For a simple girls’ weekend away, Cornwall out of season is a sensible move. Once the summer throngs trickle away, the roads unclog, the beaches empty, and even the air seems less stressed than before.
To test out Cornwall’s off-peak delights, I recently took a bunch of my besties to North Cornwall’s Mawgan Porth, courtesy of Classic Cottages. We found the region renewed with ease; the strain of the in-season rush no longer detectable in the eyes of the locals.
This wonderful sense of Cornish calm helped our own heartbeats return to a resting pace. And the relaxed cafes and restaurants gave us plenty of chances to bond over good food and quiet coffees – we even managed to catch a breaking wave or two.
Cornwall’s Chic Corner
Padstow is no longer the simple fishing town it once was. Synonymous with Rick Stein (who owns a restaurant, hotel, fish and chip shop, and a seafood school here), it has more glitz than lobster pots these days. Today Padstow boasts some of the best seafood restaurants in the county, as well as boutique shops and art galleries that look like they’re fresh in from London.
Alongside the glamour, the town still retains some of its fishing-port charms: traditional fisherman’s cottages encircle the small harbour and there are a number of down-to-earth pubs and pasty shops standing fast against all-out gentrification.
The best way to get to know Padstow is slowly: wind its twists of little streets, which are thankfully less crowded in the autumn months, nose in shop windows, walk the harbour, shelter in doorways from the rain, and exchange smiles with the other weekenders who love the off-peak pace.
Enjoy exceptional views over the Camel Estuary
Padstow sits on the west flank of the Camel Estuary, a vast inlet of calm water running five miles up to Wadebridge.
To get good views across the estuary and out towards the Atlantic, follow the South West Coast path just around the corner from Padstow harbour until you reach the WWI memorial at St. Saviours Point.
There are benches for you to sit on, but there’s no shelter so you’ll need to break out the emergency waterproof if the elements close in.
Aside from this quick stroll up the hill, there are plenty more walks to follow from Padstow should you want more sweat on your girls’ weekend.
Including Steeper Point – a headland walk that offers stunning views over the River Camel – and the Doom Bar (the great sandbank that guards the mouth of the Camel Estuary).
The wired and wonderful Drang Gallery
Like a pistol pop in a chic corner of town, the Drang Gallery is proof Padstow is no longer a local town for local people.
Hanging on the walls is contemporary art that demands your attention, including works from Andy Warhol, Banksy, Damien Hirst and, my newfound favourites, The Connor Brothers.
As you’d expect, the price tags are weighty but the art is worth a slice of your time if you can spare it. For more grounded art that showcases homegrown Cornish talent, try the Padstow Gallery or Beyond the Sea.
Affordably at Rick Stein’s Café
For seafood bounty without paying top dollar, head to the Rick Stein Café on Middle Street in the heart of Padstow. You won’t find the man himself there, but his friendly team give a 5-star experience for your weekend with the girls even if you’re just after coffee and cake.
We booked ahead (it’s notorious for being full) and settled in for a girls’ weekend lunch in the pleasant, if bijou, white and blue surroundings. Strangely, there was less fish on the menu than we expected – whether that’s a good or bad thing we weren’t sure.
Despite the varied choice, almost all of us plunged headfirst into the Moules Frites, cooked with black bean sauce and ginger.
The mains were generous on taste, although not substantial on portion size, but the small shared bill at the end made up for it. And we left happily able to brace the fine sheet of rain that had just descended.
You may also want to try Michelin-Starred Paul Ainsworth at No. 6
Explore Mawgan Porth
Take on the waves at Mawgan Porth Beach
Give your eyes time to adjust when you arrive at Mawgan Porth beach. This vast soft gold channel of sand rushes towards you leaving the Atlantic Ocean way behind; the only thing stopping it careering inland is the road, beach shops and eateries that stare it down.
Yes, this is one impressive wedge of Cornwall’s coast, sandwiched in-between pea-green cliffs ready for you to take a bite.
So, get into your wetsuit, grab your bodyboard (or surfboard) and head to the sea to play in the waves – a must on a Cornish girls’ short break. Facing west and exposed to Atlantic swells, the beach is popular with surfers. There is seasonal lifeguard cover and flags usually mark the sections that are safe for body boarders and surfers.
Serving some of the best coffee and food concoctions in Mawgan Porth, the Beach Box Café is just the spot to go to warm up after a dip.
The building used to be the public toilet block until it was saved from destruction and the top half turned into a funky café complete with surf soul (the bottom half still houses the original working toilets).
Now clad in wood, the Blue Box Cafe has an imaginative menu of coffees, teas, smoothies and light bites.
Make sure you try the Blue Magik Rainbow Latte made from Spirulina algae – even if you don’t dig the taste, it looks excellent in photos.
Swap wetsuits for walking boots and stroll the 20 minutes from Skiber-an-Fenton to Bedruthen Steps. The hulking granite sea stacks that make up Bedruthan Steps were, as legend tells it, stepping stones for the Giant Bedruthan. Their colossal size certainly adds merit to the story and it’s easy to see why people flood here during summer.
Luckily, out-of-season the coast is clearer and you can make it down to the tidal beach at the bottom without too much hassle.
The steps that take you down to the beach, however, are not for the faint-hearted: narrow, slippy and only worth trying if you’re able or accompanied by Steve Backshall.
If you do have to stay at the top, there’s plenty to feast your eyes on. The views over the cliffs and across the Atlantic take your breath away, and the stories of smugglers and shipwrecks (not to mention the allure of Poldark) just make it all the more irresistible.
Explore the Witches’ hotel
Clamped to a crop of melancholic rock, The Headland Hotel in Newquay has stood watchfully on the same spot since the 1900s.
An imposing Victorian stack of red brick and grey, it’s famous for being the setting for the movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. And is still proud of the association to this day.
Indeed, ask one of the members of staff and they’ll delight in retelling how Rowan Atkinson (who played the hotel manager in the movie) flooded his room by overfilling the bath.
And how Angelica Houston (who played the Grand High Witch) would often get large bouquets of flowers delivered to her from her boyfriend at the time, Jack Nicholson.
Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall
Whatever you think of the chef, the concept behind Fifteen is pukka: a restaurant-come-social enterprise that transforms the lives of disadvantaged Cornish young people. It’s a worthy place, therefore, to finish up your girls’ weekend away in Cornwall.
Firstly, because you’re supporting an enterprise that does good work in the local community. Secondly, because they serve blindingly good seasonal cocktails.
The other draw is the view: outside Fifteen’s panoramic windows, Watergate Bay glistens back at you whilst kite surfers acrobat the waves and families dig holes on the beach.
Of course, most people visit for the food and the Jamie Oliver connection. The former satisfies your appetite with rustic Italian dishes that don’t take themselves too seriously (although my friend’s dish was so laid back the runner beans caught in her throat).
The latter is ever-present thanks to a young front of house, slick modern interior, graffiti style artwork and the odd picture of Mr Oliver and his team.
With its salt-and-pepper good looks, Skiber-an-Fenten cottage is a Cornish hideaway fitting for a laid-back girls’ weekend.
Find it hugging the coastal road between Mawgan Porth and Porthcothan, patiently waiting for life to swing by, like a doorman with a ready-to-serve glint in his eye.
Once upon a time, the cottage was part of a large barn but has since been immaculately converted into two self-catering boltholes: Skiber-an-Fenten being the larger of the two.
You can book the cottage via Classic Cottages. They hand-select holiday cottages from around the South and West and help you pick the right one for your short break. For the purposes of this review, they kindly gifted Skiber-an-Fenten cottage to me for the weekend.
Inside, Skiber-an-Fenten is as fresh as Cornish cream, with a daisy-white open plan downstairs that accentuates space and brightens any dark night or cloudy day.
The living room and kitchen roll softly into one without losing any space: we were able to cook and clean and laze and laugh (and dance) without tripping over each another.
We were also appreciative of the short hop from the sofa to the fridge when the G&Ts ran out, and the underfloor heating after climbing out of wet socks.
The kitchen is stocked with everything you need to eat in (as we did on two occasions), and the housekeepers kindly left cookies, milk and tea for us when we arrived. Although there’s no dining table, the large island comes a close second place thanks to its four stools.
Should you want a more formal dinner setting, there’s a large wooden garden table outside on the veranda, which is delightful when the sun shines and is sheltered by a glass awning that’s perfect for when it doesn’t.
Upstairs, you’ll find two bedrooms (one twin and one double), spotlessly clean and impeccably made up.
Refreshingly white again, they are good-sized rooms for such a seemingly small cottage and have Tardis-like storage for bags and luggage. The double room also has a shelf full of books left by other guests so if you’re looking for feet-up distraction, you’ve plenty of choice.
We all slept well here on our girls’ weekend, although the only downside of the twin room at the back of the cottage was the hum from the road whenever a car swept by. Bring a pair of ear plugs and you’ll be fine, however.
Skiber-an-Fenten isn’t as centrally located as it could be, but this actually gives you an advantage during a quiet girls’ weekend away.
It hugs the B3276 between two Cornish beauty spots, south of Padstow and north of Mawgan Porth, and is just far enough outside of each to allow you to discreetly retreat when you’re done being seen.
Its remoteness allows you to recharge without interruption (forget noisy neighbours) and because of the road outside, you still feel connected to society and perfectly safe.
Plus, you’re only five minutes’ walk from the magnificent coastal path so civilisation, as well as North Cornwall’s finest beaches, are but a whisker away. Ding dong.
My Open and Honest Policy:
This post has been sponsored by Classic Cottages. I was kindly invited by them to spend a girls’ weekend in Skiber-an-Fenten in order to produce a review of the cottage and my time in Cornwall.
As always, this review reflects my honest feelings of the experience and I was in full editorial control of the content I produced for Classic Cottages at all times, including this article and my social media content.