Jane Anderson catches up on Cornwall’s continuing transformation, taking a look at what’s new for families in 2018
Like many mothers, I’ve been returning to Cornwall for years with my two children, now aged 10 and 13. It was also the place I went as a child in the 1970s and ’80s. Every time I return, I’m struck by how exotic it increasingly feels. Back then, there was none of the surf vibe you get now. You’d be hard-pressed to find a kayak, never mind a stand-up paddleboard offering sunrise yoga in Falmouth Harbour. These days, rad sports are two a penny.
The Newquay Activity Centre has a new Super SUP family ocean adventure. Mums, dads and kids are kitted out in wetsuit, buoyancy aid, helmet and paddle, and join an experienced instructor to steer a super-sized shared surfboard along the breathtaking coastline, exploring secret coves and smugglers’ tunnels and playing family bonding games. Family coasteering is also on offer for more gung-ho families, who consider cliff-jumping into the sea a fun activity.
The food has changed, too. I recollect pasties in pub gardens in St Ives and clotted cream teas in cafés by the harbour in Polperro. Now, Cornwall is a foodie powerhouse. Even the humble pasty has its own Cornish pasty heritage centre, Cornucopia on the outskirts of St Austell.
From Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen on Watergate Bay to Rick Stein’s takeover of Padstow, there’s a plethora of new upstarts for families to tuck into. Kahuna in Newquay is one of Nathan Outlaw’s top five under-the-radar restaurants and perfect for families who like authentic pan-Asian food. Two kids eat free with every paying adult from 5.30pm.
The renowned Watering Hole beach restaurant at Perranporth is opening another foodie hero called Alcatraz built into the cliff at a former WW2 gun shelter at the entrance to the beach, while Gordon Ramsey has purchased a former bank in Fowey, firing up rumours he plans to turn it into a restaurant.
Shops have changed, too. You can’t move for surf outlets, while Roo’s Beach in Porth, founded by mum-of-three Roo Cross, is like a seaside version of your best city boutique, with everything you need to look cool on holiday, from fringed beach towels to iconic brands such as American Vintage and Wildfox.
And as for things to do, the beach is just the start. Following the Eden Project’s (advance tickets £25 adult, £12.60 child 5-16, under-4 free.) new The Weather Maker, a fun family experience where kids trek across an aerial rope bridge, shelter from tropical rain and travel through clouds in the Rainforest Biome, 2018 sees the Invisible Worlds exhibition, exploring planetary phenomena beyond the senses. And, best of all, the green light has been given to create a 109-bedroom on-site hotel. Coming 2019.
Younger children will adore a visit to the world of Charlie Bears at The Bear House in Launceston. Thousands of collectible teddies are displayed in a life-size model village – and the good news is, it’s free.
Don’t miss a visit to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth, which has a new Titanic Stories exhibition from March 2018 with never-seen-before artifacts. (Adults £12.95, children [under 18] £5, under-5s free.)
The reopened Tate St Ives now has double the space for exhibits, and new studios for learning activities overlooking Porthmeor Beach (adults £9.50). Meanwhile, those who prefer a good old theme park, should head to Flambards in Helston to try out Sky-Force, the first true ‘white knuckle’ ride of its type in the South West. (Adults £21.95, child [111cm to 15 years] £15.95, junior [95cm 110cm] £9.95.) And the revolution in Cornish family-friendly accommodation is ongoing. Here’s my choice of the best.
Everything about Watergate Bay Hotel shouts, ‘We know what families want on holiday!’ The design and welcome finds that delicate balance of being laidback yet slick; child-friendly yet chic. It pleases parents who used to love design hotels and kids who just wanna have fun.
The hotel is defined by its fortunate setting on the epic Watergate Bay beach and cosy seaside vibe. Clever design means that much has been made of the sweeping beach views (which change constantly with the weather) from the Swim Club pool and spa, the chill out Ocean Room lounge and The Living Space restaurant, where sandy dogs snooze under tables and families devour hearty grilled halloumi burgers and pear and apple crumble after a day by the ocean.
Bleached-wood-clad bedrooms have a modern seaside feel. Simple practical touches like a communal washing machine and dryer off the hallway make all the difference. The feeling of being able to drop everything and head to the beach is liberating.
Teens, in particular, love this place. Trot down the wooden steps and across the slip road to the Watergate Bay Extreme Academy and you’ll be suited and booted in your wetsuit for your family surf lesson in minutes by the professional and endlessly upbeat team, who ask your name, hobby and chosen superpower to break the ice and advise you to treat your board like a wild animal and tame it!
If you’re coming to Cornwall with babies, toddlers and younger kids, Bedruthan Hotel is just about the best place to find yourselves. Since it’s owned by three local sisters who happen to be mums themselves, there’s not much they haven’t thought about.
There’s everything from toddler-proofed rooms to a vast grassy playground with football pitch and trampoline high above Mawgan Porth beach, and the hotel offers guests two hours of free childcare for each night of your stay. For over-eights, the Z-Club is free from 9.30am to 3.30pm daily.
Older kids will have a ball here too, with free taster surf lessons for over-eights and plenty of arty workshops, such as jewellery-making with beach debris and beads.
The Wild Café is cosy and relaxed, with space for little ones to move. A storyteller might come by your table and ask your child to write a phrase on a piece of paper, and during his after-dinner entertainment, it will be incorporated into his fantastical tale.
Parents should make full use of the kids’ clubs and take the time to experience the adults-only Sensory Spa Garden. This lovely outdoor experience is a must in all weathers. Move among the lush scented vegetation to the dry salt scrub in a gently heated stone room, rainforest showers, 80-degree cedar sauna, hot tubs, icy bucket showers and wet scrub, ending up wrapped in your towel, feet soaking in a warm copper tub in front of the wood-fire pit with a cup of mint tea. Leo, the spa garden’s master of ceremonies, says you’ll feel as smooth as a seal by the end.
Right on Falmouth Harbour, The Greenbank is a small hotel with big ideas. Families will feel instantly cared for as they check into this historic property with a modern outlook. Book a family suite with a view, such as room 105, and the ever-changing harbour and gulls tapping at the bay window may take the place of a screen for a while!
The Wind in the Willows fans will be thrilled to learn Kenneth Grahame stayed as a guest in the hotel between the spring and autumn 1907.
It was here that he wrote letters to his son, which later became the basis of the book. Two of these letters are displayed outside room 125, by kind permission of the Bodleian Library in Oxford and Messrs Curtis Brown, London, and it’s all credit to the hotel that they’ve kept this low-key and special.
The hotel’s Water’s Edge Restaurant has a great kids’ menu for ‘Buoys and Gulls’, and don’t miss afternoon tea here before a stroll into town to explore glorious shops on the high street, such as Cream Cornwall, or the National Maritime Museum.
Gylly Adventures offers guests kayaking and paddleboarding lessons as well as paddleboard yoga at sunset and LED night kayaking from Greenbank’s quay, which incidentally is a great place to go crabbing (and you may find the hotel has kindly left crabbing lines and buckets in your room on arrival).
Purchase a family Fal Mussel Card (falriver.co.uk), which entitles you to hop-on, hop-off travel on Fal River links (ferries, boats, buses and trains) at a discount. A favourite is the ferry from Falmouth Harbour over to St Mawes.
In St Minver, north Cornwall, Parkdean Resorts’ spacious chalets are a great option for larger families. Set among trees, the well-spaced-out lodges have roomy living spaces, en-suites and kitchens with all mod-cons. Many are wheelchair-friendly and most allow pets.
The resort has a pizza restaurant, shop and nightly entertainment. There’s an indoor pool, sports courts, crazy golf and kids’ clubs, plus a scenic woodland path that runs from the park to St Minver village.
St Minver is close to three of Cornwall’s famously beautiful beaches, Rock, Polzeath and Daymer Bay, as well as pretty seaside village Padstow (great for fish and chips) and Port Isaac, the setting of ITV series Doc Martin.
Who wouldn’t want to live in one of Cornish Gems’ six new Sandy Acres Beach Houses, clustered together on the sand dunes of Hayle. They come with a perfect sandy-chic surfer feel, but they’re all geared up for families, too, with all the baby essentials.
The popular Great Western Railway Night Riviera Sleeper service, which runs between Paddington and Penzance – one of only two sleeper services in the UK – is on the cusp of a complete overhaul.
New sleeper trains will boast shiny new interiors, improved cabins and space for bikes and surfboards, not to mention a cocktail bar for a late-night tipple before bed! Return fares from £110.50. Under 16s pay 50 per cent of the adult Sleeper Advance fare. Under fives go free.
Watergate Bay Hotel: amily suites from £280 per night
Bedruthan Hotel: sea-view family rooms from £302 (two adults and two children) B&B. The Sensory Spa Garden costs £45pp
The Greenbank Hotel: family suites from £179 per night
Parkdean Resorts: a four-night stay in a chalet (sleeps 8) during March half-term from £169
Sandy Acres Beach Houses: houses start from £1,109 per week in low season up to £2,995 in high season