Little has captured our collective imagination quite like cold-water swimming which, up until a few years ago, was the preserve of a hardy few. Recent figures, however, suggest that more than four million of us are regularly taking the plunge. And where better to give it a go than in the sea itself, in all its superior salty and mineral-rich glory. Cornwall, then, is the obvious choice with its unbeatable selection of beaches and coves – surf-bashed on the north coast, calm in the south; some rocky, some sandy. So if you’re in need of a restorative dip, or just want to admire the scenery, here’s where to stay in Cornwall (and swim, of course…)
Imagine for a moment that the north Cornish coast and the Baja California peninsula fused together and you’re half way to imagining the 15 brightly coloured beach houses known collectively as Three Mile Beach. There are the open plan, white clapboard-clad kitchen and living rooms, squishy sofas and wood-burning stoves – so far, so Cornwall – and big, rattan lampshades, surfboard-shaped picnic tables, sunken cedar hot tubs and outdoor showers that hint at more tropical climes.
This is somewhere for the young at heart, starring oversized porthole windows in some of the bedrooms, a mezzanine sleeping area in others and pops of vibrant colour throughout. Dine at Chomp, the handy, on-site street food truck (that also serves a mean Sunday roast) or make like the locals and head to Lula Shack in nearby Hayle. On a walk east along the coastline, to see slumbering seals at Godrevy Point, pick up some homemade rocky roads from the Hungry Horsebox Co.
Take the plunge It’s hard to ignore the namesake three-mile stretch of beach (from St Gothian Sands in the west, to Hayle Beach in the west) around 50ft in front of the houses. Use the lifeguard’s hut as your marker: looking out to sea, surf to the right of it and swim to the left. Unlike other popular surf beaches in the area – like Polzeath – which are narrow and therefore crowded, here there’s a wide break that makes surfing into someone else virtually impossible. You can hire kit from the surf school at the entrance to Three Mile Beach – or book in for a lesson. Pro tip: at high tide the coastline becomes a collection of smaller beaches and coves so make sure you don’t get trapped.
This eight-room bolthole might look like your normal Victorian house from the outside, but inside it’s a delightful homage to Scandinavian design. The moodier-coloured communal areas a foil to the airy, light-coloured bedrooms, some with freestanding, copper baths in the corner (try room five). A lot of the unique furnishings were sourced from acclaimed interiors company House Doctor.
Fittingly your host Freyja honed her skills crewing luxury yachts. Service is friendly and informal. Ask for a pre-dinner drink and it’ll be delivered to your room in a handy ice bucket (the perfect accompaniment to the giant ginger and chocolate cookies in the welcome basket if you haven’t already polished them off). The Sandy Duck’s restaurant – in a room with a large bay window – only serves breakfast, but there are plenty of other options for lunch and dinner in Falmouth. We like the historic Star & Garter.
Take the plunge The Sandy Duck is perfectly positioned in between the town and two of Falmouth’s most popular beaches, Gyllyngvase (normally referred to as Gylly) and Swanpool. The former is home to an excellent beach café perched on the soft white sand. Alternatively, hop in a car and head to Maenporth Beach. The sand here is richer in colour and the water, on sunny days, a deep shade of inviting blue and shallow enough to be safe for children.
The seventh hotel in the Pig litter – and arguably one of the best – opened a couple of years ago, propelling the little beach it sits on to instant fame. It was the hotel that the north Cornish coast was looking for, long trumped, in the hotel stakes anyway, by the offerings on the south coast. Bedrooms are spread across the Stonehouse, the main building (a Grade II-listed 16th century mansion) and a clutch of charming Shepherd’s huts. The latter come with freestanding tubs and al fresco showers — every bit as luxurious as the others.
Beyond the huts lies a walled kitchen garden, surrounded by Cornish slate, potting shed garden (the herbs are used in the spa treatments) and a smokehouse for curing salmon. Like all of its siblings, this Pig strives to source as much produce as possible from within a 25-mile radius and there’s a team of on-site foragers. Don’t miss the legendary Piggy Bits (middlewhite cracking with applesauce) and tempura fennel tops.
Take the plunge Harlyn Bay is the most obvious choice, but go to the far end (away from the car park) for peace and a well-placed rock for adrenaline junkies to launch themselves into the sea from. Walk west along the south-west coastal path and you’ll reach Booby’s Bay with its gentle surf, Constantine Bay with its deep rock pools that beg to be swum in, and finally Treyarnon Bay, with its unbeatable tidal pool, always full at low tide and approximately eight feet deep. The sides nearest the cliff face are safe for diving and jumping. If the tides allow, go at sunrise or sunset for the ultimate Cornish beach experience.
The St Mawes Hotel is likely what comes to mind when you think about quintessential Cornish holidays: stripy upholstering in soft shades of blue, exposed beams, watery views of boats bobbing gently up and down, scrubbed tables, and driftwood ornaments. There’s a feeling of homeliness and familiarity, perhaps because St Mawes the place is somewhere people come back to time after time. Or perhaps because it’s hard to miss the hotel’s welcoming and prominent white and slate grey facade bisected by a wrought iron balcony, ever-present on the harbour front.
Nautical terminology reigns supreme here: the onsite restaurant is called Upper Deck, the bar Lower Deck — order an own brand Reef Knot ale. Ask for a sea-view room (pack a pair of binoculars) and don’t fear rainy weather because there’s plenty to do regardless, from artist workshops to movie screenings in the cinema room.
Take the plunge Spend the day exploring Great Molunan and Little Molunan Beach: a series of rocky coves behind the protection of St Anthony Head lighthouse. Summers Beach, closer to the town, is perfect for quick dips. There’s a special swimming area, sectioned off by buoys and a platform to sit on and dive off.
Though close to the mainland, this archipelago of five inhabited islands – and several uninhabited ones – has a character entirely of its own making, and a sub-tropical climate to boot. Tresco is the largest, albeit still car-free. The eponymous Sea Garden Cottages comprise nine, split-level one-bedroom holiday houses, rented out on a self-catering basis (the nearby Ruin Beach Cafe is open 9am to 11pm). All have been built out of pretty stone with turquoise window frames, but opt for Gimble if you can, which has the best views of the sea, lighthouse and rocks. We dare you not to swoon over the bedspreads and blinds, made exclusively for the Cottages by a friend of the owner, who designs fabrics for Liberty London.
Take the plunge There are two family-friendly indoor pools – one at the hotel; one at the Flying Boat Club, a short walk away – but cold-water swimming has something of a cult following here and you’d be silly not to make the most of Tresco’s glassy sea-green waters. Try Old Grimsby, one of the closest beaches to the Cottages, or Appletree Bay on the south-west coast which has idyllic views of Bryher and Samons islands and the islets in between.
Now dive all the way in to our complete collection of Cornwall hotels