Aah, the great British summer. Benchmarked by seaside holidays, soaked barbecues, A303 traffic and optimism, can there be a more iconic destination that we set our sights on than Cornwall? Estella Shardlow dismisses the norm and discovers the delights of St Ives, done differently…
‘Sea view’ is an understatement; Black Moon has Bamaluz Beach as a back garden. Beneath the living room’s balcony, there’s a sheer drop onto rock and sand. I can make out individual footprints left by dogs that have played on the beach that morning, and a stray seagull’s feather on the sand. The hypnotic rush and hiss of the water plays in booming surround sound.
Inside, however, it’s a far cry from a quaint seaside cottage. Forget nautical stripes and shabby chic, this is like being inside a darkly gleaming jewellery box – all polished black tiles and ornate silver furniture dotted ethnic antiques, a sliding mirrored wall, a cinematic plasma screen TV and Sonos speakers. The darkly seductive theme even carries to the products in its sleek slate-clad bathroom: The White Company’s Noir. A section of glass floor in the living room shows off one of the property’s biggest novelties: a cave-like a snug draped with fur throws. Accessed by a trap door and ladder in the lounge, its craggy granite walls have been carved directly out of the cliff.
St Ives itself has an idiosyncratic layout, too – a honeycomb of narrow lanes lined with slate-roofed houses. Ask for the beach and you could be directed to any one of five: the broad powdery sands of Porthminster, the boat-filled harbour where you can still watch fishermen hauling in the day’s catch, sheltered Porthgwidden cove, surfers’ favourite Porthmeor, and the tucked-away slip of a beach that is Bamaluz. Though it is undeniably a tourist magnet, a special artistic pedigree sets it apart from your standard seaside resort, home to Barbara Hepworth’s studio-turned-museum and the Tate gallery (due to re-open in spring 2017), its sweeping white curves overlooking Porthmeor beach. And all this bathed in that famously intense quality of light.
The town may be known for its art scene rather than its gastronomy, but there is plenty to tempt the palate beyond the ubiquitous fish ‘n’ chip shops. Round the corner from Black Moon, directly in front of the Tate, Porthmeor Beach Café offers an imaginative array of tapas with fusion flavours – think grilled halloumi and roasted watermelon, marinated cuttlefish with charred peppers and pickled fennel, and jalapeno & Cornish Blue cheese croquettes. Its hearty breakfasts are also something to behold – a mountain of scrambled eggs on toast is jazzed up with local crab, rocket and crème fraiche, while the build-you-own option includes avocado, butternut squash and kale alongside the usual suspects. Perfect after a morning surf session – or just watch others brave the cold waves while sipping your coffee, if you’re as lazy as me.
A further test of laziness comes when deciding how to get to lunch at The Gurnard’s Head, a renowned gastropub with rooms that lies eight miles from St Ives. The coastal path is meant to be one of the finest walks in the country, but at around five hours and ranked as ‘challenging/severe’, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Alternatively, an open-top double decker does the journey in 20 minutes. I was torn, wanting to work up a good appetite yet fearful of possibly getting airlifted out should my fitness levels fail.
The solution? Take the bus to the neighbouring village of Zennor (those looping country lanes make for a bit of a rollercoaster ride, if you sit on the upper deck) and do the last stretch, which takes an hour or so, on foot. It’s enough to get a fix of those awe-inspiring views – headlands smothered in heather and honeysuckle tumbling down to barnacled rocks, the sea shifting from dull steel to jade every time the sun emerges from behind clouds that billow like ship’s sails.
And finally there it is on the next headland: an old coaching inn painted egg yolk. There’s no missing it. Settling at a scrubbed pine table beside the fireplace, things were off to a promising start when a board of freshly baked soda bread arrived –I could happily have devoured an entire loaf of the stuff, if it hadn’t been for the other tempting dishes to come. The menu shows off Cornwall’s wealth of fantastic seasonal produce, all beautifully yet simply cooked, no need for fanfare. There were mackerel fillets with marinated tomatoes; a comfortingly creamy bowl of crab, macaroni and Parmesan; thick goujons of monkfish perfectly matched with a crunchy, tart homemade kohlrabi slaw.
Finally, an Eton Mess with Cornish rhubarb, of which my only qualm was that it got the ‘deconstructed’ treatment – somehow neat individual morsels of meringue, cream and compote aren’t quite as satisfying as the traditional pillowy heap of ingredients. This wasn’t only the best meal I’ve had in Cornwall; it’s superior to many significantly showier London restaurants. So maybe it is a good idea to do the full trek from St Ives, if only to justify eating even more of their food at the other end; or just stay in one of the seven cosy bedrooms, which are decked out in cheerful sunflower shades with Roberts radios and antique trunks.
What could follow this feast, come dinnertime, back in St Ives? Well, it ended up looking something like this: a dash to John’s wine merchants for a bottle of Chianti, wedges of St Endellion Brie and Cornish Yarg, a couple of piping hot pasties wrapped in paper, and a blanket spread on the now-deserted Bamaluz beach, watching the day fade until all that can be seen is the solitary blinking light of Godrevy lighthouse. A strange sort of picnic, but perfection in its own little way.
Black Moon is available to hire from Beachspoke, a collection of unique holiday lets in Cornwall and The Cotswolds. For more information, visit www.beachspoke.com. A review of Beachspoke’s other property in St Ives, Moon Shadow, can be found here.
For more information about dining (and rooms) and the Gurnard’s Head, visit www.gurnardshead.co.uk.
And, of course, if you’d like to dip into Cornwall online and see what else you could do there, visit www.visitcornwall.com.