Nearly every visitor to Cornwall has heard tales of the beauty of St Ives, making it a very popular destination. However, its rocky island head sanctuary beyond the town and the number of options for sandy beaches make it easy enough to get away from the crowds in high season.
As a walker you get the best of it - breezing in during the afternoon as the day trippers leave - making use of the collection of Cornwall's best restaurants and most atmospheric harbour.... before heading out again next day on the trail as the next set of visitors arrive.
Yes - beautiful, bustling and these days cosmopolitan in atmosphere, St Ives provides an excellent staging post for walkers preparing to head off into the wilds on the route to Lands End.
For those walking the coast path west, this is pretty much the last time you will have much choice over your food and beds during the next 4 days. On the other hand, for those arriving after 6 days of walking from Padstow, St Ives is perfect for that end of walk celebration, a welcoming host with its first-rate food, relaxed atmosphere and stunning panoramas on the doorstep.
If you can ditch the car consider arriving or departing by train, as you enter St Ives on a stunning branch line that rides high along the cliff edge to the town.
St Ives was named after an Irish Princess and Missionary, St Ia, and has a past rooted in the humble pilchard – this was the most important pilchard port in the whole of UK in its day.
Whilst fish are still landed here, these days it’s become famous as a haven for artists and lovers of art. You can visit the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden and follow a trail of her work through town. The Tate Gallery of course has its own outlet here, an amazing space overlooking a spectacular rolling Atlantic beach. For those heading further west on the coast path, the paintings here from the St Ives School are inspired by the very scenery you are about to enter. Even if you don’t visit the exhibition its worth stopping at the stunning rooftop restaurant and cafe.
Throughout the town more galleries than you can shake a stick at are hidden down little narrow lanes with names like Teetotal Street, Salubrious Place and Mount Zion. Much is made of the unique colour and light at St Ives which has drawn artists here for decades and the town’s bustling streets, outdoor cafes and golden beaches do give it a strong Mediterranean feel.
If you are resting between walks, then many just head to the harbour area to watch the comings and goings from one of the cafe’s or take a gentle wander down Smeatons Pier with its huge embedded anchor and tiny Chapel to St Leonard used since medieval times as a place to pray for a safe return from the ocean.
If you need a bit of space from the local art or want to enjoy a great sunset wander east onto the Island the little rocky headland that sits above the town, a stunning spot with commanding views across the bay to the sands of Hayle and "Virginia Woolf's" lighthouse at Godrevy.
The Town Museum is well worth a visit covering a wide range of Cornish Culture and History or for those looking for a bit more adventure take a morning surfing lesson under the nose of the Tate Gallery battling the rollers at Porthmeor Beach or just hire a body board and go!
St Ives provides a full range of accommodation with plenty of B&B’s as well as more upmarket hotels set back from the town and has a seemingly endless supply of excellent places to eat and drink. There is plenty here to warrant a two night stay before or after walking. For those who want to make the most of the culture come in September to be around during the 2 week St Ives Festival of Arts and Music or join in the anarchy of the annual hurling match through the towns streets in the April St Ives Festival .....but book your accommodation early.