Travel review: Cornwall - the perfect mini-break destination

The Tate at St Ives.
The Tate at St Ives.
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It used to involve at least a six hour drive, but with regular direct flights, Cornwall has become the perfect mini-break destination says Sarah Freeman.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but we were a proper 1970s family. As well as restricting a weekly box of Fondant Fancies to Sunday teatime (they were too fancy for a Monday or a Wednesday), when we went on holiday we set off in the middle of the night.

One time the lodger squeezed in the back seat with me and my brother. Another time we left the lodger, but took the hamster. Every time someone was travel sick.

The idea of setting off at 2am was to beat the traffic and no one questioned it until one year the car broke down on the driveway. By the time the new radiator had been fitted it was after lunch and we got down to Cornwall in record time.

Thankfully these days there is an easier way to negotiate the 300 or so miles from Yorkshire to the Cornish coast. With three direct flights a week to Newquay from Leeds Bradford Airport, it means that you can be door to door in about four hours and makes Cornwall viable for a long weekend.

The relaxed pace of life is evident as soon as you step out of the airport. Even the birds seem to fly a little slower and, with the hire car picked up, within a few minutes we were in the typical Cornish idyll of Mawgan Porth.

Down at the bay itself there’s a pub, a couple of restaurants, and one of those mini-supermarkets that sells buckets and spades alongside the sausages.

There have been a few new additions to the place, most notably The Park. Just around the corner from the bay it’s an eco-development of lodges and Airstream caravans which provides a little luxury and home comforts.

The whole thing has been tastefully done, the lodges are spacious and with an onsite restaurant, Gusto at the Park, serving good, reasonably priced food, as well as a pool it means that you don’t even have to get in the car to find entertainment.

In fact, while Padstow and Newquay are just a short drive away you could easily while away a few days in Mawgan Porth itself. There are numerous walks, including the often dramatic coastal path, crazy golf, pitch and putt and, for those in need of a little adrenalin rush, a frankly brilliant surf school. Pete Abell has been surfing these waters since he was a child and would have continued to do so had his dad not had a quiet word in his ear.

“He told me I couldn’t be a surfer all my life,” he says. “He was right, so I opened this place.”

Who knows whether it was quite what his dad had in mind, but Kingsurf Surf School seems to be doing pretty nicely and it offers lessons for those wanting to perfect their surfing technique as well as complete novices like us.

The hardest part of any surf lesson is getting into a wetsuit and it’s best to leave your dignity back in the lodge. Pete promises that by the end of an hour or so he can have anyone standing on the board. During our session, when the waves were almost non-existent, it tested his claim but, while Baywatch it wasn’t, for a few, brief glorious seconds I swear I was riding the waves like a pro. It was glorious. Or as Pete would say, ‘Totally gnarly’.

While the roads around Cornwall are notoriously windy, Mawgan Porth is a pretty good base from which to explore. An hour’s drive away is St Ives, a must for any art fan and amid the picturesque cottages there is a slice of Yorkshire. St Ives was where Castleford-born artist Barbara Hepworth moved to and her home is now open to the public as a sculpture garden and museum.

The exhibition itself is pretty basic, and like a lot of Cornish attractions it could do with an injection of cash, but it’s worth a visit for Hepworth’s work alone and the double ticket also covers entry to The Tate which, though on a much smaller scale than its sister gallery in London, has a decent permanent exhibition alongside a programme of temporary shows.

I’ll wrestle anyone who disagrees that Tintagel is Cornwall’s best attraction. The historic, clifftop ruins not only enjoy a stunning location, but they are brimming with Arthurian myths and, as an added bonus, the endless steps also mean you will leave with much tighter calf muscles.

While much of Cornwall has remained refreshingly just as it was when I ate egg sandwiches on the beach as a four year old, there have been some welcome improvements.

While the pub food still tends to be of the chicken in the basket variety, just up the road Jamie Oliver’s 15 restaurant has just celebrated its 10th anniversary. It’s pricey (starters around £12, mains around £25) but as you look out at the spectacular view it’s worth remembering all profits go to the Cornwall Food Foundation which manages the restaurant’s apprentice programme.

And as the sun sets on the bay and our visit, we promise that we won’t leave it so long until the next time.

GETTING THERE

The Park at Mawgan Porth (01637 860322, theparkcornwall.com) has a range of accommodation from lodges with hot tubs to yurts and retro trailers with log burners and campfires.

Flybe runs three flights a week to Newquay from Leeds Bradford Airport (leedsbradfordairport.co.uk). The Yorkshire Premier Lounge (0113 391 3266, premier@lba.co.uk) which offers complimentary food and drink to travellers costs £21.

For more details about attractions in Cornwall go to visitcornwall.com

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