There’s more to Cornwall’s gastronomy than cider and pasties, although they’re not bad. Read on to find out about the best food, drink and things to do in England’s most beautiful county.
Watergate Bay is home to the best beach and one of the best boutique hotels in England, so is the ideal place to base yourself for a long weekend of culture in North Cornwall.
Just north of Newquay, the wide bay boasts two miles of golden sands (when the tide is out) and a dramatic location with waves crashing in from the Atlantic. The beach is owned by The Hotel and Extreme Academy which claims to have the best rooms in Cornwall, while the Extreme Academy offers lessons in surfing and the more extreme beach sports like traction boarding.
The hotel is quite pricey (you’re looking at £155 B&B for the cheapest room in mid-season) but it has a great value deal in the shoulder seasons called Taste Of The Bay. Pay for three nights B&B, and you’ll get evening meals thrown in at each of The Brasserie (the hotel restaurant), The Beach Hut (laid back beach bar with great views) and Fifteen (Jamie Oliver’s Italian-Cornish fusion restaurant).
I’m no food critic, but I guarantee that the three-course meal at The Brasserie and the five-course tasting menu at Fifteen (normally £55 per head alone) will be two of the most memorable meals you will have anywhere.
The hotel holds special memories for us, as we got married in the downstairs function room facing the sea back in 2010 (which is now a spa), and returned there for our first anniversary. We liked the place so much, we didn’t want to leave, and stayed for an extra night this time eating at the hotel’s bar called the Living Space.
There’s a decked area overlooking the beach which is perfect for a beer before dinner while watching the sunset. It’s also pretty spectacular to watch storms roll in from the Atlantic from the comfort of a Living Space sofa. One minute you can clearly see Newquay and the Headland Hotel in the distance, the next you can barely make out the sea.
You’re highly likely to put on half a stone or more with all the food on offer at Watergate Bay, so burning some of the calories off on a walk of the South West Coastal Path the three miles or so to Newquay is a must. The scenery of the rugged coastline is stunning as you take it in from the cliffs above – it makes you realise England can just about punch its weight with the world’s best for natural beauty.
Camel Valley Vineyards
After experiencing top class local food at Watergate Bay, it’s time for some top class local booze. Camel Valley Vineyards produces red, white and sparkling wines midway between Wadebridge and Bodmin.
Driving here is not ideal, because:
a) it takes ages down a winding country lane off the A389 Bodmin to Wadebridge road; and
b) you won’t be able to enjoy tasting the products.
The best way to get there has to be by bike, along the Camel Trail, a 17-mile path that runs alongside the River Camel Estuary from Padstow to Wenfordbridge.
It follows the route of an old railway line, so is flat and great for walkers and cyclists – you can hire bikes in Wadebridge or Padstow. We chose Bridge Bike Hire where mountain bikes were £11 for the day.
There are daily tours of the vineyards, but the main reason people come here is to sample the wines on offer. There is a bar with a terrace and garden overlooking the Camel Valley that sells piddly little glasses (half the size of pub’s “small glasses”), so getting blootered is hard, but you can have fun trying.
There’s a shop too so you can stock up with bottles for the cycle home. We fell in love with the Annie’s Anniversary, a sparkling white wine that is as good as anything from France or Italy. It’s made using grapes from one particular vineyard, “Annie’s Vineyard”, named after the owner Annie Lindo.
After a pleasant couple of hours of boozing outdoors, it was time to do some drunken cycling back to Bridge Bike Hire, before it closed at 5pm. Camel Valley Vineyard is open Monday – Friday from 10 to 5, but if in doubt, check the website or ring ahead (01208 77959).
Pasties and cider
There’s a magical little brewery based in Rock, across the Camel Estuary from Padstow. Sharp’s brewery produce one of the nicest, driest ciders on the market. Sharp’s Cornish Orchard Cider deserves to be sold nationwide, but there are only a handful of pubs in the area that currently sell it (including Watergate Bay’s hotel bar).
Sharp’s flagship beer is Doombar, a 4% ale named after the sand bank where the estuary meets the sea. They also brew two cracking bottled beers named after Rick Stein’s dead dog, Chalky. Stein asked Sharp’s to make two Belgian style beers for him – Chalky’s Bark (4.5%) and the more potent Chalky’s Bite (6.8%) are the result. You can visit the brewery shop (Pityme Business Park just outside Rock) to take home booze, t-shirts etc.
As for pasties, although Rick Stein may have taken over Padstow, the best pasty in town is sold at The Chough Bakery (1-3 The Strand). These meaty beauties are better than Stein’s own at Stein’s Patisserie (Lanadwell Street), which are a bit too peppery.
One thing Stein gets right every time is fish – his seafood restaurant is a top-end fine dining experience, and his chippy (Rick Stein’s Fish & Chip Shop, South Quay) cannot be beaten. You can get a tray of cod and chips to takeaway for just under £7.