Visiting South Cornwall? Find out about the best places to visit with this essential guide to the region's beautiful coastline, fishing villages and gardens
A rolling landscape of dairy farms dimpled with market towns, where hills nuzzle wooded creeks and fishing villages huddle around narrow harbours, the southeast is the soft underbelly of Cornwall – a gentle contrast to the drama-queen north with its showy beaches, surf and adrenaline sports.
But there’s nothing flabby about the southeast. It might have more than its fair share of cream tea shops, but you can easily burn off the calories by kayaking, cycling, hiking and even surfing when there’s a southwesterly swell. Lying at the hub of the region, the china clay mining centre of St Austell snags the A390 as it meanders across southern Cornwall, passing the county’s ancient seat of power at Lostwithiel before reaching the present-day capital of Truro.
Cornwall’s only city has a fine cathedral and museum, but it’s the Eden Project near St Austell that gets the vote for Cornwall’s most popular attraction. Over one million people make the pilgrimage to Eden each year – a green giant among lesser, though no less fascinating, sites nearby, such as the Shipwreck & Heritage Centre at the historic port of Charlestown.
South of St Austell, Mevagissey’s harbour is gridlocked with colourful trawlers and stalked by hordes of excited crab-hunters. Seek refuge from the ankle nippers in the nearby Lost Gardens of Heligan, or explore sandy beaches north and south of Mevagissey at Pentewan and Gorran Haven. The coastline becomes wilder as you venture west onto the unspoilt Roseland Peninsula, a rural backwater that has sleepy St Mawes within waving distance of funky Falmouth – haven to yachties and home of the National Maritime Museum.
East of St Austell, fashionable Fowey (pronounced ‘Foy’) is another place where people love messing about on the water: sailing, pottering around in motor boats or kayaking to peaceful hamlets on the Fowey Estuary like Lerryn. Cross the estuary from Fowey to Polruan and the coast takes a rugged turn: cliffs marching eastwards, with narrow clefts leading to cutesy Polperro and the more substantial harbour town of Looe. Beyond lies the surf-strafed sweep of Whitsand Bay and the ‘forgotten corner’ of the Rame Peninsula, where historic Mount Edgcumbe presides over the Tamar Estuary. Plymouth is just a ferry ride (or bridge crossing) away, but steer yourself northwards and you’ll find the Cornish treasure of Cotehele House.