Cornwall in the summer is not a hard sell – there’s golden sands, sun-warmed sea and they’re serious about ice cream. In spring, hedgerows heave with wildflowers, and autumn gets the best of the surf. In comparison, the Cornish winter is often overlooked.
But the chillier months come with their own charms here: we’re talking miles-long beaches all to yourself, hardly-another-soul hikes and a sense of local life that’s drowned out during the high-season hubbub. Plus, should the weather outside turn frightful, there are quaint pubs and cafés aplenty, providing the kind of cosy that’s only possible with rain pattering against the windows. Sold? Start planning your winter blues-busting break in Cornwall with our hot off-season tips.
EAT & DRINK
Come to be cosseted at Coombeshead Farm, a field-to-fork restaurant on a working farm with respect for the Cornish countryside at its heart. Here, a three-course set menu is served in a cockle-warmingly cosy barn (seriously, there’s even sheepskins to snuggle under). All produce is seasonal and sourced from the eco-conscious farm, so in winter you might find duck or pork with delicate root veg, supplemented with pickles and preserves from previous seasons.
And if you’re staying in the farmhouse, a breakfast of oven-warm bread served with thick-cut bacon, eggs, cheese and honey all fresh from the farm makes for hearty rambling fuel.
Flock to family-run café Flora, on the Lizard Peninsula, for a heartening dose of hygge. Each morning, Danish baker-in-chief Louise magicks up fresh batches of cardamom buns and coconut-laden dream cake. Her partner Tim takes charge of the elegant lunch and dinner menus, which change weekly and always star seasonal, estate-grown produce. If weather permits, the pretty cobbled courtyard is the breakfast spot of your cottagecore dreams. Otherwise, pull up a (handsourced, vintage) pew inside, where rustic flagstones, fairy lights and the smell of freshly baked rye bread beckon.
Flora is open from Thursday to Sunday for breakfast and lunch, and on Fridays and Saturdays for dinner. The café calls the historic Trelowarren estate home, where there’s also a gallery of local art, a wealth of meadow and woodland walks, and a mysterious Iron Age fogou to find.
With picture windows framing travel-poster views of St Michael’s Mount, there’s no mistaking the main event at the Godolphin Arms in Marazion. If anything can pull focus, though, it’s the brunch menu. One minute you’re cooing over the snap of the holiday, then suddenly your buttermilk pancakes have arrived, drizzled with poached berries and vanilla-flecked cream and…what were you looking at, again?
There’s a cracking cocktail list featuring locally distilled spirits, too. It’s brought out delightfully judgement-free at brunch, but linger into the evening in the lounge bar to watch the sun set behind the Mount, a Cornish rum-laced tipple in hand.
The castle at St Michael’s Mount will be closed for the winter, but if the tide is on your side you can walk out across the causeway to the island, where there’s a historic harbour village and a gallery of Cornish heritage art to explore.
Padstow Brewing Company
The Padstow Brewing Company serves award-winning craft pints in the heart of Cornwall’s gastro capital. Plan to spend an afternoon at the Tasting Rooms, where tasting flights meander from mellow IPAs and lagers to made-for-winter stouts – and all your favourites are available to take home, too. Alternatively, pop down the road to the brewery to take in the full barley-to-bottle process on a 90-minute guided tour (sampling as you go, of course). Bagsy not the designated driver…
Chapel Street, Penzance
For sheer concentration of independent boutiques and impossible-to-walk-past window displays, Penzance’s historic Chapel Street is hard to beat. Pared-back boutique No. 56 has a curated range of handcrafted homeware and clothing. Home cooks will have their heads turned by the collection of hand-turned wooden utensils, but for the culinarily hampered, there’s also cashmere basics, chic stoneware and covetable stationery. Stop by the Planted House for Insta-worthy tropical foliage and the Hypatia Trust bookshop for a fascinating collection of work by female authors. Other highlights include the Mackerel Makery, a gift shop with a toy section Father Christmas could happily outsource to, and Happy Dais Vintage, a higgledy trove of worth-the-hunt vintage clothing (including chunky knits and shearling jackets, should you start to feel the chill).
The street is also home to stylish Smith stay Artist Residence – pop into the cosy bar for a post-spree pick-me-up, or make it your Cornish base and book one of the local artist-styled rooms.
With an emphasis on ethical, sustainable and fairly traded goodies, Uneeka has your Christmas shopping sorted (and your conscience clear, to boot). Two lifestyle boutiques, one in Truro and one in Falmouth, specialise in whimsical jewellery, boho throws and scented candles inspired by the Cornish coast. There’s a homeware store in Truro, too, with a range of Scandi furniture so stylish you’ll be pondering the logistics of stuffing a Mid-century sofa in your suitcase.
The Food Barn, Tregew
Founded just three years ago, this farmers’ market a few minutes from Falmouth has quickly cemented itself as a firm community favourite. Expect fine Cornish produce from a range of the county’s independent producers – besides the standard butchers, bakers and organic cheesemakers, regulars include a wildflower florist, an authentic bagel stand and a boutique distillery.
If you’re coming in December, keep an eye out for the Christmas food and craft markets, when producers bring out all their festive essentials and local artisans set up stalls laden with stocking-ready handicrafts.
Gear Farm Pasty Co.
Something special is going on at Gear Farm. Deep in southwest Cornwall, off a wooded lane outside the sleepy village of St Martin, the uninitiated might easily sail straight past the turning. If you do catch the sign, you’ll see this pasty shop is open just four hours a day, Tuesday to Saturday. And yet, somehow, they sell out every time.
Locals have long hailed these pasties as Cornwall’s best. The tight-knit team make hundreds a day, all by hand and to a traditional recipe – that’s fat chunks of steak, homegrown veg, crisp pastry and plenty of gravy. They do a mean cheese and onion option, too, and their pork and chilli sausage rolls are famous in their own right. So if you’re in need of a handwarmer after a bracing country walk, you know where to head – plus, hardcore fans can buy frozen pasties to bolster their at-home stash.
It’s a fact of life that there are few things more satisfying than a circular walk; throw in the prospect of a pasty or a cream tea at the end of it and you’re onto a winner, whatever the season. The route around the Pentire Headland, not far from Padstow, is particularly pleasing. Setting off from Pentireglaze, you’ll follow the coast path past dramatic cliffs, the rolling green Rumps and panoramic views of Port Isaac Bay. Aim for a clear day to spot Tintagel Castle to the north, and keep your eyes peeled for peregrine falcons. The whole route should take around three hours, and there’s a café at the end with a scone with your name on it – just remember, it’s jam first round these parts.
The house at Trelissick closes over winter, but the historic estate’s ample ambling opportunities and trio of enticing shops make it a year-round must. Circular walks crisscross the estate’s acres of fields and woodland, with maritime views and a pebbled beach that’s a big hit with four-legged friends. For a gentler (and dog-free) stroll, the garden is a pastoral wonderland of wooded groves and neat lawns; once you’ve nodded faux-knowingly at all the exotic plants and frolicked through the orchard, settle on a bench to gaze romantically out over the River Fal. And when you’re all strolled out, hit the trusty National Trust tea room for a hearty soup and homemade cake.
On the hunt for a not-another-tea-towel souvenir? At the Cornish Crafts Association gallery, work by the finest local ceramicists, jewellery makers and artists are available to buy. Plus, the old stables are home to one of the county’s best secondhand bookshops.
For further adventuring, the King Harry Ferry departs just down the road – you’ll pass it if you take on the circular route round the estate. Hop on board (cars, bikes and pedestrians all welcome) to head across to the Roseland Peninsula, where quiet coastal villages and unspoiled scenery await.
Okay, so it isn’t peak bucket-and-spade season. But that’s no reason to skip Cornwall’s beaches altogether. Gwithian Towans Beach, near Hayle, is a good bet in the colder months, with miles of golden sand stretching around St Ives Bay. You’ll find wetlands home to rare wildlife, rugged cliffs perfect for practising your Poldark out-to-sea stare and some top-tier rockpooling. Out on its own windswept island, Godrevy Lighthouse adds to the atmospheric scene – childhood holidays here inspired Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Follow the boardwalk on to Mutton Cove to give your season’s greetings to the resident seal colony. And if things take a drizzly turn, take refuge in the Jam Pot, a cute café with bay views that calls a tiny roundhouse home.
Mousehole Harbour Lights
Surely the country’s most festive fishing village, postcard-pretty Mousehole has been decking the harbour walls with Christmas lights every year since the Sixties. In the kaleidoscopic display, traditional bells and robins are joined by sea serpents and stargazy pie, and the festive cheer is fortified with mulled wine and street food stands.
This year, catch the lights most evenings from 11th December until early January. During the day (or outside the festive season), Mousehole’s draws include independent boutiques, a deli stocked with local produce and thoughtfully sourced souvenir shops.
In the summer months, Penzance’s iconic art-deco lido comes alive with encouraging cries of ‘it’s lovely once you’re in’, as locals and tourists alike cool off in the bracing main pool. There’s no tentative toe-dipping necessary in the geothermal pool, though, which stays open through the winter and is naturally heated to a toasty 30 to 35 degrees. If you can brave the dash from the changing rooms, you’ll be treated to panoramic bay views – and afterwards, a hot choc with all the trimmings in the poolside café.
It’s best to book you swimming slot in advance – tickets are released on the 15th of each month for the following month, and can be booked online.
The Pig at Harlyn Bay
At the Pig at Harlyn Bay, potter down past the wildflower beds and kitchen gardens to the potting shed spa cabins. In keeping with the hotel’s green-fingered ethos, the candlelit massages and seaweed-infused facials use all-natural, organic Voya and Bamford products. For some seasonal indulgence, the warm spiced-mud wrap, scented with ginger and orange, makes a coddling coda to a wintry beach walk.
Seeking more countryside retreats in Cornwall? Check out our entire Cornish collection of boutique hotels…