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Penzance: As in “The Pirates of...”

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Chapter 18: Cornwall: Saints, Salts, Sea, and Sun


ߜ Economy Hire, Heliport Garage (% 01736/366-636)

ߜ Enterprise, The Forecourt, Longrock (% 01736/332-000)

ߜ Europcar, Station Yard (% 01736/360-078)

Finding information and taking a tour of Penzance

The Tourist Information Centre, Station Road (% 01736/362-207; www.

penzance.co.uk), is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,

Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (until 1 p.m. Oct–May), and Sunday 10 a.m. to

1 p.m. (June–Sept only).

Belerion Walks, Avon House, 13 Penare Rd. (% 01736/362-452), offers

year-round guided walks of the town; tours last about 90 minutes and

cost £4 ($7.40). Call to reserve a spot. Harry Safari (% 01736/711-427;

www.harrysafari.com) runs a four-hour guided tour, which offers one of

the best ways to see this part of Cornwall. Guides drive you through the

area in a minivan to all sorts of hidden corners and scenic spots. The tour

costs £20 ($37); you can have them pick you up in Penzance or St. Ives.

A cruise around Mounts Bay, passing St. Michael’s Mount and local coastal

beauty spots where you may see seals or dolphins, makes for a fun excursion. MVS Mermaid & Viking (% 01736/368-565) operates two-hour

coastal cruises at 3 p.m. (most days); these cruises cost £8 ($15) adults,

£6.50 ($12) children 5 to 15. Boats leave from the marina area.

Staying in Penzance

Penzance is a holiday town with many hotels and B&Bs. I’ve listed a few

of my faves in this section. See also The Summerhouse Restaurant with

Rooms in the section “Dining in Penzance,” later in this chapter

The Abbey

$$ –$$$

The Abbey, in a 17th-century building overlooking Penzance harbor, is the

most stylish guesthouse in Penzance. The hotel uses bold colors and

Special events in Penzance

Daphne du Maurier, whose famous novel Rebecca is set in Cornwall, lived in Bodinnick

in nearby Fowey (see “Fowey and the Saint’s Way: River Town and Holy Track,” later

in this chapter). Every year in May, Penzance sponsors the Daphne du Maurier Festival

of Arts and Literature, featuring all kinds of performers and events. For information, call the box office at % 01726/223-535 or check out the town’s Web site at


296 Part V: The West Country

antiques to convey an atmosphere of overstuffed English elegance. It’s like

staying in a small, luxuriously appointed house. The nine guest rooms are

lovely, and so are the bathrooms. You can arrange to have dinner in the

hotel, or you may prefer the equally stylish Abbey Restaurant next door

(see the section “Dining in Penzance,” later in this chapter).

Abbey St., Penzance, Cornwall TR18 4AR. % 01736/366-906. Fax: 01736/351-163. www.

theabbeyonline.com. Rack rates: £120–£190 ($222–$352) double. Rates include

English breakfast. AE, DC, MC, V.

The Georgian House Hotel


This 18th-century Georgian building, formerly the house of a mayor of

Penzance, reputedly has a resident ghost. But the real spirit of the 11-room

B&B is modern art: The dining room, where you’re served breakfast, is

painted with murals inspired by Picasso and Matisse. Guest rooms are comfortable and well equipped, and a nice lounge and bar are on the premises.

The hotel is right on Chapel Street, the most interesting street in town.

20 Chapel St., Penzance, Cornwall TR18 4AW. % 01736/365-664. Fax: 01736/365-664.

Rack rates: £52–£56 ($96–$104) double. Rates include English breakfast. AE, MC, V.

Mount Prospect Hotel


This 21-room hotel, overlooking Mounts Bay and the town, is one of the

best places to stay in Penzance. Impeccably maintained, the hotel features

comfortable, well-furnished rooms, many with sea views and good-size

bathrooms (most with bath and shower). Kids enjoy the on-site pool. A

special rate, which includes dinner at the hotel’s fine restaurant, is a noteworthy bargain. Nonguests can also dine here on Modern British cuisine;

the restaurant serves dinner nightly from 7 to 8:30.

Britons Hill, Penzance, Cornwall TR18 3AE. % 01736/363-117. Fax: 01736/350-970.

www.hotelpenzance.com. Rack rates: £115 ($213) double with English breakfast;

£155 ($287) double with English breakfast and dinner. AE, MC, V.

Dining in Penzance

You won’t lack for dining options in Penzance. Many of the restaurants

feature fresh seafood.

Abbey Restaurant

$$ –$$$


At this stylish restaurant next to the Abbey Hotel, you enter a luscious red

womb of a bar–lounge and walk up to an airy dining room with views out

over Penzance harbor. Chef–owner Ben Tunnicliffe cooks in a modern

European style that makes use of fresh local fish, meat, and produce.

For starters, try pan-fried foie gras or crab cakes with cucumber chutney.

Main courses change often but may include wild sea bass with fettuccine,

Chapter 18: Cornwall: Saints, Salts, Sea, and Sun


pancetta, and artichokes or end of lamb. The Abbey has an excellent

wine list.

Abbey Street. % 01736/330-680. Reservations recommended. Main courses: £16–£25

($30–$46). MC, V. Open: Fri–Sat noon–2 p.m.; Tues–Sat 7–10 p.m.

Harris’s Restaurant

$$ –$$$


For a restaurant to stay in business for more than 30 years, it must be

doing something right. This well-established restaurant, located down a

narrow cobbled lane off Market Jew Street, is one of Penzance’s best and

most highly regarded. The cooking emphasizes fresh, local produce and

seafood, with dishes such as crab Florentine and grilled scallops.

46 New St. % 01736/364-408. Reservations recommended. Main courses: £16–£19

($30–$35). AE, MC, V. Open: Tues–Sat noon–2 p.m. and 7–10 p.m.; closed three weeks

in winter.

The Summer House Restaurant with Rooms



Head to this restaurant-inn in a Regency-era house just off the promenade

if you’re in the mood for innovative Mediterranean-style food. The setprice menus change daily, depending on what’s fresh in the market, and

you can choose from an interesting Italian wine list. In the summer, you

can dine by candlelight in the beautiful walled garden. If you want to stay

here, there are five large, stylishly furnished rooms with private bathrooms; a double with choice of English or continental breakfast goes for

£80 to £95 ($148–$176), plus £26 ($48) for a three-course dinner.

Cornwall Terrace, Penzance, Cornwall TR18 4HL. % 01736/363-744. Fax: 01736/360-959.

www.summerhouse-cornwall.com. Reservations required. Fixed-price dinner £25

($46). MC, V. Open: Restaurant Mar–Nov Tues–Sun 7–10 p.m.; hotel closed Dec–Feb.

Sylvester’s Restaurant



In a historic wharf building next to the Wharfside Shopping Centre,

Sylvester’s is an informal restaurant that catches plenty of tourist trade.

The place serves good, inexpensive, home-cooked meals, including local

seafood dishes, with minimum fuss.

Wharf Road. % 01736/366-888. Main courses: Lunch £5–£8 ($9.25–$15); fixed-price

dinner £15 ($28). AE, MC, V. Open: Easter–Oct daily 10:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Nov–Easter

Mon–Thurs 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Fri–Sat 10:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

The Turks Head



The atmospheric, low-ceilinged Turks Head claims to be the oldest tavern

in town because an inn on this spot has been welcoming travelers since

298 Part V: The West Country

the 13th century. You get good, hearty food, everything from fisherman’s

pie and seafood platters to ratatouille and chicken tikka masala, a spicy

Indian dish.

49 Chapel St. % 01736/363-093. Main courses: £6–£10 ($11–$19). MC, V. Open: Food

served daily 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 6–10 p.m.; pub open Mon–Sat 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun

11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.

Exploring in and around Penzance

St. Michael’s Mount is the must-see attraction in Penzance. The town itself

doesn’t offer a lot in the way of special interest or tourist attractions,

though Chapel Street has some interesting buildings. Garden lovers may

enjoy visiting Trengwainton Garden outside of town.

Castle on St. Michael’s Mount

Mount’s Bay

For nearly 350 years, this amazing island–castle in Mount’s Bay has been

the home of the St. Aubyn family. Connected to the mainland by a 500-footlong causeway, the castle incorporates parts of an earlier 12th-century

Benedictine priory that was founded as the daughter house of Mont St.

Michel in Normandy. Later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, St. Michael’s

Mount was an important fortress to protect the coastline from foreign

attack. (The beacon on top of the church tower was lit to warn of the

approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588.) A royalist stronghold during the

Civil War, the fort was forced to surrender after a long siege. The St. Aubyn

family still inhabits part of the castle and has lived there since 1659.

Visitors enter through the West Door, above which hangs the St. Aubyn

family crest. The Entrance Hall, altered in the 19th century, was the living

area for the Captain of the Mount in the 16th and 17th centuries. The little

adjacent chamber, known as Sir John’s Room, is the owner’s private sitting room. Sporting weapons and war memorabilia hang in the Armoury.

The snug Library is in the oldest (12th-century) part of the castle, as is

the dining room, which served as the monks’ refectory. The Priory Church

on the island’s summit has beautiful rose windows. In a newer section of

the castle, you can see the elegant rococo-style Blue Drawing Rooms.

St. Michael’s Mount is one of the most-visited National Trust properties in

Britain. Give yourself at least three hours for a visit, and be aware that you

have to climb many stairs to reach the castle. If the tide is in, boatmen

known as hobblers can ferry you over or back. If you need some nourishment after all those stairs, you can refuel at one of two restaurants on the

island, open April to October only, where you can have lunch or tea. Lunch

costs about £4 to £8 ($7.40–$15); a cream tea, about £4 ($7.40).

To get here by bus, take bus no. 20 or 22 from Penzance to Marazion, the

town opposite St. Michael’s Mount.

See map p. 293. On St. Michael’s Mount, Mount’s Bay (take A30 from Penzance).

% 01736/710-507. www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk. Admission: £5.50 ($10) adults,

Chapter 18: Cornwall: Saints, Salts, Sea, and Sun


£2.75 ($5.10) children under 17, £14 ($26) families (2 adults, 2 children). Open: MidMar to Oct Sun–Fri 10:30 a.m.–5:30 (last admission 4:45 p.m.); Nov to mid-Mar usually

Mon, Wed, and Fri by conducted tour only at 11 a.m., noon and 2 and 3 p.m.; call to


Chapel Street


Chapel Street, running north–south from St. Mary’s Church near the waterfront up to Parade Street, is the most architecturally significant street in

Penzance. Strolling the length takes only a few minutes, and doing so gives

you a glimpse of the Penzance of yore. Chapel Street has always been a

mixture of residential and commercial buildings. Facades that look

Georgian (from the late 18th and early 19th centuries) often hide much

older buildings. Two hundred years ago, the Union Hotel, with its Assembly

Rooms, was the center of the town’s social activities. Across the road from

the Union Hotel is the Egyptian House, built in 1835 with Egyptian motifs

and ornamentation. Other houses on the street belonged to mayors,

mariners, and traders. Just below the Regent Hotel is the Old Custom

House, a fine building whose interior retains many original 18th-century

features (it’s now a shop selling antiques, crystal, and German Christmas

ornaments). Farther down is the Turks Head, which claims to be the

oldest inn in Penzance (see the section “Dining in Penzance,” earlier in this

chapter). The austere Wesleyan Chapel of 1814 is situated across from the

inn. Nearby, marked by a blue plaque, you can see the home of Maria

Branwell, the beloved “Aunt Branwell” who moved to Yorkshire to raise

Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell Brontë after their mother died.

Chapel Street’s most impressive building is St. Mary’s Church, rebuilt in

the 1830s on the site of an earlier medieval chapel.

Penlee House Gallery & Museum


Built as a private residence in 1865, Penlee House now serves as

Penzance’s art gallery and museum. The painting collection focuses on the

Newlyn School of artists, mostly landscape painters active in the area

between 1880 and 1930. The museum has exhibits ranging from Stone Age

to the present day. You can tour the entire museum in about 30 minutes.

The Orangery Cafe is a nice spot for tea or a light lunch.

Morrab Road. % 01736/363-625. Admission: £2 ($3.70) adults, free for children 5–15.

Open: Mon–Sat 10 a.m.–5 p.m., (10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Oct–Apr).

Trengwainton Garden

West of Penzance

Nowhere else on mainland Britain can you find a garden with plants as

exotic as the ones grown here. Trengwainton (pronounced as it’s spelled,

Treng-wain-ton), which means the “House of the Spring” in Cornish, is set

in the granite hills behind Penzance, and commands panoramic views of

300 Part V: The West Country

Mount’s Bay and the Lizard Peninsula. The first walled gardens were constructed in the 18th century, but the plantings didn’t really flourish until

the late 1920s, under Sir Edward Bolitho. Several species of rhododendrons, which Bolitho planted from seeds collected in Asia, flowered for the

first time outside their native habitat in this garden. You see color throughout the year, from camellias and magnolias in early spring to acres of blue

hydrangea in late summer. You can have lunch or a Cornish cream tea in

the teahouse. The garden is a National Trust property. Give yourself at

least an hour to enjoy it.

To get here by bus, take the First National bus no. 10/A from Penzance

to St. Just; ask the driver to let you off along the way at the stop nearest

Trengwainton. (For bus schedules, check with the Tourist Information

Centre; see “Finding information and taking a tour of Penzance,” earlier

in this chapter.)

3km (2 miles) west of Penzance, .5km (1⁄2 mile) west of Heamoor off Penzance-Morvah

Road (B3312). % 01736/362-297 or 01637/875-404. Admission: £4.50 ($8.35) adults,

£2.20 ($4.05) children under 17, £11 ($20) families (2 adults, 2 children). Open: MidFeb to Oct Sun–Thurs 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (until 5:30 p.m. Apr–Sept).

The Penwith Peninsula: A Driving Tour

from Penzance to Land’s End

On a map, the Penwith Peninsula west of Penzance looks like a giant

toe dipping into the Atlantic. You can take a great driving tour of this

area, which I outline in this section. B3315 follows the peninsula’s southern coastline past the fishing villages of Newlyn and Mousehole — good

places to stop and explore for an hour or so — to famous Land’s End,

where you can pick up the fast A30 back to Penzance. The distances here

aren’t that great; driving this loop without stopping takes about an hour,

but the trip makes a pleasant half- or full-day excursion from Penzance or

St. Ives. If you don’t have a car, bus service runs from Penzance to Newlyn,

Mousehole, and Land’s End. For times and schedules, check with the

tourist office or the local bus service, First Western National (% 01209/

719-988; www.firstwesternnational.co.uk).

Stop #1: Newlyn

Just a couple of miles south of Penzance lies the port of Newlyn, home

of England’s second-largest fishing fleet. Chances are that any fresh fish

or lobster that you eat in Penzance or even St. Ives was landed in the

waters near Newlyn. Pilchards (mature sardines) have traditionally been

the biggest catch off these shores. In general, though, the pilchard fishing industry that was the mainstay of Cornwall’s coastal villages from

the medieval era until the early part of the 20th century is now a tiny

fragment of what it once was. The Pilchard Works Museum and Factory,

The Coombe (% 01736/332-112), is the last remaining salt pilchard factory in England; the factory has a small adjunct museum that explains

Chapter 18: Cornwall: Saints, Salts, Sea, and Sun


the process of curing pilchards; for almost a hundred years, this factory

has supplied salt (cured) pilchards to the same Italian company. The

museum is open Easter through October weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The seascapes and the quality of light along this part of the Cornish

coast lured several artists to the area in the late Victorian era. You can

see the paintings of the Newlyn School in Penzance at Penlee House.

(See the section “Exploring in and around Penzance,” earlier in this chapter.) The Newlyn Art Gallery, Newlyn Green (% 01736/363-715), has a

small collection of the distinctive Arts and Crafts copper work that was

produced in Newlyn from 1890 to 1950. The gallery is open Monday to

Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If the sea air has you feeling peckish (hungry), you can find the best fish

and chips in town at the Tolcarne Inn, Tolcarne Place (% 01736/365074). Or you may want to try fresh crab or Newlyn fish pie (white and

smoked fish and prawns in white wine sauce, topped with cheese and

breadcrumbs). Meals (lunch and dinner daily) are served in a publike

room with a beamed ceiling. Main courses go for £5 to £10 ($9.25–$19);

the inn accepts MasterCard and Visa.

Stop #2: Mousehole

A few miles south of Newlyn lies the former fishing village of Mousehole

(pronounced Muz-zle). With its curving quay, its small protected harbor,

and its quaint stone cottages, Mousehole is a pretty place. The town

attracts many tourists who come for lunch or tea and a look around.

The town itself is the attraction here.

One very good restaurant to try is Cornish Range, 6 Chapel St. (% 01736/

731-488), open daily in the summer and Wednesday to Saturday in the

winter for lunch and dinner. On the menu, you find fish soup, crab

Florentine, roast cod and mullet, and many other fresh fish dishes. Main

courses go for £13 to £18 ($24–$33). MasterCard and Visa are accepted.

Cornish Range also rents out three guest rooms, each with private bath,

for £80 to £90 ($148–$167) per night, including breakfast. If you’re looking

for a good, unfussy Cornish cream tea, pop into Pam’s Pantry, 3 Mill Lane

(% 01736/731-532), open February to November daily 9:30 a.m. to 6:30

p.m. This cash-only hole-in-the-wall also serves Newlyn crab in soups,

sandwiches, and salads. A cream tea costs about £4 ($7.40), and main

courses go for £5 to £8 ($9.25–$15).

Stop #3: The Minack Theatre

The oceanside Minack Theatre (% 01736/810-694; www.minack.com)

was carved out of a rocky hillside in Porthcurno, a village 14.5km

(9 miles) southwest of Penzance (from Mousehole, continue south on

B3315, and follow the signs). The theater is legendary because of its

outdoor setting, overlooking the ocean. If you stay in Penzance or St.

Ives, an evening here makes for a memorable experience. From May to

302 Part V: The West Country

September, theater companies from all over England stage performances

of everything from Shakespeare to musical comedies, a tradition dating

to 1932. Bring a cushion, a sweater, and a raincoat, just in case. You can

check out the Visitor Centre even if you’re not seeing a play. Theater

tickets cost £6 to £7.50 ($11–$14). The Exhibition Hall, which has information on the theater’s history, is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

(Oct–Mar 10 a.m.–4 p.m.). The theater presents evening performances

Monday through Friday at 8. and matinees on Wednesday and Friday

at 2 from the end of May to mid-September.

Stop #4: Land’s End

Atlantic-facing Land’s End, where high granite cliffs plunge down to the

roaring sea, is one of the country’s most famous and dramatic landmarks.

But a theme-park development that you have to pass through to reach

the headland mars the grandeur of this windy point, the westernmost

on mainland Britain. A well-marked path leads out to an observation

point, and you can follow other coastal paths if the day is fine. The

British-owned Scilly Isles are 45km (28 miles) out to sea; otherwise,

nothing lies between England and the eastern coast of North America.

St. Ives: Artists’ Haven by the Sea

It’s easy to understand why this former fishing village on the north

coast of Cornwall attracts artists. The sea at St. Ives changes color like

a jewel shimmering in the sunlight. The town’s whitewashed stone cottages and painted stucco villas stretch along rocky coves and a long,

curving sand beach. A relaxing place to stay, St. Ives is much smaller

than Penzance. A branch of London’s Tate museum commemorates a

group of local artists, including Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson,

who lived and worked in the town. The town is still a favorite hangout

for artists and craftspeople. You can find dozens of small galleries for

browsing, in addition to plenty of good restaurants specializing in

locally caught seafood.

Getting to St. Ives

Trains run throughout the day from London’s Paddington Station to

the area. For St. Ives, you change trains at St. Erth on the main line to

Penzance, or you can take a train direct from Penzance. The total trip

takes about five-and-a-half to six hours. For train information, call

% 08457/484-950. Long-distance buses from London’s Victoria Coach

Station take up to nine hours; call National Express (% 0990/808-080)

for more information. Driving from Penzance, you can take A30 northeast to its junction with A3074, and follow A3074 north.

For information about renting a car in Penzance, see the section

“Getting to Penzance,” earlier in this chapter.

Chapter 18: Cornwall: Saints, Salts, Sea, and Sun


Finding information about St. Ives

The Tourist Information Centre in the Guildhall, Street-an-Pol (% 01736/

796-297), is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.;

Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (mid-May to Aug 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.); and

from mid-May through September Sunday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The center dispenses information on the area, stocks brochures on local attractions,

and operates a room-finding service.

Staying in St. Ives

St. Ives draws visitors year-round, but it’s particularly busy in the warm

summer months. Dozens of hotels and B&Bs occupy this small Cornish

town. Here are my recommended choices.

Garrack Hotel & Restaurant

$$ –$$$

This hotel is renowned for its restaurant and has special rates that include

dinner. The Garrack is in a traffic-free area of St. Ives, with views looking

out over the gardens to the sea. Some of the 18 guest rooms are in a former

private house; the others, in a modern wing and separate cottage. All have

private bathrooms. Kids love the indoor pool. The romantic sea-view

restaurant serves fresh fish and lobster from Newlyn; organic beef, lamb,

and venison; and produce from its own garden. A four-course fixed-price

meal costs £26 ($48). Even if you stay elsewhere, you may want to eat here

(reservations required).

Burthallan Lane, St. Ives, Cornwall TR26 3AA. % 01736/796-199. Fax: 01736/798-955.

www.garrack.com. Rack rates: £126–£180 ($233–$333) double with English breakfast; £168–£228 ($311–$422) double with English breakfast and dinner. AE, DC, MC, V.

Pedn-Olva Hotel

$$ –$$$

Located right on the edge of a commanding cliff, this hotel was stylishly

refurbished in 2001 and has 30 rooms with the best sea views in St. Ives.

Most of the rooms (and bathrooms) are smallish, but the panoramic views

are mesmerizing. The hotel has a fine restaurant, sunny terraces, and a

pool, and you have only a two-minute walk to the center of town or the

beach. It’s a light, bright, airy hotel with a lot of nice features.

Porthminster Beach, St. Ives, Cornwall TR26 2EA. % 01736/796-222. Fax: 01736-797710. www.pednolvahotel.co.uk. Rack rates: £110–£145 ($204–$268) double.

Rates include English breakfast. AE, DC, MC, V.



This well-maintained, nonsmoking B&B in a pretty, bay-fronted Victorian

house sits just above the Tate St. Ives and Porthmeor Beach. The B&B has

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