Take in stunning sights from Porthmeor beach
The pretty town is deservedly one of Cornwall’s most popular resorts, which means it’s busy in the glorious summer months, particularly with families, as the perfect beaches and rocks hold plenty of interest for curious children.
But out of season, there is still a huge amount to enjoy in St Ives and, best of all, without the crowds you feel as though you’ve got it all to yourself and that it’s your secret.
Apart from the natural beauty of the coast and the beaches – of which there are four in the town and all of them retro-postcard glorious, with huge golden sands for families and surfing for adventure – St Ives features a maze of cobbled streets with cosy cottages (many of which are holiday lets) leading down to the working harbour and shops and restaurants lining the seafront.
One of the town’s major draws is the Tate St Ives, the offshoot of its bigger sisters in London.
It reopened in October last year after a four-year, £20million investment, doubling the space in the building and allowing visitors to see exhibitions in the gallery which sits in the cliffs overlooking Porthmeor beach, and where a new extension, blasted into the cliffs, houses temporary exhibitions.
The original building now has a permanent display, Modern Art and St Ives, dedicated to a whole colony of famous artists who lived in and were inspired by the area.
These include sculptor Barbara Hepworth, whose studio and gardens in the town are open to visitors, and painters Ben Nicholson – Hepworth’s husband – Terry Frost, Patrick Heron and Piet Mondrian.
I was particularly moved by the work of abstract artist Peter Lanyon, whose pieces have his native Cornwall at their heart.
Barbara Hepworth works including Curved Form at the Tate in St Ives
Porthleven shows a fisherman and his wife formed from elements of the local landscape, and show the area in all its rural glory, but with humanity at its heart.
The reinvigorated gallery also has works by non-resident giants such as Matisse, Picasso and Rothko.
Even the café at Tate St Ives is a work of art.
With panoramic views across the town and its beaches from the floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s a great place to unwind and discuss what you’ve seen in the galleries.
DRAMATIC ARTS: A new extension has been built into the cliffs at Tate St Ives
I’d chosen to stay at the Pedn Olva hotel for its spectacular location on the granite cliffs high above the sandy beaches of St Ives.
Unsurprisingly, every room has an amazing coastal view and all have that luxurious coastal charm about them; white walls and bedlinens, stripy curtains, Lloyd Loom furniture and paintings capturing scenes of the area.
The food was as good as the rooms and in the restaurant with a sweeping view over Porthminster beach, I chose local: Cornish smoked haddock with poached eggs and devilled crispy squid and cod loin were excellent.
St Ives out of season means that some of the restaurants are closed, but the town still offers lots of other fantastic eating opportunities.
Porthminster Café, decorated like a Greek taverna, is right on the beachfront.
That said, you can’t go to Cornwall and not have fish and chips – and the Harbour Fish & Chips restaurant does them beautifully fresh, with a tapas-y selection of seafood too.
You can work off the chips with a stroll around St Ives’s brilliant shops.
Among the chains are interesting independents including many art galleries and upmarket interiors stores; Port Of Call has an exquisitely tasteful selection of homeware with a vintage feel.
HEIGHT OF LUXURY: The charming Pedn Olva hotel perches on the granite cliffs high above the town
Johns, on Fore Street, carries an excellent selection of booze – how about some St Ives gin with local flavourings which give it a sea-breeze aroma?
Wind And Sea surf shop has all the surfing gear you’ll ever need, plus relaxed leisurewear with a coastal vibe.
Further up the street is Poppy Treffry, a Cornish designer who employs a team of local ladies to make her quirky embroidered bags, accessories and homewares.
You can bag a cute seagull tote for the beach, £69, or a bone china “Tea By The Sea” mug, £14.95.
You’ll be thirsty for a cuppa after walking around the coast.
I went from the Pedn Olva, along the seafront to Porthgwidden Beach, small and in a sheltered spot, with a delightful two-storey row of beach houses.
From there, it was a steep-ish climb up to The Island – not really an island, but a small peninsula between the harbour and Porthmeon beach.
This is a great spot for birdwatching as it’s a useful stopping-off point for migrating birds and, if you’re lucky, you might see a dolphin in the waters below.
It wouldn’t be a visit to Cornwall without a pasty and there’s plenty of choice of good ones.
You can buy a cuddly toy Teddy Pasty – a felt pasty with a teddy face, who’s also the star of his own children’s books – from the Sloop Studios, but if you want one to eat, you might like the unusual sweet one I had from The Cornish Bakery on Fore Street, stuffed to the brim with apple, rhubarb and custard.
St Ives is the perfect place for a spring break before the crowds descend – as long as you pack a woolly and some wellies.
And like those artists seen in the Tate who made it their home all year round, you will find it very hard to leave too.
GETTING THERE Pedn Olva (01736 796 222/ pednolva.co.uk) offers doubles from £139, B&B. Tate St Ives (01736 796 226/tate.org.uk) St Ives Tourism: 01736 796297/ stives-cornwall.co.uk