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Surfers hanging ten aren’t the first image you associate with Great Britain. Nor are sunny beaches, barking seals, or orange mascarpone ice cream. But quirky Cornwall, five hours southwest of London by rail or roadway and separated from England by the River Tamar, is as essential to the British experience as a visit, say, to Westminster Abbey. After all, on the north Cornwall coast lies Tintagel, the putative birthplace of King Arthur. Just navigating the craggy cliffs upon which perch the ruins of Tintagel Castle suggests a quest for the Holy Grail. Gilbert and Sullivan fans know all about the swashbuckling Cornish port town of Penzance, where the pirates now run antique shops and you can board ferries to St. Michael’s Mount, the turreted citadel that claims an entire island in Mount’s Bay. And art lovers have no doubt heard of the “Mediterranean light” and lichen-gilded roofs of St. Ives, the artists’ colony where today a glass-and-stucco outpost of London’s Tate Gallery overlooks rows of sun shelters on Porthmeor Beach. A pageant of literary lights led by A. A. Milne, Virginia Woolf, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle regularly holidayed in Cornwall as well. Godrevy Lighthouse in St. Ives Bay inspired Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse.” One of England’s poet laureates, Sir John Betjeman, so loved the golf course that bestrides the ancient St. Enodoc Church near Wadebridge that he lies buried in the graveyard there, beside the twelfth hole. Golf, they say, is a good walk spoiled. Nothing, however, could spoil hikes along the Cornish coast. Bordered on the north by the Atlantic and on the south by the English Channel, this boot-shaped land boasts a topography that ranges from sheer granite cliffs to white sandy beaches. Estuaries, isthmuses, coves and inlets scallop its perimeter, and England’s South West Coast Path Association has designated two dozen trails connecting just about all 265 miles of it. Maps are readily available. Just remember to dress in layers. Bright sunshine, sideways-driving rain, fog banks and warming gales can arrive almost simultaneously. Still, Cornwall’s climate is the most agreeable in the United Kingdom, and as a result, it remains a favorite retreat among DFLs (those “Down from London”) and other Britons. This can become maddening as summer sets in and the crowds at resorts and beaches thicken like so much Cornish clotted cream. So where to put up where you won’t feel put out? Newquay, for example, midway along the northern coast, draws young and hip types, including surfers, but it’s also home to the Corisande Manor Hotel (Tel. 011-44-1637-872042), a stunning coastal castle with one of the region’s best wine cellars. Slightly northeast lies Wadebridge and the very family-friendly St. Enodoc Hotel (Tel. 011-44-1208-863394). Penzance offers the bucolic Ennys St. Hilary (Tel. 011-44-1736-740262), a five-bedroom Georgian farmhouse B&B set on 20 acres, and the Abbey Hotel (Tel. 011-44-1736-366906), a harborside Gothic town house that’s owned by sixties model Jean Shrimpton. And if that’s not hip enough, St. Mawes, on the southern coast, has reportedly become ultrachic, thanks in part to the Hotel Tresanton (Tel. 011-44-1326-270- 055), an old yacht club that has been completely renovated by Olga Polizzi of England’s famed Rocco Forte Hotels. Tresanton also has its own yacht and fleet of motorboats to whisk you through Cornwall’s myriad waterways. Fish, naturally, plays a major role in Cornish cuisine, and if any one chef has put his stamp on seafood preparation here, it’s Rick Stein. The Emeril of Cornwall, if not all England, Stein has TV shows and a cooking school, and his Padstow establishments — Seafood Restaurant and St. Petroc’s Hotel & Bistro — still rank as some of the best places to eat in all of the U.K. Another Padstow option is Brocks, which complements its maritime offerings with such fare as wild boar. And when you visit St. Ives, you’ll find works of art both on your plate and on the walls of The Porthminster Beach Cafe, which features paintings by such artists as Anthony Frost and dishes such as fresh local shellfish with chili and lemon. But it’s just as easy to grab some fish and chips and keep exploring. Better yet, grab a pasty (pronounced PAST-y). Perhaps no food better defines Cornish cuisine. The pasty — a foot-long pie that resembles a calzone but comes filled with meat, potatoes and vegetables — developed during Cornwall’s tin-mining heyday, when the eminently portable food could go underground with a miner. Pasty shops are ubiquitous, but try the ones at The Lizard Pasty Shop in Helston, at the base of the Lizard (pronounced Liz-ARD) peninsula. It’s worth the trip. Just like going to Cornwall in the first place.
IF YOU GO: Like Scotland and Wales, Cornwall (or Kernow) has its own language (Kernuack), which occasionally appears in signage alongside English. See www.ex.ac.uk/~ajbeer/aust.htm for a quick glossary. AIR: British Airways (800-247-9297; ba.com) regularly makes the two-hour flight from London to Newquay (NQY). RAIL/CAR: Train lines run all the way to St. Ives and Penzance, but to access Tintagel, Wadebridge, and Padstow, you’ll need to rent a car. HIKING: Southwestern Coast Path, [email protected]

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