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Penzance: As in “The Pirates of...”
Chapter 18: Cornwall: Saints, Salts, Sea, and Sun
ߜ Economy Hire, Heliport Garage (% 01736/366-636)
ߜ Enterprise, The Forecourt, Longrock (% 01736/332-000)
ߜ Europcar, Station Yard (% 01736/360-078)
Finding information and taking a tour of Penzance
The Tourist Information Centre, Station Road (% 01736/362-207; www.
penzance.co.uk), is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,
Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (until 1 p.m. Oct–May), and Sunday 10 a.m. to
1 p.m. (June–Sept only).
Belerion Walks, Avon House, 13 Penare Rd. (% 01736/362-452), offers
year-round guided walks of the town; tours last about 90 minutes and
cost £4 ($7.40). Call to reserve a spot. Harry Safari (% 01736/711-427;
www.harrysafari.com) runs a four-hour guided tour, which offers one of
the best ways to see this part of Cornwall. Guides drive you through the
area in a minivan to all sorts of hidden corners and scenic spots. The tour
costs £20 ($37); you can have them pick you up in Penzance or St. Ives.
A cruise around Mounts Bay, passing St. Michael’s Mount and local coastal
beauty spots where you may see seals or dolphins, makes for a fun excursion. MVS Mermaid & Viking (% 01736/368-565) operates two-hour
coastal cruises at 3 p.m. (most days); these cruises cost £8 ($15) adults,
£6.50 ($12) children 5 to 15. Boats leave from the marina area.
Staying in Penzance
Penzance is a holiday town with many hotels and B&Bs. I’ve listed a few
of my faves in this section. See also The Summerhouse Restaurant with
Rooms in the section “Dining in Penzance,” later in this chapter
The Abbey, in a 17th-century building overlooking Penzance harbor, is the
most stylish guesthouse in Penzance. The hotel uses bold colors and
Special events in Penzance
Daphne du Maurier, whose famous novel Rebecca is set in Cornwall, lived in Bodinnick
in nearby Fowey (see “Fowey and the Saint’s Way: River Town and Holy Track,” later
in this chapter). Every year in May, Penzance sponsors the Daphne du Maurier Festival
of Arts and Literature, featuring all kinds of performers and events. For information, call the box office at % 01726/223-535 or check out the town’s Web site at
296 Part V: The West Country
antiques to convey an atmosphere of overstuffed English elegance. It’s like
staying in a small, luxuriously appointed house. The nine guest rooms are
lovely, and so are the bathrooms. You can arrange to have dinner in the
hotel, or you may prefer the equally stylish Abbey Restaurant next door
(see the section “Dining in Penzance,” later in this chapter).
Abbey St., Penzance, Cornwall TR18 4AR. % 01736/366-906. Fax: 01736/351-163. www.
theabbeyonline.com. Rack rates: £120–£190 ($222–$352) double. Rates include
English breakfast. AE, DC, MC, V.
The Georgian House Hotel
This 18th-century Georgian building, formerly the house of a mayor of
Penzance, reputedly has a resident ghost. But the real spirit of the 11-room
B&B is modern art: The dining room, where you’re served breakfast, is
painted with murals inspired by Picasso and Matisse. Guest rooms are comfortable and well equipped, and a nice lounge and bar are on the premises.
The hotel is right on Chapel Street, the most interesting street in town.
20 Chapel St., Penzance, Cornwall TR18 4AW. % 01736/365-664. Fax: 01736/365-664.
Rack rates: £52–£56 ($96–$104) double. Rates include English breakfast. AE, MC, V.
Mount Prospect Hotel
This 21-room hotel, overlooking Mounts Bay and the town, is one of the
best places to stay in Penzance. Impeccably maintained, the hotel features
comfortable, well-furnished rooms, many with sea views and good-size
bathrooms (most with bath and shower). Kids enjoy the on-site pool. A
special rate, which includes dinner at the hotel’s fine restaurant, is a noteworthy bargain. Nonguests can also dine here on Modern British cuisine;
the restaurant serves dinner nightly from 7 to 8:30.
Britons Hill, Penzance, Cornwall TR18 3AE. % 01736/363-117. Fax: 01736/350-970.
www.hotelpenzance.com. Rack rates: £115 ($213) double with English breakfast;
£155 ($287) double with English breakfast and dinner. AE, MC, V.
Dining in Penzance
You won’t lack for dining options in Penzance. Many of the restaurants
feature fresh seafood.
At this stylish restaurant next to the Abbey Hotel, you enter a luscious red
womb of a bar–lounge and walk up to an airy dining room with views out
over Penzance harbor. Chef–owner Ben Tunnicliffe cooks in a modern
European style that makes use of fresh local fish, meat, and produce.
For starters, try pan-fried foie gras or crab cakes with cucumber chutney.
Main courses change often but may include wild sea bass with fettuccine,
Chapter 18: Cornwall: Saints, Salts, Sea, and Sun
pancetta, and artichokes or end of lamb. The Abbey has an excellent
Abbey Street. % 01736/330-680. Reservations recommended. Main courses: £16–£25
($30–$46). MC, V. Open: Fri–Sat noon–2 p.m.; Tues–Sat 7–10 p.m.
For a restaurant to stay in business for more than 30 years, it must be
doing something right. This well-established restaurant, located down a
narrow cobbled lane off Market Jew Street, is one of Penzance’s best and
most highly regarded. The cooking emphasizes fresh, local produce and
seafood, with dishes such as crab Florentine and grilled scallops.
46 New St. % 01736/364-408. Reservations recommended. Main courses: £16–£19
($30–$35). AE, MC, V. Open: Tues–Sat noon–2 p.m. and 7–10 p.m.; closed three weeks
The Summer House Restaurant with Rooms
Head to this restaurant-inn in a Regency-era house just off the promenade
if you’re in the mood for innovative Mediterranean-style food. The setprice menus change daily, depending on what’s fresh in the market, and
you can choose from an interesting Italian wine list. In the summer, you
can dine by candlelight in the beautiful walled garden. If you want to stay
here, there are five large, stylishly furnished rooms with private bathrooms; a double with choice of English or continental breakfast goes for
£80 to £95 ($148–$176), plus £26 ($48) for a three-course dinner.
Cornwall Terrace, Penzance, Cornwall TR18 4HL. % 01736/363-744. Fax: 01736/360-959.
www.summerhouse-cornwall.com. Reservations required. Fixed-price dinner £25
($46). MC, V. Open: Restaurant Mar–Nov Tues–Sun 7–10 p.m.; hotel closed Dec–Feb.
In a historic wharf building next to the Wharfside Shopping Centre,
Sylvester’s is an informal restaurant that catches plenty of tourist trade.
The place serves good, inexpensive, home-cooked meals, including local
seafood dishes, with minimum fuss.
Wharf Road. % 01736/366-888. Main courses: Lunch £5–£8 ($9.25–$15); fixed-price
dinner £15 ($28). AE, MC, V. Open: Easter–Oct daily 10:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Nov–Easter
Mon–Thurs 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Fri–Sat 10:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
The Turks Head
The atmospheric, low-ceilinged Turks Head claims to be the oldest tavern
in town because an inn on this spot has been welcoming travelers since
298 Part V: The West Country
the 13th century. You get good, hearty food, everything from fisherman’s
pie and seafood platters to ratatouille and chicken tikka masala, a spicy
49 Chapel St. % 01736/363-093. Main courses: £6–£10 ($11–$19). MC, V. Open: Food
served daily 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 6–10 p.m.; pub open Mon–Sat 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun
11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.
Exploring in and around Penzance
St. Michael’s Mount is the must-see attraction in Penzance. The town itself
doesn’t offer a lot in the way of special interest or tourist attractions,
though Chapel Street has some interesting buildings. Garden lovers may
enjoy visiting Trengwainton Garden outside of town.
Castle on St. Michael’s Mount
For nearly 350 years, this amazing island–castle in Mount’s Bay has been
the home of the St. Aubyn family. Connected to the mainland by a 500-footlong causeway, the castle incorporates parts of an earlier 12th-century
Benedictine priory that was founded as the daughter house of Mont St.
Michel in Normandy. Later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, St. Michael’s
Mount was an important fortress to protect the coastline from foreign
attack. (The beacon on top of the church tower was lit to warn of the
approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588.) A royalist stronghold during the
Civil War, the fort was forced to surrender after a long siege. The St. Aubyn
family still inhabits part of the castle and has lived there since 1659.
Visitors enter through the West Door, above which hangs the St. Aubyn
family crest. The Entrance Hall, altered in the 19th century, was the living
area for the Captain of the Mount in the 16th and 17th centuries. The little
adjacent chamber, known as Sir John’s Room, is the owner’s private sitting room. Sporting weapons and war memorabilia hang in the Armoury.
The snug Library is in the oldest (12th-century) part of the castle, as is
the dining room, which served as the monks’ refectory. The Priory Church
on the island’s summit has beautiful rose windows. In a newer section of
the castle, you can see the elegant rococo-style Blue Drawing Rooms.
St. Michael’s Mount is one of the most-visited National Trust properties in
Britain. Give yourself at least three hours for a visit, and be aware that you
have to climb many stairs to reach the castle. If the tide is in, boatmen
known as hobblers can ferry you over or back. If you need some nourishment after all those stairs, you can refuel at one of two restaurants on the
island, open April to October only, where you can have lunch or tea. Lunch
costs about £4 to £8 ($7.40–$15); a cream tea, about £4 ($7.40).
To get here by bus, take bus no. 20 or 22 from Penzance to Marazion, the
town opposite St. Michael’s Mount.
See map p. 293. On St. Michael’s Mount, Mount’s Bay (take A30 from Penzance).
% 01736/710-507. www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk. Admission: £5.50 ($10) adults,
Chapter 18: Cornwall: Saints, Salts, Sea, and Sun
£2.75 ($5.10) children under 17, £14 ($26) families (2 adults, 2 children). Open: MidMar to Oct Sun–Fri 10:30 a.m.–5:30 (last admission 4:45 p.m.); Nov to mid-Mar usually
Mon, Wed, and Fri by conducted tour only at 11 a.m., noon and 2 and 3 p.m.; call to
Chapel Street, running north–south from St. Mary’s Church near the waterfront up to Parade Street, is the most architecturally significant street in
Penzance. Strolling the length takes only a few minutes, and doing so gives
you a glimpse of the Penzance of yore. Chapel Street has always been a
mixture of residential and commercial buildings. Facades that look
Georgian (from the late 18th and early 19th centuries) often hide much
older buildings. Two hundred years ago, the Union Hotel, with its Assembly
Rooms, was the center of the town’s social activities. Across the road from
the Union Hotel is the Egyptian House, built in 1835 with Egyptian motifs
and ornamentation. Other houses on the street belonged to mayors,
mariners, and traders. Just below the Regent Hotel is the Old Custom
House, a fine building whose interior retains many original 18th-century
features (it’s now a shop selling antiques, crystal, and German Christmas
ornaments). Farther down is the Turks Head, which claims to be the
oldest inn in Penzance (see the section “Dining in Penzance,” earlier in this
chapter). The austere Wesleyan Chapel of 1814 is situated across from the
inn. Nearby, marked by a blue plaque, you can see the home of Maria
Branwell, the beloved “Aunt Branwell” who moved to Yorkshire to raise
Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell Brontë after their mother died.
Chapel Street’s most impressive building is St. Mary’s Church, rebuilt in
the 1830s on the site of an earlier medieval chapel.
Penlee House Gallery & Museum
Built as a private residence in 1865, Penlee House now serves as
Penzance’s art gallery and museum. The painting collection focuses on the
Newlyn School of artists, mostly landscape painters active in the area
between 1880 and 1930. The museum has exhibits ranging from Stone Age
to the present day. You can tour the entire museum in about 30 minutes.
The Orangery Cafe is a nice spot for tea or a light lunch.
Morrab Road. % 01736/363-625. Admission: £2 ($3.70) adults, free for children 5–15.
Open: Mon–Sat 10 a.m.–5 p.m., (10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Oct–Apr).
West of Penzance
Nowhere else on mainland Britain can you find a garden with plants as
exotic as the ones grown here. Trengwainton (pronounced as it’s spelled,
Treng-wain-ton), which means the “House of the Spring” in Cornish, is set
in the granite hills behind Penzance, and commands panoramic views of
300 Part V: The West Country
Mount’s Bay and the Lizard Peninsula. The first walled gardens were constructed in the 18th century, but the plantings didn’t really flourish until
the late 1920s, under Sir Edward Bolitho. Several species of rhododendrons, which Bolitho planted from seeds collected in Asia, flowered for the
first time outside their native habitat in this garden. You see color throughout the year, from camellias and magnolias in early spring to acres of blue
hydrangea in late summer. You can have lunch or a Cornish cream tea in
the teahouse. The garden is a National Trust property. Give yourself at
least an hour to enjoy it.
To get here by bus, take the First National bus no. 10/A from Penzance
to St. Just; ask the driver to let you off along the way at the stop nearest
Trengwainton. (For bus schedules, check with the Tourist Information
Centre; see “Finding information and taking a tour of Penzance,” earlier
in this chapter.)
3km (2 miles) west of Penzance, .5km (1⁄2 mile) west of Heamoor off Penzance-Morvah
Road (B3312). % 01736/362-297 or 01637/875-404. Admission: £4.50 ($8.35) adults,
£2.20 ($4.05) children under 17, £11 ($20) families (2 adults, 2 children). Open: MidFeb to Oct Sun–Thurs 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (until 5:30 p.m. Apr–Sept).
The Penwith Peninsula: A Driving Tour
from Penzance to Land’s End
On a map, the Penwith Peninsula west of Penzance looks like a giant
toe dipping into the Atlantic. You can take a great driving tour of this
area, which I outline in this section. B3315 follows the peninsula’s southern coastline past the fishing villages of Newlyn and Mousehole — good
places to stop and explore for an hour or so — to famous Land’s End,
where you can pick up the fast A30 back to Penzance. The distances here
aren’t that great; driving this loop without stopping takes about an hour,
but the trip makes a pleasant half- or full-day excursion from Penzance or
St. Ives. If you don’t have a car, bus service runs from Penzance to Newlyn,
Mousehole, and Land’s End. For times and schedules, check with the
tourist office or the local bus service, First Western National (% 01209/
Stop #1: Newlyn
Just a couple of miles south of Penzance lies the port of Newlyn, home
of England’s second-largest fishing fleet. Chances are that any fresh fish
or lobster that you eat in Penzance or even St. Ives was landed in the
waters near Newlyn. Pilchards (mature sardines) have traditionally been
the biggest catch off these shores. In general, though, the pilchard fishing industry that was the mainstay of Cornwall’s coastal villages from
the medieval era until the early part of the 20th century is now a tiny
fragment of what it once was. The Pilchard Works Museum and Factory,
The Coombe (% 01736/332-112), is the last remaining salt pilchard factory in England; the factory has a small adjunct museum that explains
Chapter 18: Cornwall: Saints, Salts, Sea, and Sun
the process of curing pilchards; for almost a hundred years, this factory
has supplied salt (cured) pilchards to the same Italian company. The
museum is open Easter through October weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The seascapes and the quality of light along this part of the Cornish
coast lured several artists to the area in the late Victorian era. You can
see the paintings of the Newlyn School in Penzance at Penlee House.
(See the section “Exploring in and around Penzance,” earlier in this chapter.) The Newlyn Art Gallery, Newlyn Green (% 01736/363-715), has a
small collection of the distinctive Arts and Crafts copper work that was
produced in Newlyn from 1890 to 1950. The gallery is open Monday to
Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If the sea air has you feeling peckish (hungry), you can find the best fish
and chips in town at the Tolcarne Inn, Tolcarne Place (% 01736/365074). Or you may want to try fresh crab or Newlyn fish pie (white and
smoked fish and prawns in white wine sauce, topped with cheese and
breadcrumbs). Meals (lunch and dinner daily) are served in a publike
room with a beamed ceiling. Main courses go for £5 to £10 ($9.25–$19);
the inn accepts MasterCard and Visa.
Stop #2: Mousehole
A few miles south of Newlyn lies the former fishing village of Mousehole
(pronounced Muz-zle). With its curving quay, its small protected harbor,
and its quaint stone cottages, Mousehole is a pretty place. The town
attracts many tourists who come for lunch or tea and a look around.
The town itself is the attraction here.
One very good restaurant to try is Cornish Range, 6 Chapel St. (% 01736/
731-488), open daily in the summer and Wednesday to Saturday in the
winter for lunch and dinner. On the menu, you find fish soup, crab
Florentine, roast cod and mullet, and many other fresh fish dishes. Main
courses go for £13 to £18 ($24–$33). MasterCard and Visa are accepted.
Cornish Range also rents out three guest rooms, each with private bath,
for £80 to £90 ($148–$167) per night, including breakfast. If you’re looking
for a good, unfussy Cornish cream tea, pop into Pam’s Pantry, 3 Mill Lane
(% 01736/731-532), open February to November daily 9:30 a.m. to 6:30
p.m. This cash-only hole-in-the-wall also serves Newlyn crab in soups,
sandwiches, and salads. A cream tea costs about £4 ($7.40), and main
courses go for £5 to £8 ($9.25–$15).
Stop #3: The Minack Theatre
The oceanside Minack Theatre (% 01736/810-694; www.minack.com)
was carved out of a rocky hillside in Porthcurno, a village 14.5km
(9 miles) southwest of Penzance (from Mousehole, continue south on
B3315, and follow the signs). The theater is legendary because of its
outdoor setting, overlooking the ocean. If you stay in Penzance or St.
Ives, an evening here makes for a memorable experience. From May to
302 Part V: The West Country
September, theater companies from all over England stage performances
of everything from Shakespeare to musical comedies, a tradition dating
to 1932. Bring a cushion, a sweater, and a raincoat, just in case. You can
check out the Visitor Centre even if you’re not seeing a play. Theater
tickets cost £6 to £7.50 ($11–$14). The Exhibition Hall, which has information on the theater’s history, is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
(Oct–Mar 10 a.m.–4 p.m.). The theater presents evening performances
Monday through Friday at 8. and matinees on Wednesday and Friday
at 2 from the end of May to mid-September.
Stop #4: Land’s End
Atlantic-facing Land’s End, where high granite cliffs plunge down to the
roaring sea, is one of the country’s most famous and dramatic landmarks.
But a theme-park development that you have to pass through to reach
the headland mars the grandeur of this windy point, the westernmost
on mainland Britain. A well-marked path leads out to an observation
point, and you can follow other coastal paths if the day is fine. The
British-owned Scilly Isles are 45km (28 miles) out to sea; otherwise,
nothing lies between England and the eastern coast of North America.
St. Ives: Artists’ Haven by the Sea
It’s easy to understand why this former fishing village on the north
coast of Cornwall attracts artists. The sea at St. Ives changes color like
a jewel shimmering in the sunlight. The town’s whitewashed stone cottages and painted stucco villas stretch along rocky coves and a long,
curving sand beach. A relaxing place to stay, St. Ives is much smaller
than Penzance. A branch of London’s Tate museum commemorates a
group of local artists, including Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson,
who lived and worked in the town. The town is still a favorite hangout
for artists and craftspeople. You can find dozens of small galleries for
browsing, in addition to plenty of good restaurants specializing in
locally caught seafood.
Getting to St. Ives
Trains run throughout the day from London’s Paddington Station to
the area. For St. Ives, you change trains at St. Erth on the main line to
Penzance, or you can take a train direct from Penzance. The total trip
takes about five-and-a-half to six hours. For train information, call
% 08457/484-950. Long-distance buses from London’s Victoria Coach
Station take up to nine hours; call National Express (% 0990/808-080)
for more information. Driving from Penzance, you can take A30 northeast to its junction with A3074, and follow A3074 north.
For information about renting a car in Penzance, see the section
“Getting to Penzance,” earlier in this chapter.
Chapter 18: Cornwall: Saints, Salts, Sea, and Sun
Finding information about St. Ives
The Tourist Information Centre in the Guildhall, Street-an-Pol (% 01736/
796-297), is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.;
Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (mid-May to Aug 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.); and
from mid-May through September Sunday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The center dispenses information on the area, stocks brochures on local attractions,
and operates a room-finding service.
Staying in St. Ives
St. Ives draws visitors year-round, but it’s particularly busy in the warm
summer months. Dozens of hotels and B&Bs occupy this small Cornish
town. Here are my recommended choices.
Garrack Hotel & Restaurant
This hotel is renowned for its restaurant and has special rates that include
dinner. The Garrack is in a traffic-free area of St. Ives, with views looking
out over the gardens to the sea. Some of the 18 guest rooms are in a former
private house; the others, in a modern wing and separate cottage. All have
private bathrooms. Kids love the indoor pool. The romantic sea-view
restaurant serves fresh fish and lobster from Newlyn; organic beef, lamb,
and venison; and produce from its own garden. A four-course fixed-price
meal costs £26 ($48). Even if you stay elsewhere, you may want to eat here
Burthallan Lane, St. Ives, Cornwall TR26 3AA. % 01736/796-199. Fax: 01736/798-955.
www.garrack.com. Rack rates: £126–£180 ($233–$333) double with English breakfast; £168–£228 ($311–$422) double with English breakfast and dinner. AE, DC, MC, V.
Located right on the edge of a commanding cliff, this hotel was stylishly
refurbished in 2001 and has 30 rooms with the best sea views in St. Ives.
Most of the rooms (and bathrooms) are smallish, but the panoramic views
are mesmerizing. The hotel has a fine restaurant, sunny terraces, and a
pool, and you have only a two-minute walk to the center of town or the
beach. It’s a light, bright, airy hotel with a lot of nice features.
Porthminster Beach, St. Ives, Cornwall TR26 2EA. % 01736/796-222. Fax: 01736-797710. www.pednolvahotel.co.uk. Rack rates: £110–£145 ($204–$268) double.
Rates include English breakfast. AE, DC, MC, V.
This well-maintained, nonsmoking B&B in a pretty, bay-fronted Victorian
house sits just above the Tate St. Ives and Porthmeor Beach. The B&B has