01 The Lost Gardens of Heligan
The once glorious ancient estate of Heligan lay overlooked and unloved for more than 75 years before its miraculous resurrection in 1990. Today it’s one of the UK’s most impressive natural attractions. Great for kids on a dry day, with novelty sites such as the Mud Maid and the Giant’s Head particular highlights.
02 Eden Project
Eden Project celebrates its 14th year in March 2015. Its golf-ball domes represent an environmental programme that has attracted over 16 million visitors. The biomes, consisting of hundreds of hexagonal and pentagonal plastic cells, are home to thousands of species of plants. Book ahead for the SkyWire, England’s longest and fastest zip wire course.
03 Cornish Seal Sanctuary
Set on a 40-acre site in the village of Gweek, this rescue centre for seals and sea lions is a surefire family hit, notably at feeding times. Visitors can also meet the resident otters, penguins and paddock animals — ponies, goats and sheep — and marine creatures in the centre’s rock pools.
04 Fistral Beach
Its well-deserved reputation as a surfer’s paradise perhaps obscures Fistral’s family credentials, but if you’re looking for fun day out at a wonderfully unspoilt beach, it’s hard to beat. Enjoy the selection of restaurants and shops stacked neatly in a corner of the bay, plus there’s surfing and body boarding for kids, too.
05 Lappa Valley Steam Railway
Head to Benny Halt near Newquay to catch a scenic three-mile ride on this miniature steam locomotive. At East Wheal Rose station, you’ll find children’s rides, a maze, boating lake, crazy golf course and nature trails.
06 St Michael’s Mount
Few visitors to the historic Cornish town of Marazion can resist the lure of the fairytale, castle-topped island a few miles out to sea. That island is St Michael’s Mount, one of Cornwall’s most picturesque attractions. It’s accessible via a causeway that appears magically in low tide — not particularly pushchair-friendly — but for older, surer footed children, the combination of ancient battlements on a rocky outcrop should fire the imagination.
More commonly known as Padstein, due to its most famous resident chef Rick Stein, Padstow is at the heart of Cornwall’s foodie scene. Stein’s empire dominates — restaurant, bistro, cafe, chip shop, deli, patisserie, seafood school — but there’s a certain charm to the whole town. The rugged coastline and stunning walks are totally appealing.
08 Camel Trail
Running the length of an 18-mile disused railway track between Wenford Bridge and Padstow, the Camel Trail is used by walkers, joggers and horse-riders, but is best-known as a cycling route for families.
09 St Ives
Beloved of artists through the centuries, it’s immediately clear why St Ives remains one of the UK’s most popular seaside towns. The harbour is picturesque, the restaurants top class and the art galleries numerous. The beach makes it a great destination for children of all ages, even with dive bombing seagulls.
10 Crealy Great Adventure Park
Conveniently tucked away between Newquay and Wadebridge is a more than manageable theme park for kids up to early teens, with over 40 rides and attractions.
Where to stay: Reviews
Fistral Beach by Natural Retreats
In Britain, the phrase ‘beachside accommodation’ too often means chalets or B&Bs. Here was welcome proof that a seaside stay can be a classy affair. The three-storey block houses a series of elegant self-catering apartments. Ours was cavernous, with three bedrooms, three bathrooms and one of the deepest baths I’ve ever seen. The kitchen was large, with endless work surfaces, a dishwasher and cupboards crammed with everything you could possibly need — even cake-making equipment.
The apartment was tastefully furnished, from the long dining table to the corner sofa, while the smart use of all that space makes it a good bet for children. The ‘welcome hamper’ containing locally produced essentials, plus a child’s goody bag, was a nice touch.
However, the main selling point is the location, with the restless waves of Fistral Beach visible from my double balcony. It was just a five-minute walk down to what’s surely one of the most inviting and unspoilt stretches of coast anywhere in England.
How to do it: Fistral Beach by Natural Retreats costs from £200 for two nights. Words: Glen Mutel
Spring Cottage, Wadebridge
It’s generally a given that cottages and I don’t get on. It’s not that I don’t admire their centuries-old charm and cosy period features… it’s just that I’m over six-feet tall and spending a week banging my head at least twice a day is not my idea of fun.
Thankfully, our 18-century stone cottage in the market town of Wadebridge offered a ceiling height at least three inches above my head. Fresh scones and cream on arrival are always welcome, while the Aga, woodburner and wooden beams contrasted nicely with the modern kitchen and bathroom and two well-appointed bedrooms.
The small courtyard with BBQ is a useful addition, but location is everything here, with a park and playground at the end of the road. The centre of Wadebridge is 10-15 minutes’ walk away with plenty of shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants. It’s an excellent base for exploring the north coast of Cornwall — the Camel Trail begins in the town, leading to Padstow; the beaches of Polzeath and Rock are a short drive away; and Crealy Adventure Park, the Eden Project and Lanhydrock country house are easy day trips.
How to do it: A week during August at Spring Cottage with holidaycottages.co.uk costs from £740. Words: Pat Riddell
Published in the Spring 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family