As I was going to St. Ives, I did NOT meet a man with seven wives, as the popular nursery rhyme goes. But I would not fault said man for heading to this seaside town beloved far beyond Cornwall. It is a picture-perfect Cornish village, with a crystal clear beach, a social harbourfront, and delightful streets lined with boutiques and shops aplenty.
“St. Ives” is an English iteration of the name of St. Ia, an early Christian saint said to be an Irish princess who was carried across the Irish Sea to Cornwall on a leaf. Fishing was the heart of the town for centuries, although these days St. Ives gets by as a seaside resort. Nonetheless, it’s not hard to recognise the connection between the village and the water; the Sloop Inn, for example, has been entertaining sailors and visitors alike since the 1300s. Facing the harbour, it’s a lovely place to sit and have a pint while you watch the boats come and go.
If you’re peckish, there is sure to be something in St. Ives to satisfy you. S.H. Ferrell & Son is a family-owned bakery and winner of MyCornwall’s 2017 best Cornish pasty. There is also the St. Ives Bakery, right on the main shopping thoroughfare that is Fore Street. And tucked out of the way, Olive’s Cafe serves light, flaky scones, local jam, and fresh clotted cream. There are also several fudge and candy shops, including The Cornish Candy Shoppe and Cornish Cream; the scent wafting out of them proves irresistible to many a passerby (yours truly included). You also have your pick of ice cream parlours, and I submit the Moomaid of Zennor as the best one. Made from fresh cream from nearby Tremedda Farm, the ice cream comes in a variety of tempting flavours (white chocolate and passionfruit, hazelnut, salted almond), but to me, simple is best: go for the Cornish clotted cream ice cream for a really decadent treat.
After your sugar craving is slaked, wander through the lanes of St. Ives for some retail therapy. Shops sell everything from the tacky and curious to the bespoke and heirloom, and the work of local artisans is often proudly displayed in windows. And if you can’t get enough of pirate-themed everything, you’re in luck in St. Ives. There are plenty of stalls and stores playing to Cornwall’s legendary history of pirates and seafaring heritage.
Don’t skip the beaches! Cornwall has no shortage of expanses of sand and sheltered coves, all fronted by clear turquoise water. There is St. Ives Harbour beach, exposed at low tide and a popular spot to sunbathe and dip your toes. And one cove over, next to the Tate St. Ives, is the Blue Flag beach of Porthmeor, where you can swim and surf to your heart’s content. Both beaches have a seasonal dog ban, allowing for pristine white sand and optimal tidepooling.
Overlooking Porthmeor beach is St. Nicholas Chapel, a medieval chapel a short but steep walk up the hill by the sea. Its location is fitting, as St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, although over the centuries it has been used for less holy purposes (notably smuggling in the 18th century). From the top of the cliff, you can enjoy views of both Porthmeor Beach to your left, and the harbour and town of St. Ives to your right.
Whether you come for the seaside ambiance, the food, the shopping, or the beaches, you’ll understand why this West Cornwall town has accrued many an award as a summer holiay destination. St. Ives, after all, is quintessentially Cornish in character: warm and unpretentious, and locked in a perpetual love affair with the sea.