Stretched along England’s characterful southwestern tip, from the fringes of Devon all the way to Land’s End, Cornwall offers a true slice of heaven. Here, land meets sea in the form of rugged cliffs, pretty harbour villages, mesmerising moors, and gem-coloured waters lapping at beautiful beaches. A defiantly popular summer destination, Cornwall’s charms know no season – better yet, an autumn-cum-winter visit will see you falling all the more in love with this English county, as deserted tourist sites and snow-topped landscapes become your own personal idylls. From wild food foraging and feasting through to surfing and storm-watching, we pick out the best of Cornwall’s cold-weather activities.
Celebrating Cornish food
From fish plucked fresh from the sea to steaming pasties bursting with flavour, Cornwall’s warm and hearty comfort food is almost better in the colder months. Make a beeline for the Great Cornish Food Festival: held in Truro over three days during late September, it’s an all-weather feast for the eyes and stomach, with stalls ranging from speciality breads and Cornish cheese to farm cider and gourmet sausages. You’ve all manner of eateries to sample local delights at, too, whether you’re in the mood for a scoop of ice cream, venison burgers, handmade savoury pies or a proper Cornish pasty.
Strolling through sub-tropical gardens
Covering 26 dense acres above the Helford River, the Trebah Garden stuns with its sub-tropical splendour and English coastal backdrop – a unique mixture quite unlike anywhere else in the world. From a valley of hydrangeas in autumn to towering champion trees offering respite from wintry blows, this botanical garden offers a colourful and spectacular display even throughout the colder seasons. Its secluded beach, Polgwidden Cove, makes the perfect spot to unwind on after a pleasant stroll.
Pack your best hiking boots for the most scenic walk you’re likely to take, along Cornish moors and coastal trails that take on an otherworldly appearance in the winter. For an easy way to warm your leg muscles, head past harbours and docks from Penzance to Mousehole which, during the festive season, is brought to life with Cornwall‘s prettiest Christmas lights display. More daunting yet picturesque experiences await with a walk around the rugged Lizard peninsula of Poldark fame, or a long yet superb walk encompassing dunes, beaches and coves across Penhale Sands and Holywell.
Beer-tasting and brewery-touring
Soak up a spot of history on a tour of the St Austell Brewery – a Victorian site dating back to 1851, where on Fridays you can nab a front-row seat to learning about its brewing process and seeing giant copper tanks in all their glory. If the tour leaves you feeling thirsty for more, worry not – the refurbished Hick’s Bar and restaurant is particularly inviting, and serves award-winning beers alongside pub grub from Monday to Saturday, 8.30am-7pm. Don’t miss the selection of seasonal ales, from the Halloween-themed Bucket of Blood in October to the Jolly Holly, a rich and dark option available in December only.
Exploring an indoor rainforest
One of Cornwall‘s greatest achievements to date, Eden Project is more than your run-of-the-mill botanical garden: it’s the world’s largest indoor rainforest, where nature-inspired and eco-conscious design fuses with a large array of flora from across the globe. From its beginnings in 1995 as a clay pit at the end of its economic life, to its landmark erection in 2000, to its current status of international standing, Eden Project has kept sustainability at its heart – and with two massive ‘biodomes’ and outdoor gardens stretched across more than 30 acres, it offers blooming botanists a chance to enjoy tropical greenery no matter the weather, with workshops and horticultural courses topping its list of educational activities.
Cornwall‘s dramatic coastline lends itself well to breathtaking scenes of nature at its most dynamic – and while a past-time for the more thrill-seeking kind, storm-watching certainly tops all lists for a day rich in visually-striking experiences. An otherwise tranquil and family-friendly spot, Porthcurno offers a rather compelling setting when waves come crashing against Logan Rock. More spectacular still, the towns of Penzance and Porthleven have a history of furious storms brought on by gale force winds, while the village of Sennen Cove cuts a sensational setting of its own. Just remember to keep yourself warm, avoid taking unnecessary risks and, of course, watch the storms unfold from a safe vantage point.
Cooking (and, naturally, eating) with Rick Stein chefs
Those with a culinary streak shouldn’t miss a chance to cook up a storm at Padstow Seafood School, where Rick Stein recipes are as exciting to budding chefs as they are mouthwatering. At this beautifully-situated spot, you’ll dabble in creating seafood dishes and learning new cookery skills, of course, but will also have a chance to explore Indian, Far Eastern, Italian and Spanish cooking, alongside patisserie and bakery sessions. You’ll be in the hands of seasoned experts – after all, there’s a reason why this place has been voted best cookery school for two years running at the Food Reader Awards. Fancy making a trip out of the experience? Cosy and modern, seaside-themed guest rooms are available here, too.
For a hop and skip back in time, you’ve more than a handful of stunning Cornish castles to choose from, each situated in distinctive settings and offering up their share of history and beauty. Falmouth’s mighty Pendennis Castle, the imposing Launceston Castle, Lostwithiel’s Restormel Castle by the River Fowey, and Tintagel Castle surrounded by dramatic cliffs each make for a magical day out, whether you’re travelling with children or seeking seriously photogenic sights.
Only the brave will muster up the courage to try their hand at cold-water surfing – a must for fearless active travellers, as well as for impassioned lovers of the Cornish coast and sea. Head to the quaint and unassuming village of St Agnes to grab your wetsuit and board from the only cold-water surfing company in the world, Finisterre. Here, you’re just moments away from a spectacular experience, riding waves suited to both beginners and intermediates against a rocky backdrop of verdant cliffs.
Exploring mysterious caverns
If you’d prefer to get away from chilly cliffsides and windswept beaches, head to the sheltered Carnglaze Caverns in the Loveny Valley, where guided tours will take you through three man-made underground caverns. A now-popular site for concerts and weddings, this former slate mine offers an educational look back at Cornish miners’ skills and the use of slate during the Industrial Revolution. Work your way to the lower chambers for a mesmerising crystal-clear lake, before ascending above ground for a wander along zig-zagging pathways in the surrounding hillside woodland.
Wild food foraging (and feasting)
Cornwall‘s rich and varied landscape brims with edible treats, which green-thumbed enthusiasts and foodies alike can discover on a seasonal, half-day course led by expert forager, author and guide Rachel Lambert. Covering expansive terrain from fields to coast, you’ll learn to identify and handle local plants, as well as discover their nutritional and medicinal value. No foraging should come without a feast, though, and you’ve the option to add a cooking and dining session at one of several hand-selected venues in the area, ranging from rustic to five-star.
Meeting (and aiding) wildlife
Cornwall is filled with opportunities for animal adorers to make the most of their time in the county. To explore colourful corals and watch marine creatures swim about in more than 40 naturally-themed habitats, head to Newquay’s Blue Reef Aquarium. Spread across 40 acres in Gweek, the Cornish Seal Sanctuary offers a chance to meet native species, while Hayle’s Paradise Park is an award-winning wildlife sanctuary home to more than 140 bird species. Best of all? These family-friendly organisations are committed to conservation, sustainability and educating younger generations.
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