Cornwall: Eat, surf and play in England's sunny southwest
Pasties in Paradise
With direct flights available from Dublin, Nicola Brady slips away for a break in England's sunny southwest.
The ground is slightly sodden underfoot.
In front of me, jagged cliffs stretch along the coastline, reaching towards the bright blue sky. Trampling through dusky purple heather and rough grass, I make my way along the cliff edge. One wobble, and I'd be sliding down a craggy precipice before taking a sudden dip in the crashing waves below.
I could pass for Poldark, if only I had a horse, jaunty hat and ravishing good looks. The hit BBC series was shot in Cornwall, with St. Agnes Head doubling as Nampara Valley, and these sun-kissed cliffs could easily provide the backdrop for one of his brooding rambles. But alas, I am not Poldark. Nor one of his damsels. Instead, with a surreptitious package in my pocket, I'm more like the miners who used to walk these paths.
Taking a break, I sit on a mossy mound and pull out that package. It contains a Cornish pasty. I've kept it wrapped up all day in anticipation of this moment. Miners would have brought a fresh pasty with them to work, tucked into their pockets, to be eaten at lunchtime.
They required no cutlery, so were the ideal food for dirty hands - men would hold the pasty by its thick crust, which they would then discard.
Traditional Cornish fare
I eat mine in the same way, feeding the crust to a neighbouring seabird. Thick chunks of Cornish beef have mingled for hours with potato and turnip, in a pastry I made earlier under the watchful eye of the brothers-in-law at Philleigh Way Cookery School (philleighway.co.uk).
There, I had diligently sat watching George Pascoe, one of the fifth generation of Pascoes from the farm, as he kneaded the pastry made from a family recipe from 1853.
When I asked why he used a mixture of lard and margarine instead of butter, he said he'd asked his grandmother the same question. Her response? "Because I'm not made of money, Georgie."
We were on a condensed version of their 'Cornwall in a Day' course, where participants learn how to make truly Cornish dishes. Luckily, we bypassed the killing and dressing of a crab, and instead tucked into saffron buns as we watched George churn raw milk to make clotted cream.
Cornwall has well and truly earned its stripes as a foodie destination. There's the village of Padstow, nicknamed 'Padstein' due to the omnipresence of chef Rick Stein, who owns a stonking number of seafood restaurants there. Then there's Jamie Oliver's hotspot, Fifteen Cornwall (fifteencornwall.co.uk). Hovering over the sea at Watergate Bay, it's a bright, sleek restaurant, providing opportunities for disadvantaged young people, with all of the profits going to its charity.
From a sunny vantage point, we opt for a hefty selection of anti-pasti that makes the table groan. I tuck into creamy Burrata, the best focaccia I've eaten outside of Italy and fiery 'Nduja sausage smeared on toast and olives as plump as they are tasty. The food is so good it almost distracts from the presence of Judi Dench, who is eating just a few tables away.
The Scarlet Hotel, Cornwall
I spend the night in The Scarlet (scarlethotel.co.uk), a luxurious, adults-only hotel poised on the clifftops of Mawgan Porth, five minutes from Newquay Airport.
All of the rooms here have sea views, which you can enjoy while curled up with a cup of locally grown tea. There's an indoor infinity pool. . . or an outdoor reed-filtered option for the brave.
I make the wimp's choice, and sink into one of the circular, wood-fired hot tubs looking out to sea. The tide is coming in, washing away the last footsteps from the sand. I melt into the hot water, glass of champagne in hand, as the waves crash before me. It's no surprise that surfers from all over the UK flock to the Cornish shore for its wonderful waves.
But there's more to Cornwall than food and beaches. For a lot of people, the Eden Project (edenproject.com) is synonymous with the county.
Plants from all around the world are grown in distinctive, bubbling 'Biomes', which rise from the site of an old clay pit, resembling abandoned space pods. Inside, I find the Rainforest Biome to be a gateway to the tropics. Beads of sweat form on my brow as we walk through the humid forest, thick with over a thousand species of exotic trees and plants.
Cornwall's Eden Project
There's a waterfall thundering in the distance, and drops of 'rainwater' fall from the palm fronds.
A Canopy Walkway culminates in a fierce-looking structure called The Lookout. Standing at the peak of the 165-foot-high Biome, The Lookout is at the top of a metal staircase that sways ever so slightly in the breeze.
Feeling brazen, I decide to look down as I climb, the rainforest getting a little smaller with each step.
I'm stricken with a sudden case of vertigo, and find myself gripping the railing as I ascend, cursing the schoolchildren who barrel past me.
I'm soon at the summit. When I feel secure enough to look down once more, the entire rainforest is laid out before me. Brightly coloured birds swoop among trees glistening with droplets of moisture.
It's hard to believe that such a sight exists. It's even harder to believe that it exists in a small corner of England.
Surf's up in Cornwall...
What to pack
At the risk of jinxing your stay, pack sunscreen. Cornwall is one of the sunniest parts of the UK, so stock up on SPF. Be sure to save some room in your suitcase for some local wine - Cornwall's vintages are award-winning. Try Camel Valley (camelvalley.com) for an excellent bubbly.
Aer Lingus Regional (aerlingus.com) now operates a direct summer service from Dublin to Newquay. Going to press, fares were starting at €29.99 one-way. If you're planning on touring, a car is essential. Rent one from Newquay Airport (newquaycornwallairport.com). See more at visitcornwall.com.
Where to stay
Merchants Manor (merchantsmanor.com; B&B from £65/€90pp) is a charming country house hotel just a few minutes' walk from Falmouth Bay. It serves inventive, punchy food in The Brasserie, as well as an excellent local sparkling wine. Summer rates at The Scarlet Hotel start at £300/€418.
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