Cornwall is a place we’ve all heard of. It’s up there with a list of destinations on our neighbouring island that pique our interest, like Devon, Dover and the Cotswolds.
But, inevitably, when the Easter break or long Bank Holiday weekend rolls around, we’ll opt to pack up the car and head somewhere in Ireland instead.
Cornwall though, is worth the flight, but don’t just take my word for it.
Located in the most southwestern tip of England and on a peninsula with 300 miles of spectacular coastline that looks like you’ve stumbled on to the set of The Goonies, the flight takes about one hour.
The airport, in a place called Newquay, is small enough to make you feel like you’ve just landed in Busáras. You walk straight out of the small building and you’re there, no messing around.
Car rental though, is highly recommended, only so you can have the unadulterated freedom to visit as many of Cornwall’s beaches, bays and harbour villages as possible.
We rented a car for just over 24 hours and it set us back about €25 in total, and that includes all of our fuel and we did about 150km of driving. There are two rental companies to choose from and they’re both located to the right of the airport’s exit door.
The beach that blew us away was Holywell Bay, which is a 12-minute drive from the airport and on the northern side of the Cornwall peninsula.
Check the tide times because you will get a lot more out of the breathtaking bay when the tide is out.
Its tall cliff face is peppered with caves of different depths, some you can scramble up through and others which you can comfortably walk into.
There’s also a tunnel, formed from two caves backing into each other.
An entire morning or afternoon could be spent exploring this golden-sanded bay.
Looking out to sea, you can see a mountainous island that has been split in two from years of erosion.
But the star attraction is the well at Holywell Bay. It is listed as one of the most remarkable sites anywhere in the British Isles and is said to have healing properties.
It can only be accessed at low tide, and is located in a cave on the southwest corner of Kelsey Head. There are slippery steps that lead you into a series of calcareous basins, which are filled with fresh water and red, green, blue and purple rocks.
Other spectacular beaches to take in include Bedruthan (for its ruggedness), Porthcurno (for its flat sand perfect for surfing), and Nanjizal (for its turquoise rock pools).
You could easily spend the weekend visiting bays and beaches and blowing off the cobwebs of your working week, but there are also lots of other things to do in Cornwall, like visit its many harbour villages, take a yoga class, or tour some of its magical gardens.
We stopped off in a very small village called Charlestown. On a Monday morning, the place was alive with action. Tall ships line the harbour wall and welcoming cafes were open for business. Little cottages, painted white with pastel-coloured doors, looked out to sea.
We went through a pretty wooden gate that led to grassy path, and ended up following a cliff walk all the way to Carlyon Bay, yet another gold-sanded beach. The walk took about 15 minutes and it’s well worth it as the height allows you to see out along the expansive coast where you can take in the sight of several bays at a time as the Atlantic Ocean pours in.
We returned to Charlestown along the same path and stopped off in Short & Strong, a Cornish deli and cafe. It’s housed in an old stone store house and filled with cakes made from ingredients such as coconut and lime and chocolate and beetroot. They also do light lunches and interesting soups.
The whole vibe of the village would leave you wanting to walk straight up to the door of one of the rental cottages to see if you could check-in there and then for a week-long time-out. Needless to say we were highly tempted but we had a rope bridge to cross in the Lost Gardens of Heligan — the real-life secret garden.
In 1990, a cracked wooden door in a red brick wall was pushed open to discover these lost gardens. After more than 300 years of care, the Heligan estate and its gardens were abandoned by its staff and owners for the trenches of the First World War, not to be loved again until the end of the 20th century.
After you collect your ticket, you walk along a woodland path where little markers tell stories about the various trees, flowers, shrubs and their inhabitants, such as birds and insects.
Our main port of call was the magnificent, much photographed and one-way rope bridge. It is situated in the jungle section of the garden and traverses a green pond below.
Other notable sites are the productive gardens where melons and pineapples are grown, and the farm, which is home to a poultry orchard (we met eight-week old piglets) and some owls.
Other big attractions in Cornwall include the seaside town of St Ives, the open-air Minack Theatre in Penzance, and Tintagel Castle, which are all easily accessible.
For accommodation, we checked into the slick Cornwall Hotel Spa & Estate. It has a mix of contemporary and traditional interiors (our shower looked on to our bed), which makes for a very interesting stay.
You can either book a normal hotel room or else a self-catering lodge.
Before dinner, we relaxed in the clearing spa, which has a long infinity pool that looks out into their gardens. There is a jacuzzi, steam room and sauna too and loungers that are perfect for reading or dozing on.
We took a pre-dinner drink in the dungeon-style bar with its stone floors and cosy seating arrangements, a craft beer, and fancy gin and even fancier tonic cost about €12.
Dinner was taken in the Elephant Brasserie and if the food was excellent, the staff were superb.
After a day of trekking around the coast, we were ready for a wholesome feed. A rare (and it arrived perfectly rare) steak was ordered as well as battered fish (gluten-free) and chunky chips, with a side of mushy peas.
Starters and desserts, if you are in the mood, are both very interesting.
To whet the appetite, you can have mussels, squid, ten onion tart tatin or pressed ham hock. And to finish off there’s a cheesecake, pudding and various ice-creams to choose from.
You can also order beer from the bar and wine by the bottle or the glass.
We had breakfast included in our stay and even with national bias on my side, the Cornish breakfast might just top the Irish, especially with their healthy version of the hash brown.
All in all, Cornwall, with a seamless short flight and an abundance of things to see and do, is the perfect little getaway to blow-off the cobwebs giving you a mix of health-some outdoor pursuits with wholesome indulgence.