St Ives is a truly magical small seaside town in Cornwall. Combining an almost unbelievably good climate with long sandy beaches, and narrow cobbled streets, it has the added charm of being a magnet for creative people from all over the world. The town is riddled with craft shops and art galleries together with museums which recount the artistic tradition of the region.
Beautifully situated on a small peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, the streets are crammed with picturesque little fisherman's cottages and are surrounded by three beautiful sandy beaches. The slow pace of life and the endless sunshine make this a very popular tourist destination all the year round, but St Ives still manages to keep its traditions and its unique ambience.
~~Artistic History: The Artists Colony~~
St Ives is famed for the beautiful quality of light that reflects off the sea, and it is this exceptional quality that has attracted many artists to the town for over a hundred years. The artists' colony that still exists today was first started in 1928 by the Cornish artist Alfred Wallis who, with his friends Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood established a circle of the some of most progressive artists working in Britain in the 1930s. The special atmosphere that was created led the sculptress Barbara Hepworth to settle in the town and remain there until her death. As the artistic reputation of St Ives grew famous names from the world of art came to visit and paint, and in recognition of this, the Tate Gallery decided to open a unique art gallery in 1993.
The St Ives website lists twenty two galleries in this tiny town, but the most famous of these is undoubtedly the Tate St Ives. Built on the site of the former gasworks, the curved white building back directly onto the cliff face and towers above Porthmeor beach. Fantastic views of sea and surf, with the famously mellow light of St Ives form a backdrop to the modern and contemporary art that hangs on the walls. The constantly changing displays seek to present art created or associated with Cornwall, in the surroundings and atmosphere in which they were created.
The Barbara Hepworth Museum must rank as second on the list of desirable artistic destinations in the town. Barbara Hepworth came to live in St Ives in 1939 and remained living and working in the Trewyn studios that now form the Barbara Hepworth museum. The Trewyn studios provided the space for her to create the enormous bronze, stone and wood sculptures that made her famous, and these can now be viewed in the gardens of the museum.
Every year the town's artistic and musical heritage is celebrated during the September Festival. Many artists open their studios to the public, combining with theatre, street entertainment, film and art workshops to create a huge cultural celebration that embraces all the art forms.
The centre of St Ives remains unspoilt, with small, winding streets and tiny shops. In peak season these streets are crowded with window shoppers, who love to spend time looking at the unusual and attractive items on offer.
As you may expect with a tourist destination of this calibre, the majority of shops sell local arts and crafts, ranging from pottery, to antique collectables, to stained glass and jewelry. There are also two bookshops and a few traditional gift shops. Specialist food shops ensure that the self-catering visitor can treat themselves during their stay.
For the trendy young surfers, there are a wide range of fashion stores, with the Superdry store currently attracting the most attention. A lot of the fashion retailers sell expensive casual clothes such as hoodies, deck shoes and shorts, targeted at the younger market, rather than chic or sophisticated clothes for the older shopper.
For food, there are three small Co-Ops which stock an adequate choice of foodstuffs. These sit side by side with essential shops such as pharmacies and general stores.
St Ives is unusual for having excellent beaches right next to the town. This gives the town its unique atmosphere as the sea is always in sight and the sound of waves, the business of the harbour and the coastal sunsets are constantly present. Each beach has its own charm and appeal; there are busy family beaches, popular water sports venues and wide-open flat sands and tucked away hidden suntraps. Most of the beaches employ fully qualified Lifeguards during the summer months.
Porthmeor is the most impressive and memorable beach for a variety of reasons. Located on the eastern side of the town, this beach has a really Mediterranean feel on a sunny day. High above the beach, the modern architecture of the Tate St Ives looks down on the surfers and sunbathers. The beach itself is huge, flat and sandy, facing the Atlantic Ocean with magnificent surf and lots of enthusiastic surfers. There is always plenty to do and see, and there is no better way to spend an afternoon that sitting on the cliffs on the open air terrace of the Porthminster Beach Cafè, drinking a wine or cappuccino and just sitting and marveling at the fantastic sunsets.
The Harbour Beach is the closest to the centre of town. The harbour is still a working port and it is lovely to watch local fishermen bringing home the catch. The shallow water and the sheltered aspect make it a great place for the children to play and crab. You can hire deckchairs during the holiday season, and the harbour restaurants and cafés are very close at hand.
Porthgwidden is a lovely sheltered cove just a bit further round the waterfront from the Harbour Beach. This beach has beach huts for hire and is overlooked by gleaming white rows of fishermen's cottages. There is a small café, and snack shops as well as lots of lovely sand and safe swimming. If you are thinking of spending the day on the beach, this is the place for you.
~~Pubs and Restaurants~~
There are definitely too many of these to list. On a Friday or Saturday night in peak season, all of the restaurants are fully booked and humming, so it is advisable to get in the day before and reserve a table. The most popular eating area is around the harbour so that diners can watch the sun going down over the sea, and the variety of food on offer is huge. Naturally fish is a big theme, with brasseries sitting side by side with gastropubs and fish and chip restaurants, but there are also a lot of Italian restaurants. In the summer the most popular are those with a terrace that looks out over the sea.
Pubs tend to be old, creaking and atmospheric, with low wooden beams and hanging fishermen's nets. Most of them have an excellent choice of beers. Nightlife in St Ives is bustling, and it is often just as enjoyable to eat some fish and chips by the harbour and stroll along the seafront. Regular visitors enjoy taking a blanket and a bottle of wine to one of the beaches and watching the sun set free of charge.
~~Places to Stay~~
Because of its popularity and unique atmosphere, St Ives is one of the most expensive seaside resorts in the UK to stay.
For those wanting to keep their visit economical, there are a plethora of campsites one to two miles away from the centre, situated in the hills around the town in small villages such as Hayle or Corbis Bay. Most of these are on farms and provide a warm welcome. Driving into St Ives takes about 10 minutes and there is an excellent large car park on the hills above the town, which makes visiting by car trouble free at around £5 a day parking costs. The only campsite in the centre of St Ives is the rather expensive Ayr Holiday Park. Unlike the smaller campsites in the surrounding villages, this is a luxury site and tends to be fully booked. It is advisable to book many months in advance if you want to stay.
Large hotels are not abundant in St Ives. One of the largest is the Primrose Valley Hotel, but although the location is good, recent reviews have been mixed. There are many smaller hotels on the outskirts and surrounding villages.
The majority of holiday accommodation is self catering, usually set in beautiful old and atmospheric buildings. These are usually very luxurious and five star, and have a high price tag attached. It is not unusual to pay around £1000 per week for family accommodation in the centre of town.
I have spent many happy holidays in St Ives and still feel that it has much more to offer. It manages to combine a lively atmosphere with some really interesting museums and art galleries and a great selection of places to eat. Sometimes in the summer the crowds can get a little overwhelming, but the opportunity to have a long walk by the sea and to see the sun setting over the sea every night is something that I know will take me back time and time again.