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Newquay: the Cornish surfing town shaking off its party past

Many are quick to conjure images of streets packed with stag- and hen-dos when they imagine Newquay – but over the past six years, the Cornish coastal town has been quietly undergoing a transformation from party place to food haven 

Changing tides: Not just for surfers, Newquay is becoming a hub for food-lovers as well
Changing tides: Not just for surfers, Newquay is becoming a hub for food-lovers as well

The first time I planned a trip to Newquay, friends and coworkers were quick to warn me: “It’s a party town.” Like many Britons, they conjured images of streets packed with stag- and hen-dos and beaches bestrewn with hungover students recovering from a night out.

Perhaps that’s why I was so surprised to discover a tranquil town so different from the one described when I arrived in Newquay. Clean beaches awaited me, dotted with a handful of surfers; I spotted more independent restaurants and bars than dance clubs and the frequency of the town seemed far more in tune with the ebb and flow of the waves of Fistral Beach than the booming soundscape of a busy nightclub.

All grown up

What many outside of Cornwall don’t realise is that over the past six years, Newquay has been quietly undergoing a major transformation.

The view of Fistral Beach from the Fistral Beach Hotel and Spa 

“Newquay has grown up,” resident and media consultant Claire Durkin tells me on my second trip to the coastal town. And locals in the surfing town are quick to agree. Municipal officials have made a concerted push over the past decade to turn the seaside town on Cornwall’s North Atlantic coast into more of a community centre where independent restaurants and businesses can thrive – and so far, it’s worked.

The town is transforming into something of a culinary hub, with the coast offering up fine fresh seafood and the strong surfing culture inspiring a steady stream of vegan and vegetarian restaurants.

Growing local

Co-owners of local speak-easy bar Tom Thumb (1), Jamie Garfield and Paul Saunders, are part of the growing movement. Named after the English folklore character, the equally small bar specialises in premium cocktails and coffee, with a menu that reflects Saunders’s vegan lifestyle.

The bar owners, Saunders originally from Somerset and Garfield from London, both decided to move to Newquay and go into business together after falling in love with the surfing culture and lifestyle.

Paul Garfield and Jamie Saunders opened Tom Thumb nearly one year ago 

“We saw that things were changing here and jumped on that,” Saunders tells me. “There’s been a lot of change in Newquay over the past six years and it’s less about the stag and hen-do culture now.”

With a staff of two other people, the pair make all their own syrups, as well as their own Vermouth and barrel-aged cocktails. Saunders recommends the Flor Armago and does not steer me wrong; it’s a warm and welcoming drink you can sink into with Ancho Reyes Chile liqeuer, Noilly Prat dry vermouth, elderflower cordial and peach bitters. Their vegan mezze board is also a delicious treat served on a wooden board with generous helpings of dolma, artichoke and falafel.

The pair also strive to be as sustainable as possible to “do our part for the planet” by growing their own ingredients in a backyard garden, composting leftovers to create minimum waste and ensuring they use paper straws and LED low voltage lights. “I think it just ties in to the whole hippy culture here,” Saunders says of the bar’s vegan offerings and efforts towards environmental sustainability.

Of course, Tom Thumb isn’t the only spot in Newquay catering to vegans and vegetarians. A number of cafes and restaurants have set up shop in recent years, catering to the local surfing scene.

Swing by Sprout for a delicious homemade hot pot or some guilt-free sweet treats 

Just down the street from the local bar on an unassuming alleyway, food shop and cafe Sprout Health (2) has cropped up in what was once an old printhouse. The shop is popular for its one-pot meals, such as coconut lentil dahl, as well as its raw locally-made vegan cakes and delicious vegan pasties. When I get there, it’s packed with locals feasting on sweet cakes and the cafe’s wide selection of hot drinks, including a warming turmeric latte with almond milk. I tried a tart cherry and rose cake, rich with flavour, with the turmeric latte – the perfect ending to a delicious lunch.

Indulge in a guilt-free locally-made rose and cherry cake and turmeric latte at Sprout 

The Green Heart Cafe (3) is a one-of-a-kind vegan and vegetarian spot that also serves as an art gallery for local creatives. I actually stumbled upon this cafe by chance and likely would have walked right past it were it not for the “vegan and vegetarian” chalkboard sign sitting out on the street like a beacon.

The dog-friendly artistic hub has a small, but delicious, selection of lunch bowls and vegan cakes as well as a vegan Sunday roast. It’s also a great place to purchase local art at reasonable prices.

The Jam Jar (4) is another independent cafe worth visiting for its cute decor, vegan and gluten-free cakes and good coffee. The cafe sells Origin coffee, a leading UK specialty coffee roaster that practises direct trade in order to support farm and mill partners directly.

Surf’s up

Of course, the major draw for tourists is Newquay’s unmatched waves in the UK. Cornwall is well-known as one of the best surfing spots in Britain, with Newquay’s Fistral Beach (5) offering a true taste of world class surfing.

Fistral beach is home to a number of National and International surfing competitions throughout the year, including the upcoming Boardmasters Festival (9-13 August), the English Surfing Nationals, and the British Universities Colleges Surfing Championships.

It’s also the the perfect surfing spot for beginners like me. It didn’t take long for me to catch the bug on my first lesson with the Quicksilver Surf School (6), which serves up sessions all-year long.

Fistral Beach is the perfect spot for surfers – pro and beginners alike

By the end of our two-hour lesson, instructor Tony Ashton had taught me the basics and, to my surprise, had me standing up (somewhat reluctantly) on my board, riding the surf.

While Fistral is certainly the most celebrated surfing spot in the UK, Newquay’s Watergate Bay (7) and Towan Beach (8) also offer some decent waves. If surfing isn’t your thing, Watergate is also popular for kite surfing, windsurfing, kayaking and more.

For a more secluded spot away from the crowds during the day, Lusty Glaze (9) is a beautiful cove crowned Beach of the Year 2017 by The TImes and The Sunday Times. At night, the beach comes alive with free live music Sundowner Sessions every week of the year.

For those feeling more on the adventurous side, Quicksilver and the Newquay Watersports Centre (10) both offer coasteering sessions, where thrill-seekers can traverse barnacle-covered cliff ledges before diving into the sea.

Tee Time

Those who would rather spend their time on the green, rather than in the great blue sea can book a tee time at the Newquay Golf Club (11).

The Harry Colt-designed par 69 course built in 1890 is known for having some of the best greens in the county with gorgeous views of the water, overlooking Fistral Beach. The club hosts regular open competitions throughout the year.

On the finer side

The best way to recover after hitting the waves is a protein-packed nourishing meal, Tony was quick to inform me. Luckily, I didn’t have to stray far from the sands of Fistral Beach to find luxury B&B and restaurant Lewinnick Lodge (12).

Take in stunning seaside views at Lewinnick Lodge – you might even spot a dolphin or two 

The restaurant sits right on the edge of the Atlantic, offering stunning views and specialising in seafood and classic Cornish dishes made with local produce. The steamed Cornish mussels and fish and chips are popular choices.

It’s a great place to watch the sunset over dinner or drinks; you might even spot a dolphin or two from the patio, though I wasn’t lucky enough to catch any.

For dinner, the Dune restaurant at Fistral Beach Hotel and Spa, where I stayed, (13) is known as one of the best restaurants in Newquay, with great views of Fistral Beach and a seasonal menu that changes regularly along with the wine list.

Don’t miss dessert at Dune restaurant on Fistral Beach 

The menu features everything from stone bass, baked lemon sole fillets to a 16oz Chateaubriand steak to share, served with confit tomato, grilled flat mushroom in a herb and butter sauce with hand cut chips.

There are also a number of vegetarian options, including breaded bocconcini, pea, broadbean and asparagus risotto and the Niçoise salad.

After a long day of surfing, take in the stunning sunset on Fistral Beach (Chantal Da Silva)

Of course, you’ll want to save room for dessert. The restaurant offers a wonderful range of desserts perfectly paired with sweet and sticky wines. I tried the peanut butter parfait, chocolate ganache and hazelnut brittle paired with a glass of Pedro Ximenez Triana, an unforgettably rich and syrupy Spanish sherry produced by the Hidalgo Family bodega.

Essentials:

How to get there:

Flying is the fastest way to get to Newquay. Flybe offers flights from a number of UK cities, including London, Birmingham and Manchester (flybe.com). Pete’s Taxis will get you from the airport (14) to the town centre for £18-24 (07525 661 662). You can also get there by train or bus.

Where to stay:

For a truly relaxing getaway on one of Cornwall’s best surfing beaches, treat yourself to stay at Fistral Beach Hotel and Spa. The hotel features modern rooms with seaside views, a restaurant, a bar with live music, affordable spa services, and an indoor swimming pool (fistralbeachhotel.co.uk).

Book now

Those looking for a quiet stay away from the beach will find what they’re looking for at Lewinnick Lodge (lewinnicklodge.co.uk).

Book now

For dedicated surfers and those looking to learn, the Sufers Hotel (15) will make for a great affordable stay. It’s also ideal for large groups – and welcomes those who are in fact hoping to head to Newquay for their hen- or stag-do (surfershotel.co.uk).

Book now

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