Cornwall offers far more than lazy beach days and watersports. This favoured staycation spot has a vibrant history, culture and cuisine, says Alex Wade

Why go here?

Back in the 1950s, the poet John Heath Stubbs described Cornwall as "a hideous and a wicked county" which was "hollow with mine-shafts" and "naked with sorrow". Not any more.

England's westernmost county regularly tops polls as Britain's most popular holiday spot. Cornwall's beaches, backed by ancient granite cliffs and lapped by the UK's most pristine waters, offer all manner of outdoor pursuits, from sailing and surfing to coasteering, kayaking and rock-pooling. Its idyllic fishing villages hark back to an industry which was once one of its mainstays; evidence of the other, tin mining, has stark engine houses standing sentinel along the coast. Inland, there is rugged beauty too, while Cornwall's primary 21st-century industry, tourism, has resulted in a huge rise in the quality of culinary and cultural fare. David Cameron regularly holidays here. The Prime Minister even named his daughter Florence Endellion, after the village of St Endellion on the north coast.

The great outdoors

There's a beach for everyone, from quiet coves to vast sandy expanses packed with activity. For sparkling seas – and a naturist beach – head to Porthcurno, near Land's End, while adrenalin junkies should opt for Watergate Bay on the north coast where the famed Extreme Academy ( offers lessons in every watersport imaginable. Surfers can get a video debrief at Errant Surf (, which films lessons on Newquay's beaches. Gyllyngvase Beach, Falmouth (, hosts the UK's first stand-up paddleboarding school. For marine biology check out Sennen Cove, where dolphins, seals and basking sharks are seen. Bodmin Moor has remote walks and the Camel Trail, offering a wonderful, wild day's cycling.

The history trail

For a rough and ready taste of Cornwall's maritime glory head to Newlyn, Porthleven or Falmouth, which are working ports. The Penlee House museum (penleehouse in Penzance regularly shows art from the Newlyn School. Those with a yen for Modernism can see work by Cornwall's best contemporary artists at the Millennium, Belgrave and Tate galleries in St Ives (stivesvisitor The recently redeveloped Copper Trail on Bodmin Moor (bestofbodmin is a 60-mile circular walk around that pays homage to Cornwall's 19th-century copper mining boom, taking in the lofty villages of Minions and Caradon.

The retail therapy

Farmers' markets are popular in all the main towns, but also look out for sellers of fresh produce in lay-bys: they're everywhere, and they've just been licensed, too, under the ShopByLayby scheme (shopbylayby The co-operative Cowhouse Gallery ( in the pretty village of Perranuthnoe has a host of local artisanal handicrafts from wood turning to print making, jewellery and textiles. But if you're after classic Cornish souvenirs, look no further than the cobbled maze of St Ives dominated by local shops and traders.

The inside attractions

Overlooking Rock, the celebrities' favourite town, is the gleaming white Art Deco of the St Moritz Hotel ( Its Cowshed Spa and relaxation lounge are perfect if you're feeling a little weather beaten. On The Lizard, Flambards ( theme park is home to the Skyraker, a 100ft plunging ride that was made in Italy and is the only one of its kind in the UK. Truro's Lemon Quay has just seen the unveiling of acclaimed sculptor Tim Shaw's The Drummer, a tribute to Cornish steeliness and determination. At the Retallack Resort and Spa (retallack, the Flowrider artificial wave technology provides thrills for adults and children alike. Theatre fans should not miss a production at Minack Theatre (, overlooking the sea in Porthcurno.

The places to eat and drink

In the wake of Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein's Cornish forays, there are now a number of talented local chefs. Nathan Outlaw has two Michelin stars at the St Enodoc Hotel ( in Rock, while Paul Ainsworth's Number 6 in Padstow ( is attracting rave reviews. St Austell has reopened the Cornwall Hotel and Spa Estate (, where head chef Tom Bradbury is working wonders. In Penzance, Untitled by Robert Wright (untitled is the new and highly regarded restaurant next to the Abbey Hotel. In Truro, head for Mannings ( or Bustophers (bustophers Après-surf drinkers enjoy the Beach Restaurant, Sennen Cove (thebeachrestaurant .com) or the Blue Bar in Porthtowan (

Compact Facts

How to get there

Newquay Airport has frequent connections with airports across the UK (0870 241 8202; airsouthwest .com). First Great Western offers a sleeper service from London, Paddington to Penzance (08457 000 125;

Further information