From its array of seafront restaurants and craft galleries, to its stunning sandy beaches and scenic surrounds, this pretty Cornish village is the perfect holiday destination. Words: Alex Fisher
Occasionally I visit somewhere new and don’t want to write about it: I want to keep it to myself, so that when I return it has remained the same and isn’t flooded with new visitors. Selfish, I know, so on this occasion I will share my secret.
Despite visiting Cornwall since I was a child, I had never found myself in the small harbour village of Porthleven. I have no idea why, but until now, tucked between St Ives and Falmouth, this little gem had passed me by. What I finally discovered when I visited this year was a perfect holiday destination: an idyllic harbour village, which reminded me of St Ives 20 years ago, before the crowds. It has a wealth of fantastic restaurants, interesting galleries and beautiful beaches, all within walking distance. This is somewhere you can arrive, park your car, and not have to drive again for a week, and still do something different everyday. With the stunning Loe Pool to the east and the coast path to Praa Sands to the west, what the locals say seems to hold true: Porthleven really is heaven.
PORTHLEVEN HOLIDAY COTTAGES
Launched by Trevor Osborne, who purchased the Porthleven Harbour and Dock Company with many redundant buildings nearly 40 years ago, Porthleven Holiday Cottages now has 36 properties to rent in and around the harbour. With the advantage of an on-site office, their friendly and helpful staff seem to know everyone in the village and are always happy to help with any issues that come up during your break. They even organise welcome receptions in various locations around Porthleven for sociable types who would like to meet other holidaymakers.
Their properties range from a gorgeous little Fisherman’s Loft, which sleeps two people and has uninterrupted views across the ocean, to Cordelia, a large house that sleeps eight. coast stayed in Harbour Heights, which overlooks the picturesque harbour, offering far-reaching views during the day and night. You can hire these cottages from the reasonable price of £350 a week (01326 574270, porthlevenholidaycottages.co.uk).
For those who prefer B&Bs, there are two double rooms above Kota, the fine dining sister restaurant to Kota Kai. Awarded three stars by the AA, their home-smoked salmon breakfast is said to be exceptional. Open March onwards, rooms start from £60 per night (01326 562407, kotarestaurant.co.uk).
A GREAT PLACE FOR…
A CREAM TEA
Nauti But Ice
This bustling café makes its own scones on the premises and serves them with lashings of thick Cornish clotted cream and local jam. Their large window offers spectacular harbour and sea views, and the ice-cream bar keeps the children entertained (01326 573747).
A NIGHT OUT
Amélies in the Smokehouse
Even in this small fishing village there is night life. Once a month, Sam, who runs Amélies, where they cook local sardines, bread and pizzas in a wood-fired oven, throws a party. Along with her Jazz drummer dad, she arranges a jam on the last Sunday of every month (01326 554000, ameliesporthleven.co.uk).
A CORNISH PASTY
The Horse and Jockey
This little bakery is tucked away to the rear of the harbour and, despite baking pasties all day, they still sell out due to the high demand. They offer lovely peppery pasties, shortcrust or flaky, straight out of the oven, which you can eat as you watch the fishing boats come and go (01326 562324).
This restaurant has everything a hungry family needs: fantastic food, a great wine list (we tried the wonderfully crisp Vinho Verde) and a huge children's room, big enough for wooden skittles and plenty of games. This family-friendly restaurant also shows films in their lounge once a week, for free (01326 574411, kotakai.co.uk).
PORTHLEVEN THREE WAYS…
TASTY SEAFOOD AND POSH PICNICS
Be warned! When you visit Porthleven you are likely to put on a couple of pounds. There are so many wonderful food establishments you’ll be hard pushed to visit them all in a weekend.
In addition to those already mentioned, we also enjoyed visiting The Square, where we tried a wonderful starter of seafood on garlic toast with pickled vegetables, followed by perfectly cooked Cornish hake in a mussel and prawn bouillabaisse sauce (01326 573911, thesquareatporthleven.co.uk). Also, Seadrift, which is well-loved by the locals, serves the day’s catch in its 1930s-style dining room just off the harbour (01326 558733, seadriftporthleven.co.uk). And don’t miss Rick Stein, Porthleven, which opened here in late 2014, and has breathtaking views over the harbour. Along with the chef’s signature seafood dishes, Sunday roasts are available every Sunday from a very reasonable £12.95 (01326 565636, rickstein.com).
If you are going out for the day, Gourmet Picnics offer a fantastic takeaway lunch of local crab, mackerel and pilchards, complete with Polgoon fizz and biodegradable cutlery and plates. For those missing the Cornish coast, but unable to make the trip, this hamper can be delivered to anywhere in the country (01326 554333, gourmetpicnics.co.uk).
THEME PARKS, BIKE RIDES AND SURFING
With its stretches of sandy beaches, Porthleven is perfect for a traditional bucket-and-spade holiday. However, the village has much more to offer. If your children love the thrill of a roller coaster or want to sit in the cockpit of Concord, you can nip up the road to Flambards, a traditional theme park with the added attraction of an enormous Victorian village to explore (01326 573404, flambards.co.uk).
The coastline is stunning and there’s no better way to enjoy the surrounding area than on a bicycle. The coastal path takes you to the Penrose Estate, a National Trust property with plenty of car-free cycle paths. Part-time policeman Dave Page runs Porthleven Cycle Hire with his wife, Lucy, and offers maps of ability-graded cycle paths (not suitable for very young children) along with super-safe equipment (01326 561101, porthlevencyclehire.co.uk).
Sporty types can also try Dan Joel’s Surf School. A skilled and conscientious teacher, Dan is sure to get little ones riding the waves in just a few hours (07974 941575, danjoelsurf.com).
FOR CRAFT LOVERS…
FAIRS, JEWELLERY WORKSHOPS AND GALLERIES
Porthleven has its own craft fair which runs every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from Easter to October between 10am and 5pm (porthlevenharbourmarket.com). You can also find an array of local craftspeople, ranging from ceramicists to hat makers, working in the Salt Cellar Workshop (01326 565707, saltcellarworkshops.co.uk).
There are many small galleries dotted around Porthleven, displaying the work of local artists. The Lifeboat Art Studio (01326 574270, theoldlifeboathouse.org), with its fantastic location overlooking the sea, is worth a visit, as is The Custom House Gallery (01326 569365, cornwall-art.co.uk).
Craft lovers can also try a new activity by attending one of the many workshops that are on offer. For example, individuals can try their hand at making their own jewellery at the silversmith’s, and be inspired by the outlook across the harbour as they create their unique pieces. The Jewellery Workshop (07967 453459, porthlevenjewelleryworkshop.co.uk).