I am a recent convert to St Ives after my first visit a year or so ago. Having grown up in the Southwest I find it somewhat remarkable that I hadn’t visited before then. This trip at the beginning of December rekindled my love of the place. Admittedly I have only ever visited out of season as both of my staycation’s have occurred within the month of December. It might be a different story if I had visited in the busy summer months.
My partner Steve had organised a little Air BnB for us to stay in. About a minutes walk up the hill from the Barbara Hepworth Museum. The location really couldn’t have been better with the main street complete with bars, cafes, restaurants and shops a mere minute or two away with the harbour a couple of minutes more.
We arrived in the winter darkness in St Ives after a comfortable journey via one of Great Western Trains brand new locomotives. Although I couldn’t see the sea I could hear it in the not too far distance lapping at the shoreline of Porthminster Beach. From St Ives station we had a short walk to our apartment through the town.
On arrival at our apartment, we were greeted with the surprise of a fully dressed small Christmas tree as well as some tasteful decorations placed through the entirety of the flat. I thought that was a lovely touch and certainly gained our Air B&B hosts a few brownie points. Other than the Christmas decorations our little home from home for the next 2 and a half days or so was immaculate. Decorated with a nod to the nautical.
Like I said, we had about 60 hours in St Ives to enjoy. We had made a few reservations here and there not really knowing how busy the town was likely to be on a weekend at the beginning of December. I would like to share with you where I visited and my thoughts and opinions on places with the hope that it might give you a few ideas for your visit if you ever make it to this special little town in Cornwall.
Evening One – Saturday
Our favourite drinking spot from our first visit a year or so ago had been the Pilchard Press Ale House. We had stumbled across it then and were so glad to have found it. We had pledged to ourselves then that we would return to this tiny pub. It’s essentially one small and cosy room with a few tables and a bar. The main emphasis being on local ales from the barrel. Steve loves an ale and he said the selection was a fine one. This is a true locals pub with regulars propping up the bar with their dogs waiting patiently at their feet, the odd couple out for the night and us, the lucky tourists who had found this gem by chance. The Pilchard Press doesn’t serve food but bar snacks including pilchards are readily available. The wine selection is minimal; 2 red and two white. They do have a good local cider selection that fits well beside the perfectly kept ales for those like me who don’t partake in beer drinking. Calsberg and Stella will not be found here thank goodness.
Steve and I had been checking out places on Tripadvisor prior to our visit so we didn’t head in blind. One place that came up of interest was the Porthminster Kitchen. Situated alongside the harbour, you might miss it as the entrance is rather concealed but it does happen to be very near the aforementioned Pilchard Press which proved handy on this chilly December night.
The entrance is on street level but you need to head up a flight of stairs to the glass-fronted restaurant. I should imagine with a lighter evening, the views would be exquisite but on this night we settled with the distant glow of festive decorations and their reflection on the rippling water.
Greeted by a lovely lady and shown to our seats by the window we ordered drinks. There is a good selection here. Both Steve and I opted for local beverages. Steve had a pale ale from St Ives Brewery and I had a glass of Polgoon Vineyard sparkling brut. The menu is good with something to suit everyone’s palate. We ordered deep fried breaded anchovies with sage to have alongside our drinks followed by the Cornish hake for me and the seafood curry for Steve. For dessert, we shared a deconstructed passion fruit cheesecake. It was like nothing I had seen before. Our combined bill for the evening was approximately £50.
Day Two – Sunday
I woke up early after a restorative nights sleep and made breakfast. I had packed some homemade granola and we stopped off at the Co-Op on our walk to the apartment the previous evening for milk. Teas and coffees were available to us in the Air B&B so we were all set. We had allocated the morning for St Ives exploration. The town opens at around 10am on Sundays with most shops, cafes, bakeries all being open. The rest no later than 11am. We took a stroll around the town before venturing a little further to watch the surfers battle the stormy seas for a while.
From here we carried on with our exploration towards Porthgwidden Beach and a warming pit stop at the Porthgwidden Beach Cafe for coffee. This cute cafe (that also opens for supper on Friday and Saturday evenings) was the perfect stop off point. We warmed our bones before heading back out into the bluster.
From here we followed the coast over to Porthmeor Beach before circling back through the town towards Porthminster Beach and the Porthminster Cafe where I had reserved a table for lunch. The Porthminster Cafe belongs to the same group of cafes and restaurants as the Porthminster Kitchen and the Porthgwidden Cafe. A simple, yet charming decor with whitewashed walls and local artists decorating the walls. The views overlooking the beach are spectacular. You can request a window seat on reservation and they will do their best to accommodate you. A glass of Knightor Carpe Diem white for me, which might possibly be my favourite English white right now and a St Ives Brewery beer for Steve ordered we sat back and enjoyed the space and the view until our food arrived. We shared whitebait and samphire to start. I followed that with a delicious bowl of leek and potato soup with truffle. Steve enjoyed the star dish of seafood linguine. We finished our meal with a sticky toffee pudding to share. Our bill came to approximately £50 for the both of us.
From our lunch date we headed over to the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Museum. What a treasure this place is. You would never know that many priceless works of art are hidden behind the high walls from the outside. Once your £7.70 admission (with gift aid – Dec 18) is paid you are free to roam her workspace and gardens. Such a beautiful spot to sit back, relax and take in the peace and quiet that gardens give you. Steve and I were the only visitors and it was blissful.
We decided on buying some foodie bits and bobs from the local shops for supper at the apartment that evening. So, after the sanctuary of the museum we headed back to the Main Street to see what local delights were on offer. We stopped at the charming Allotment Deli. This place is full to bursting with local produce, deli items, wines, beers and spirits as well as some basic household items for those that forget toothpaste or shampoo! Steve and I stocked up on fresh bread, Cornish cheeses, olives and homemade mince pies for our evening in.
Day Three – Monday
Having explored the best bits of St Ives the previous day we decided to hop on the train again for a half day trip to Truro. Truro is about a 40 minute train journey from St Ives with a change at St Erth. Truro is a cathedral city much like my home of Exeter. Unlike Exeter though it still feels quite behind in many ways. The independent shops are few and far between; trust me Steve and I searched high and low. We found a cracking vintage and retro shop just off the High Street full of the most wonderful items from bygone times though. One thing that Truro does seem to have in abundance are independent cafes. We stopped at one called Emily’s which resides opposite the museum. A cute space with a lovely outdoor space complete with outdoor heating and blankets if you fancy braving the cold! Steve and I played it safe and took ourselves upstairs where the indoor seating area resides. We ordered tea and the most deliciously light pumpkin spiced muffin with a cream cheese frosting crown. The best muffin I had tasted in a long, long time. As a little extra our waitress gifted us a freshly baked mince pie to have too. What a treat. I do love a mince pie!
From our mid-morning pit stop we headed to Truro Cathedral. A modern cathedral by normal standards. Built by the Victorian’s right in the heart of the city. It was beautiful inside with exquisite stained glass being the highlight. With it being nearly Christmas we happened across a local schools carol service rehearsal which added to the festivities already displayed within the four walls. These being a rather large nativity and the most stunning, tall Christmas tree. We sat for quite some time listening to the children sing. It was a special moment.
This took us towards lunch time. I was still full from our mid-morning cake fest so Steve opted for a Cornish pasty from Warrens Bakery and we sat on the benches outside the cathedral with little pigeons waiting for Steve’s pasty crumbs to fall.
Before heading back on the train we stopped in at the CAMRA award winning pub The Old Ale House for a quick pint. What a selection of ales – it blew my mind. The perfect ale drinkers stop off. Another pub that doesn’t serve food but they do allow you to take your own food in to enjoy alongside your pint if you desire. It was from here we walked back to the train station to return to our home from home in St Ives. Allow no more than 4 hours for your trip to Truro. It’s a small city and you can easily fit in the important areas of interest in that time as well as a bite to eat and a pint!
Our final evening in St Ives was spent taking in the harbour views for one last time, drinks at the Firehouse Bar & Grill and dinner at Hub.
The Firehouse Bar & Grill takes shape as a bar downstairs and restaurant upstairs although if you wanted a light bite with your drink downstairs that option is available too. It’s decorated in a modern way with dark wood furniture and clean lines. Unlike the Pilchard Press, there are no cosy corners here. That being said, it did have a warm, comforting feel and the staff were helpful and friendly.
We were interested in the drinks options as we had dinner plans already at Hub. The Firehouse Bar & Grill has a spectacular gin selection with my favourite gin of the moment, Tinkture on their menu. This Cornish made gin with rose as a botanical is my absolute favourite so my choice was made for me. We sat in the window and watched the world go by. From here we took the short walk to Hub. Hub is situated on the harbourside with views out over the water. A burger joint with a difference. They have a modern menu favouring burgers made with Cornish rare breed beef, fresh seafood and seasonal dishes. Although we were there for supper, Hub would be a great stop off for drinks in the evening with a bar offering local craft ales, ciders and cocktails. In fact, there were a few tables of drinkers taking advantage of the cocktail menu as well as couples like us popping in for some food. Steve ordered the chilli cheeseburger with fries and I fancied something lighter. My choice was the Bel Air salad with a side of onion rings. A vegan salad with roasted squash, sweet potato, black beans and sweet corn fritters. In hind site, perhaps not the best choice on the menu as my salad was a little bland but I really fancied veggies after a few days of indulgence. Steve’s burger, on the other hand, was spectacular.
Day Four – Tuesday
Our train was at 11.30am and check out was at 10am so we had time for a coffee before heading to the station. On route for us to the station was Scoff Troff Cafe. The name is rather unappealing in my opinion but this busy cafe is popular with locals as well as town visitors. We had stopped in for a coffee on our last visit so knew it was a safe option. We had already had breakfast at our Air BnB before leaving so we were on the hunt for a decent cuppa before our train. Steve went for their special festive gingerbread latte and I opted for a breakfast tea. Many of the other visitors were enjoying breakfasts in many guises. Scoff Troff serves breakfasts and light lunches made with local produce.
Hopefully, my little guide will give you a few ideas on where to eat, drink and visit whilst staying in St Ives. I have barely touched the surface as there are so many restaurants and bars on top of the ones Steve and I visited. Don’t forget to visit Tate St Ives or how about a trip to the Royal Cinema to see the latest release? Whatever you choose to do St Ives is a great town full of great eateries, art and music. There is something for everyone even in December.
Disclaimer: I was not paid for this post and all views are my own as always.