lovely bunch of passionate people based just up the road) who let a collection of simple yet superlatively-stylish luxury St Ives cottages with all the wee touches that make a stay pretty perfect. We’re talking the type of company who offer a welcome hamper of local goodies, crisp bedding, fluffy towels and complimentary smellies (and if you’re – ahem – the type of family who leave half your clobber behind – ahem – they’ll even send it all back to you).
Red Sails Cottage: Simple, stylish, central
Three-bedroomed Red Sails cottage – with a clean, contemporary style all pared-back, white-washed and neutral-toned, is arranged over three floors: there’s a beautiful kitchen/diner on the lower floor (formerly a pilchard cellar back in St Ives’ fishing heyday; thanks for forwarding the history Cherished Cottages), a spiral staircase to the first floor (sitting room, single bedroom – formerly an artist’s studio – and bathroom) and another staircase to two double bedrooms and further loo above.
What’s more, in terms of a holiday where you want to spend your days popping-out-then-returning-to-base multiple times every day, this is by far the best location, as everything you need is on the doorstep. And, in case there’s anyone who thinks that on the doorstep is just holiday hyperbole, we’ve been busy counting the ridiculously small number of footsteps from the cottage to all of the town’s best bits. Here – to demonstrate this unusual proximity – is our guide to all the St Ives essentials.
A beach within 100 footsteps
Popular tastes shift and families evolve but no one ever tires of the beach. And in St Ives in particular, with coastal light and colour like nowhere else, it’s inevitable you’ll spend vast amounts of time either gawping at it or larking about on it. Good to know then that you have a choice of three beaches within easy reach. Whilst they have traits in common – gorgeous golden sands for one – each has its own personality: on Harbour Beach (100 footsteps from the cottage), you’ll find locals and visitors idling around prom and pier – ice-cream or pasty in hand (there I go again) – whilst surfers and art lovers head to Porthmeor Beach (260 footsteps) for waves or the Tate. Porthgwidden Beach (269 steps) – more of a cove in fact – is a magical microcosm of all-things-beach with colourful huts, rocks to explore and a sublime beach café.
Fore Street and eat
If – like us – you find every excuse not to do too much in the way of cooking on holiday, you won’t be short of family-friendly places to eat. Onshore – near the Lifeboat Station on the Wharf – serves astonishingly lipsmacking wood-fired pizza whilst Hub next door has an American diner type vibe. St Ives’ streets are awash with takeaway treats or, if you do decide to cook, you can seek inspiration for your Cornish feast from The Allotment deli on Fore Street, St Ives’ picturesque and cobbled shopping hub. For added local flavour (given up on calorie-clocking now?) grab a Cornish saffron bun or heavy cake from long-established, old-fashioned cornershop bakers S.H.Ferrell & Son and be sure to catch the St Ives Farmers Market on Thursdays in Street-an-Pol.
Of course a trip to St Ives is not complete without a pasty or six (I know, I know) and you’ll find a dizzying variety of purveyors in and around Fore Street. We think the best’uns are from St Ives Bakery (236 footsteps); where there’s a queue, there’s a clue!
Also sprinkled with art galleries, alluring gift and homeware shops (and the odd teatowel-fridge magnet-thimble type emporium), you’ll find yourself treading Fore Street several times over. Expect to emerge frequently with bulging bags.
The St Ives best of the rest:
Go for the sculpture, go for the abstracts, but most of all go for the café. Where? The Tate on Porthmeor Beach where – coffee in hand – looking out over the St Ives rooftops to the coast beyond reminds you why this place has been a magnet for artists’ colonies. For a fleeting visit, you can access the shop and café without visiting the galleries but if you do have a penchant for paints, the locally-inspired collection is unique and engaging.
Pop to the pub
You can’t get a beer much closer to the sea than at The Sloop Inn (112 footsteps) on The Wharf, the epitome of old-world-charm and a lively yet cosy spot you can enjoy a Cornish Rattler (or two). At the same spot, you can also grab an ice-cream from the Moomaid of Zennor, a crepe from Pels or seaside-staple fish and chips from the Balancing Eel. Be warned – local gulls are also partial!
A short upward hike from the cottage will reward you with incomparable views of St Ives. Just follow the pathway from The Island car park up to St Nicholas Chapel (306 footsteps) and with your back to each wall of the Chapel, take in the four stunningly different views: the bay, the lighthouse, the town, the beach.
And our view? Well, we can’t prove it but we think St Ives might just be the best place on earth. Come just the once… and you’ll be back.
Lucy is a travel content contributor writing editorial and web-posts for travel service providers. Although she specialises in France, she also writes about other favourite destinations, with St Ives top of her list! FB: @LucyShrimptonFranceWriter
BRING your binoculars. Seals, cormorants and – though more rarely – dolphins can be spied from here.
FIND Alfred Wallis’ house and unusual gravestone. The story of the retired seaman who began his unique brand of painting in his later years is heartrending.
TAKE the train journey to St Erth terminus and back again, even just for the sake of it. There’s something very Famous Five about this line and make sure you’re sitting sea-side: the views are extraordinary.