The current magnet for stylish Londoners, Cornwall is a realm of improbable conjunctions: tumbledown castles alongside Bronze Age stone circles, subtropical gardens cheek by jowl with barren fens. On August 11, this millennium's last total solar eclipse will be visible here. Add to Cornwall's celestial status abundant beaches, a vital art scene, inventive seafood restaurants, and an ethos that glorifies bracing walks on the downs in classic Brit kit (Hunter wellies and Barbour jackets--corgi optional).
THE COASTAL COMMUNITIES, FROM NORTH TO SOUTH
Rock Beach Top choice for families. Required gear: a bucket and spade.
Padstow Harbor On the Camel Estuary. Best fish-and-chips.
Newquay Surfer's heaven. The Closest Cornwall gets to rowdy nightlife.
St. Ives Art central--prowl studios in sail lofts.
Land's End The name says it all.
Newlyn Commercial fishing village lauded by artists for its spectacular light.
Penzance Pirates now run antiques shops. Departures for the isles of Scilly and St. Michael's Mount.
Roseland Peninsula Romantic vales.
St. Mawes Pristine port. Suddenly chic with DFL's (those "Down From London").
where to stay
GREAT STYLE Hotel Tresanton Lower Castle Rd., St. Mawes, Truro; 44-1326/270-055, fax 44-1326/270-053; doubles from $297, including breakfast. Long a haven for sailors, the 26-room Tresanton is designer Olga Polizzi's personal reclamation project. The nautical motif extends to shell mosaics, stingray-shaped sconces, and picnics on a 1920's sailboat.
BEST BEACH St. Enodoc Hotel Rock, near Wadebridge; 44-1208/863-394, fax 44-1208/863-970; doubles from $206. This 19-room contemporary, decorated by London designer Emily Todhunter, is the new favorite for families.
HIP HIDEAWAY Ennys St. Hilary, Penzance; 44-1736/740-262, fax 44-1736/740-055; doubles from $91, including breakfast. Last year, former Daily Telegraph travel editor Gill Charlton took over the five-bedroom Georgian farmhouse. On 20 pastoral acres, Ennys is the epitome of English country.
ATMOSPHERE Abbey Hotel Abbey Slip, Penzance; 44-1736/366-906, fax 44-1736/351-163; doubles from $156, including breakfast. Sixties model Jean Shrimpton plays host at this nine-room Gothic town house, on the site of a 16th-century convent. After a meal beside an open fire (even in summer, nights are often cool), take a walk through the medieval walled garden.
Cornwall's north coast gets the full force of the Atlantic, which has had nearly 3,000 miles to build up a mood. British surfers flock to the holiday town of Newquay: novices head for the sheltered Towan, Great Western, and Tolcarne beaches; pros skim the swells at Fistral. Rent gear at Boardwalk (17A Cliff Rd.; 44-1637/878-880; $17 per day), or book a lesson with West Coast Safari (27 Trebarwith Crescent; 44-1637/876-083; $50 per day, including gear). Polzeath is a good beach for both surfing and sailboarding.
Cornwall is veined with inlets, coves, and estuaries. • The King Harry Ferry is a marvelous contraption pulled by a chain mechanism over the river Fal; its slow, clanking advance affords great views. • Wait for low tide to take the foot ferry across the Camel Estuary between Padstow and Rock--the boat skirts sandbars and sailing skiffs. • Hike the path along the Fal between St. Mawes and St. Just-in-Roseland, to the 14th-century St. Just church, engulfed by camellias, magnolias, and palms.
Seafood Restaurant Riverside, Padstow; 44-1841/532-485; dinner for two $112. Celebrity chef Rick Stein has cornered the local seafood market, thanks to his glossy cookbook series and food shows on the BBC. His empire's original digs are on the quay in this fishing village. Try the oysters, spicy Goanese fish curry, or grilled Padstow lobster; the massive fruits de mer platter is worth the splurge.
St. Petroc's Bistro 4 New St., Padstow; 44-1841/532-700; dinner for two $68. If Stein's main restaurant is booked, wander up the narrow lane to this little sister for mussels marinière and grilled lemon sole. Have an after-dinner espresso and lemon tart at Stein's Café (10 Middle St.; 44-1841/532-777).
Brocks Restaurant The Strand, Padstow; 44-1841/532-565; dinner for two $66. Proprietors Tim and Hazel Brocklebank have put a dent in Stein's monopoly with their sunny new establishment. The requisite shellfish shares the slate with roast lamb, wild boar, and corn-fed chicken.
Porthminster Beach Café Porthminster Beach, St. Ives; 44-1736/795-352; dinner for two $80, with drinks. Try the prawns in Thai-style broth, and gaze at paintings by artists such as Anthony Frost.
PRICES INCLUDE TAX, BUT NOT TIP.
The Lamorran House Garden is a fine example of a time-honored Anglo passion: snagging exotic plants from distant jungles for greenhouses back home (Upper Castle Rd., St. Mawes; 44-1326/270-800; Wednesday, Friday, and some Saturdays). Opening next spring is the 100-acre Eden Project (Pentewan, St. Austell; 44-1726/844-157). Plants from all over the world will thrive in climate-controlled biomes.
i scream, you scream we all scream for (cornish) ice cream
The frozen dessert of choice is made with whipped, clotted cream. It's fluffy but hard, and has avid patrons--even royal ones. Young princes William and Harry go for the king-size cones. (Dad holds title to the duchy.) Try the chocolate double dip.
objects of desire
Helen Feiler 36 The Strand, Newlyn; 44-1736/330-796; open Thursday-Saturday. A daughter of renowned Cornish painters Paul Feiler and June Miles, Helen Feiler incorporates pebbles and crystals into her silver jewelery. Her small shop opposite Newlyn's commercial docks also carries furniture made from sections of old boats.
Norman Stuart Clarke Glass Gallery St. Erth, Hayle; 44-1736/756-577. Clarke's startling glass objets have been displayed at the V&A and Buckingham Palace. No mere blower of hot air, he can make a vase glimmer like moonlight on water.
Steam Pottery Pendeen, Penzance; 44-1736/788-070. Cornwall native Jonathan Hancock and fellow potter Patrick Lester have their ceramics studio in a former village bakery. They sell exquisite celadon porcelain tea bowls and tiny lidded clay jars perfect for holding a collection of Cornish seashells.
cornwall art scene
Tate Gallery St. Ives Porthmeor Beach, St. Ives; 44-1736/796-226. The permanent collection of this London museum offshoot includes works by St. Ives school artists. The Tate also runs the nearby Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden, honoring the sculptor who, with her husband, painter Ben Nicholson, established St. Ives as an outpost for abstract artists in the thirties.
Wills Lane Gallery Wills Lane, St. Ives; 44-1736/795-723. A small gallery with a big-name selection of paintings, sculpture, and ceramics by St. Ives school artists.
New Millennium Gallery Street-an-Pol, St. Ives; 44-1736/793-121. In an erstwhile Christian Science reading room, paintings by Royal Academicians hang next to contemporary collages of Holocaust documents by Ralph Freeman.
Great Atlantic Map Works Gallery West Place, St. Just-in-Penwith; 44-1736/788-911. The latest wave of West Cornwall artists is represented here, including Julian Dyson. Kurt Jackson's mixed media seascapes will be shown through August 22.