A winning combination of sailing port, holiday resort and vibrant university town, Falmouth is a firm Cornish favourite. Words: Lesley Gillilan
Falmouth won the vote as Britain’s ‘best place to live’ in a 2017 Sunday Times readers’ poll, out-ranking other national hot spots by a mile. Its popularity, according to the newspaper, is down to its perfect combination of location, economy and ‘vibrant arty atmosphere’. But there are so many good things to say about the Port of Falmouth, it’s hard to know where to start.
Location-wise, the town is draped over the leafy hills of a broad peninsula on Cornwall’s south coast. With the docks and harbour quays of the Fal Estuary on one side and a line of palm trees, sub-tropical gardens and beaches on the other, it’s a satisfying blend of hard-working port and seaside resort. On a nose-like headland between the two, Tudor-built Pendennis Castle adds a note of seafaring history.
The city of Truro is within commuting distance however, unlike many Cornish seaside towns, Falmouth has a thriving local economy that doesn’t depend on tourism. The port is one the main employers (think shipping, fishing, boat-building and related maritime industries). And Falmouth University’s 4,000 students ensure that the place doesn’t die in the winter. ‘It’s buzzing all year round,’ agrees Jayne Phillips-Choak, of Falmouth-based relocation agency Live Beside the Sea (livebesidethesea.com). ‘The town is very cosmopolitan, it has something to offer all age groups and there’s always something going on.’
WHERE TO BUY
Look for Georgian townhouses or detached Victorian villas with views of the estuary or the sea. Good spots include Greenbank’s handsome harbour-view terraces (Dunstanville, Stratton, Tehidy, Penwerris or Frobisher) or the streets off Cliff Road on the seafront between Castle and Gyllyngvase beaches (Boscawan Road, Tredynas and Madeira Walk). Keen sailors might check out waterfront houses in the Port Pendennis marina, or apartments on the harbour’s 10-year-old Discovery Quay. Out-of-town options include Swanpool (by the beach) and the nearby yachting-set riverside villages of Mylor and Flushing.
Large houses in prime locations with elevated views can fetch millionaire prices and, in general, Falmouth is not cheap – you can pay over £500,000 just for a waterfront apartment; the roomier townhouses sell for around £600-900,000. On the other hand, £190,000-£250,000 buys a two-bedroom flat or a terraced cottage in the town centre. On the outskirts, it’s possible to find a three-bedroom property (with distant sea views) for around £300,000. Outside of the cheaper student market, rents are higher than average for Cornwall (up to £1,500 per month for a family house).
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As well as world-class sailing on the Carrick Roads (one of the world’s deepest natural harbours) and a string of fabulous local beaches (Castle, Gyllyngvase and Swanpool), Falmouth has the National Maritime Museum, a small concert hall (the Princess Pavilion) and an award-winning shopping centre. Arwenack Street and the High Street is one long line of independent shops, pubs, cafés and galleries, many with harbour views. Among the town’s many great restaurants, try shell fish at the Wheelhouse Crab and Oyster bar, tapas at Provedore (provedore.co.uk), or Cornish classics at Gylly Beach Café (gyllybeach.com). A recent addition is the revamped Chain Locker (chainlockerfalmouth.co.uk): an upper-deck seafood restaurant has been added to this pub on the quay. For more information see falmouth.co.uk.
There are three railway stations: Falmouth Docks, Falmouth Town and Penmere, all on the Maritime Line which travels to Truro, where you can pick up the main line to Paddington (the journey to London takes around four and a half hours). The commute from Falmouth to Truro (Cornwall’s only city) takes around 25 minutes. The nearest international airport is Newquay (29 miles).
The area has two state secondaries, Falmouth School and Penryn College, both of them rated by Ofsted as Good.
The university adds a youthful edge to Falmouth’s culture and night-life – it would be a poorer place without it – but if you’d prefer not to live next door to a houseful of undergraduates avoid the town centre. Cheaper streets around Marlborough and Trelawney Roads are popular student haunts and best avoided if you want a quiet life.
The riverside port of Penryn, Falmouth’s smaller, older neighbour, doesn’t have the glamour or the sea views but it boasts some fine Georgian architecture, a good school and cheaper houses. If you can’t quite stretch to Falmouth prices, Penryn is right on the doorstep.
PAY A VISIT
Star & Garter (01326 316663, starandgarter.squarespace.com).
Above this old and beautifully renovated High Street pub, there are two gorgeous apartments: The Penthouse (on the second floor) and Crow’s Nest (in the attic). Both feature a neat kitchenette, quirky contemporary interiors, comfy beds and spectacular views of Fal Estuary and the harbour. Head downstairs for a fireside lunch, three-course dinner (fresh Cornish fish and meat, hand-cut pasta, smoked salt chips), real ales, cocktails or a brilliant Sunday roast. From £110 per night.
CAN YOU AFFORD IT?
Average house prices [September 2022] Source: Rightmove (Rightmove).