Visit the coastal towns of Fowey, Looe and Polperro in Cornwall and discover beautiful beaches, restaurants and places to visit


IAN WILKINSON visits the coastal towns of Fowey, Looe and Polperro, each with something very different but equally interesting to offer

Just a few miles separate these Cornish coastal towns but their proximity, diversity and character make them an ideal destination for a two-day winter break. Of course, they are attractive at all times of the year, but all three suffer, or are blessed (depending on your point of view), by an influx of tourists during the summer months. Not only do they become extremely crowded but the narrow lanes connecting the towns are liable to clog up and the car parks overflow. So winter is best!

On the subject of transport, a car is an advantage but it's certainly not essential. Fowey has a good bus connection to St Austell; Looe has an even better rail connection with Liskeard (of which more later) and if you take the little ferry from Fowey to Polruan, a bus service links this village with Polperro and Looe. But for the shortest distance between the three towns - and for those readers with more energy than me - all are linked by a particularly beautiful stretch of the South West Coast Path!

So what do they have to offer? Well, three very different experiences of Cornish life. Fowey is a deep-water port, with a vibrancy and atmosphere that ports seem to possess. Its attractive and colourful streets are full of life, helped along by the many waterfront pubs and restaurants.

Looe, on the other hand, is very much a working fishing port. Trawlers line the quays on either side of the river and a wholesale fish market dominates the eastern arm of the harbour. For all that, a short walk down the main street of East Looe brings one rather unexpectedly to a very fine beach.

As for Polperro, I'm never quite sure whether it's large enough to be called a town, but it certainly meets most people's perception of what a picture-postcard Cornish fishing village should look like. It perches somewhat precariously in a chasm between rocky cliffs and the quaint old cottages seem to be stacked on top of one another on the steep, narrow streets.

It really is worth the effort to visit all three towns during your break and here are some suggestions to make your visit that much more interesting and enjoyable.

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Where to stay

There is an amazing range of accommodation available at this time of year and many of the hotels and guesthouses have special winter rates. Accommodation types range from the luxurious through to the village inn or the humble B&B, and there is something to suit every pocket.

In Fowey there are a couple of quality hotels and another in the nearby village of Golant, along with more simple accommodation, suiting a range of budgets. Polperro and Looe both have a hotel.

Eating out

You are bound to find a restaurant or pub in any one of the three towns to suit your taste in food, your pocket and your mood. Michelin-star chef Nathan Outlaw has a restaurant in Fowey, and there is a nice pub in Golant serving locally produced quality food, and a restaurant in Looe specialising in seafood. In Polperro there is a pub that also serves locally produced food but which, unusually, has a Tapas menu.

Things to do

In 48 hours there will be many things you might like to do but won't have time for. Save them for another visit! In the meantime here are a couple of suggestions.

Walk the coastal path. From the Polruan waterfront the way is steep until you reach the coastguard station at the top. It's easier going then and the views towards Pencarrow Head and beyond are spectacular. A visit to Fowey parish church is interesting too. The church is dedicated to St Fimbarrus, an Irish saint who rested here for a while on his pilgrimage to Rome. There are some fine interior features and much local history to be gleaned from the many memorials. Moreover, this is a place of spiritual calm and peace in an increasingly noisy world!

A Rail Ale trail. Not a misspelling but a trail of rural pubs along the beautiful Looe Valley Line, which connects Looe with Liskeard. The train runs through the steeply wooded river valley, and you can alight at one of the intermediate stops and sample some good Cornish beer. Train times are critical, however, so the planning is best done in advance rather than en route!

Three things to take home

A book. The whole area is inextricably linked with the author Daphne du Maurier who for many years lived at Bodinnick, just upriver of Fowey. Her novels are, of course, still in print and widely available in shops in all three towns. However, for something a little different you might browse the second-hand bookshops or charity shops for a little gem - sadly out of print - entitled Vanishing Cornwall. It was written in nearby Menabilly and published by Penguin in 1972.

A lobster. You can buy live lobster and crab in both Looe and Polperro. If you don't fancy boiling them yourself, it is sometimes possible to buy them cooked. Or you could just buy fish from the market or a stall - you won't find it any fresher!

A painting or a sculpture. All three towns have some decent little galleries and you can buy an oil or watercolour or perhaps a sculpture by a local artist to remind you of your visit.

Around town

The town of Fowey is a delightful place to while away a few hours. Whatever your tastes, be it shopping, eating and drinking or just quietly soaking up the atmosphere of this lovely old port, there is always something here for you. The waterfront is a splendid place to start. At one end is the harbour entrance and St Catherine's Castle (built by Henry Vlll to defend the harbour) and at the other is the town itself, with several bars and restaurants on the waterfront. It is here that you can board the foot passenger ferry to Polruan across the harbour - well worth a visit in its own right and important because it provides a link to Looe and Polperro via the coastal path or by bus.

The deep-water quays are out of sight further up river and so new visitors may be surprised to see the size of ships that glide almost silently up or down river. Most carry china clay but in recent years there has been a growth in the number of cruise liners visiting the port.

As for shopping, you won't find many of the national retailers here. What you will find is an abundance of small independent shops, galleries and boutiques, selling everything from groceries to jewellery and from paintings to chandlery.