Foot to the floor on the A30, heading west – it’s how many a staycation begins, counting down the featureless miles of that long artery road to reach some seaside idyll. But there’s another way of motoring in this neck of the woods. A coast-hugging, meandering route that offers up myth-steeped coves, hidden food huts and time-capsule villages to more patient explorers.
The SW660 is effectively a neat way of branding existing B roads around the West Country’s peripheries, taking a leaf from the success of Scotland’s North Coast 550. Perhaps a little of the glamour of California’s Highway One and Australia’s Great Ocean Road will rub off, too.
The hope is to disperse visitors to the region’s out-of-the-way gems and boost off-season travel; best avoided during the caravan-clogged summer months. These lanes are dreamy in springtime, though: their borders frothing white with wild garlic and blossoming hedgerows, and wonderfully atmospheric in autumn when sea mists roll in across tawny gold countryside.
You could, in theory, do the whole 660 miles, tracing the ‘foot’ of England from the bobbing yachts and millionaire homes of Dorset’s Poole Harbour to the surfer beaches of North Devon, idling along the Jurassic Coast and English Riviera inbetween. There’s also the option of plotting out hybrid or car-free itineraries via public transport on the SW660 site.
But for me, Cornwall was calling, and I wanted the freedom of my own set of wheels. Something compact, nippy and automatic to handle all those steep, winding, one-track roads. So, I loaded a coastal-chic wardrobe of Breton stripes and Finisterre knits into an all-electric Fiat 500, downloaded the Zap App onto my phone (crucial for finding EV charging points) and set off to three of the SW660’s loveliest segments. (Sea shanties on the sound system: optional.)
PADSTOW TO ST IVES
Several of the Pig’s litter are dotted along the SW660 route; Cornish outpost the Pig at Harlyn Bay occupies a particularly stunning headland a few miles west of Padstow. Here are all the hallmarks we’ve come to expect from this quintessentially British micro-chain: cockle-warming fare sourced largely from the hotel’s own veg gardens, botanical-infused massages in the Potting Shed treatment rooms, and crackling log fires in jewel-toned interiors.
Work off all those Piggy Bits – their moreish pre-dinner snacks – by borrowing from the hotel’s impressive welly collection and hiking the South West Coast Path to the buttery sands of Mother Ivy’s Bay or Trevone’s natural sea pool.
Time to pass over ‘Padstein’ (as Padstow’s been dubbed for its plethora of Rick Stein eateries) in favour of more tucked-away, indie gems like Duchy Grub. Helmed by young couple Joe (chef) and Jas (front-of-house), this rising star in Higher Harlyn village serves photogenic, hyper-local small plates and exotic cocktails (hello, prickly pear sour).
Wild garlic arancini, limoncello gelato with aloe vera and gorse, or even an ‘inland rockpool’ of oyster, pickled green chilli and cucumber might feature on the menu.
Ignore the Sat Nav’s obsession with the A30 and opt for weave around rugged Atlantic headlands on the B3276, parking up to admire the gulls wheeling above fountaining waves and the purple-black hue of jagged granite cliffs.
Our favourite stretch is between Park Head and Bedruthan, where dinky Carnewas tearoom is practically the only building around. Skirting around Newquay, linger on St Agnes Heritage Coast, where the crumbling remains of tin-mining settlements like Wheal Coates show you’re deep in Poldark territory.
ST IVES TO PENZANCE
Tucked among the sand dunes, Three Mile Beach puts a grown-up, contemporary spin on the buckets-and-spades beach house experience. Porthole windows and airy, white interiors meet Mexican trinkets and mezzanine lounging nooks in each sprawling villa, while a hot tub, sauna cabin and picnic table beckon on the private terrace.
No soggy sarnies here, either: grab gourmet take-aways from the site’s food truck Chomp or order in their pizza-making kit and experiment with a plethora of toppings in your Ooni outdoor oven.
Morning caffeine hits come from three-wheeled coffee bar Froth – a modified pink Piaggio from Naples. Grab a brew and blow away the cobwebs with a walk along Gwithian Beach to Godrevy Lighthouse, peering over Mutton Cove for a glimpse of the resident grey seals.
Some of Cornwall’s finest cooking lies on the first floor of an unassuming St Ives townhouse, which in similarly understated style takes its name from the address: One Fish Street. The tasting menu is, fittingly, rooted in fresh seafood yet takes diners on a globe-hopping flavour tour, from a mackerel wonton with Sichuan-chilli sauce to tandoori gurnard to brill aguachile.
Adam Handling’s West Country outpost, Ugly Butterfly, perches prettily above Carbis Bay, a sleek glass box with panoramic views over the sands. The dishes are equally easy-on the eye, from a perfect parcel of barbecued squash agnolotti to some marble-swirled petit fours. Top marks for sustainability efforts, too, which include repurposing leftovers like peels, seeds and stems in the cocktail menu, and an impressive wall of ferments to preserve seasonal produce.
On the westernmost toe-tip of Britain, dead-end lanes with lichen-covered walls branch out capillary-like, luring you to ancient ruins and secluded coves. Taking the B3315 out of Penzance, the Merry Maidens stone circle is your first history-steeped site, before walking the white sands of Porthcurno Beach (on a sunny day, it’s hard to believe this isn’t the Med).
Avoid the kitsch of Land’s End in favour of neighbouring Cape Cornwall – under National Trust stewardship, this wave-lashed bluff is occupied by nesting choughs instead of Shaun the Sheep paraphernalia. As B3306 winds towards St Ives, Neolithic tomb Lanyon Quiot makes an absorbing stop.
FALMOUTH TO ST AUSTELL
Flanked by fondant-coloured cottages and sherbet sunsets over the Fal estuary, St Mawes Hotel is an art-filled harbourfront hub. It’s home to a Hidden Cinema, lively bistro-bar and fireside sofas that bid you to curl up on chillier evenings with a Daphne du Maurier book and Twin Fin spiced golden rum.
Upstairs, seven bedrooms are kitted in a palette of clotted cream, sun-bleached driftwood and the occasional natural stripe. Those sleeping in sea view rooms should push open the sash windows for a lullaby of lapping waves.
Also on St Mawes’ waterfront, the Idle Rocks Restaurant has Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons alumnus Dorian Janmaat at the helm. The award-winning Cornish chef gives the fine-dining treatment to hyper-local ingredients – gin-cured trout with Exmoor caviar, butter-poached plaice with Cornish kelp and pickled mussels…
Sunday lunch lovers can’t miss a trip to hilltop gastropub Standard Inn in Portscatho. The usual reaction is to laugh when clocking the size of its Yorkshire puddings, then falling into reverent silence to devour slow-roasted moorland lamb with salsa verde and bubbling pots of smoked cauliflower and leek cheese.
From the same owners, the Hidden Hut on secluded Porthcurnick Beach rewards walkers with hearty, fully loaded soups (shout-out to the spinach dhal with raita, crispy shallots, coriander and pickled red onions), homemade cakes and the obligatory pasties.
After soaking up the art-college cool of Falmouth, the ‘floating bridge’ aka King Harry Ferry at Trelissick bears motorists across the estuary in a mere five minutes (far prettier and faster than diverting all the way inland to Truro) onto the Roseland Peninsula.
Living up to its winsome name, this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty cradles leafy creeks, serene coves and lush, almost tropical gardens – like the palm-fringed, pint-sized church St Just-in-Roseland. It’s a far cry from Cornwall’s rugged north coast. Stretch your legs with a woodland ramble through the Lost Gardens of Heligan before following the B3273’s thrilling clifftop bends towards St Austell.
Still got some miles in the tank? Explore our complete Cornwall collection
Estella Shardlow drove the new Fiat 500e. The brand’s first fully-electric vehicle features autonomous driving technologies, 85kW fast charging and driving range of up to 199 miles – the longest range of any electric city car on the market today.