Welcome to Cornwall's most expensive village
- Credit: Santi Navarro
Perfectly positioned on the Roseland Peninsula, St Mawes has stunning beaches, cute white-washed fisherman’s cottages, quintessential harbour and temperate climate, but it’s the tranquillity of this Cornish town that wins people over, writes Natalie Millar-Partridge
It’s definitely a town designed for strolling along the waterfront, pasty-in-hand, watching the world sail by; grab a freshly made crab baguette from Mr Scorse Gourmet Deli, and perhaps enjoy a St Mawes gin or a Cornish-brewed Doom Bar whilst sitting outside on the wooden benches at the Victory Inn, before strolling through ice-cream coloured streets up to St Mawes Castle for spectacular views across the Fal estuary and speciality coffee from Bear Cornwall.
It comes as no surprise that in 2020, St Mawes was named the No1 seaside destination in the UK by a Which? report, handing it five-stars for its peace and quiet, with its array of accommodation offerings from luxe hotels and contemporary B&Bs to quaint self-catering cottages.
The town is sugary sweet, full of charming character and whispers a quiet air of grandeur and elegance. The harbour offers an abundance of joyful activity; rent sea kayaks, go crabbing or take one of the passenger ferries that run to Falmouth and Truro, as well as St Anthony Head, where you can walk to the lighthouse. There are heaps of options for day trips and activities on land or sea; walk the coastal path, take to the water for a stand-up-paddle boarding tour or enjoy a boat charter to the nearby National Trust Trelissick. Unlike some of its more famous seaside contenders, St Mawes doesn’t feel too busy, possibly due to its location - sitting at the end of a peninsula - it takes a dedicated trip to get there, and so remains a peaceful spot, with a quiet allure.
We think it’s worth the journey for its Mediterranean-esque vibe in the summer; think turquoise waters, lush tropical planting, freshly caught seafood and wild stretches of unspoilt coastline frequented by Atlantic Grey Seals in the Autumn. Wandering along the seafront you could easily be on the French Riviera. St Mawes certainly has that same air of class; it’s a place to visit and be seen. The Queen Mother used to holiday here, and you can go out for dinner and discover Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), Lenny Henry, or Richard and Judy sitting at the table next to you.
Once upon a time St Mawes was a quiet Cornish fishing village. Now, like many Cornish coastal towns, the main industry is tourism. So much of daily-life revolves around the holidaymakers, with trades people working through the winter to renovate and maintain holiday homes and cleaners working through the summer to maintain accommodation offerings. Restaurateurs and landlords also working round-the-clock to offer guests an idyllic summer escape.
The ‘resident’ population of St Mawes is an eclectic mix of working class Cornish people, retired pensioners who have mostly moved from somewhere ‘up country’, and wealthy second-home owners who relocate for the summer months.
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Living amongst them is Spanish photographer Santi Navarro, who moved to St Mawes in 2012. For the past few years, Santi has been taking portraits of the people of St Mawes, or the local celebrities, as he likes to call them.
Read on for a resident’s insight of what it’s like to live in the village and exactly what it is that makes St Mawes such a special place.
What the residents say
James Brown: Born and bred in St Mawes, James now owns and runs ‘Fish and Trips of St Mawes’ offering fishing trips to holidaymakers. James takes small groups out on his boat the ‘Madeline Rose’ to fish for mackerel. He also works with a business partner to operate five self-hire motorboats, and a number of RIBs, which tourists can hire to explore the river themselves. Throughout the winter season, James works as a commercial oyster-fisherman, operating off his sailing boat ‘Ada’.
'My mother’s family have lived in St Mawes forever, at least since records began. My great-grandfather was the engineer on the original steam ferries that went between St Mawes and Falmouth. My dad was Irish. He worked as a steward on big ships. After the war, his boat was commandeered to bring troops back to Falmouth. He came over to St Mawes and fell in love with the place, and my mother.
I am one of seven children - as kids, we ran free. There used to be a farm we’d bring the cows in for milking, we loved it. If you’d asked me age eight, what I wanted to be, I’d without doubt have said a fisherman. I used to join my uncle in his fishing trawler - we’d be out for 14 hours and although I got seasick, I absolutely, loved it.
'In my early years of fishing, I worked on a long-lining boat called The Trazbar. We used to put 2.5 miles of line out, with 2,500 hooks!
'Back in the early 80s, there were between ten and fifteen commercial fishing boats working out of St Mawes; a combination of trawlers, crabbing, lobsters and mackerel. Now there are just four commercial fishing boats.
'Twelve years ago - after various jobs within fishing - I had the idea of running fishing trips for tourists; two years later, I bought the Madeline Rose, and it has really taken off – a holiday in St Mawes is all about getting on the water.'
Why St Mawes is special? 'St Mawes has always been my home; I have so many memories growing up here. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else.”
How has St Mawes changed? 'St Mawes has been developed a lot since I was a kid, but it’s the same all over Cornwall. People have always loved visiting St Mawes, that’s never changed.'
Lauren Ferris -was born and bred in St Mawes, the eldest of three, Lauren grew up in a four-bed flat in the village - her parents and younger brother still live there now. Lauren works full time in the local post office, her sister Micky in the bakery and her brother Callum at Freshwater Boatyard. Lauren runs the post office with owner and sub-postmaster, Andy Fordham.
'From the age of 18, I’ve worked in the village Post Office -13 years this September. When I was younger, I never knew what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to stay in St Mawes. I’m a real home girl and have grown up knowing everyone in the village. Everyone knew us so they’d all look out for us. We were one big community, with a lot more permanent residents then. Every summer was spent on Summers Beach. In my memory I lived on that beach - we’d be in the sea all day.
'The Post Office is an important service in the village. Not just for the post, but we’re like a lifeline for the elderly, sometimes being the only social interaction they have all day.
'We brace ourselves each year as the tourist season begins - our paper sales triple, it’s so busy. Being at the hub of the village, everyone comes in for information; ferry times, walks, water taxis, castle opening times - we know all the answers!
'I’m very happy with what I’ve got, I don’t feel like I need anything else. When you live here you don’t need a nice house, or a flash car, because look what we’ve got - It’s beautiful. I had the most amazing childhood and I’m so thankful for that.'
Why is St Mawes special? 'Growing up, my one ambition was to meet the love of my life and stay in St Mawes; in 2017 I met James, my partner. He was working at the St Mawes Hotel. Six months after our first date we bought our home together - a flat above my parents house, I didn’t move far!'
How has growing up in St Mawes influenced your life? 'St Mawes gives you the best friends you could ever wish for - they’re like family to me.
It’s made me carefree and content – why would I need anything else?'
Nigel Cullen is a newcomer to the village. He grew up and spent much of his working life in London, before moving to Bristol, where he met his wife Lucy, and they had their son Harris. The family moved to St Mawes in September 2017. Nigel opened Bear Cornwall in August 2019 - a Citroen HY Van serving speciality coffee, cakes and sausage rolls by St Mawes Castle.
'We had our first holiday to the Roseland Peninsula in June 2014. I wasn’t familiar with the area but we had the most amazing time.
It was my wife who suggested moving here, I was locked into my flying career and couldn’t work out how we’d get off the hamster-wheel of city life but in September 2017 we packed up our Bristol flat and moved to St Mawes. I continued to fly the air ambulance for a while, but the commuting became harder; I loved that feeling of heading west and the roads getting quieter.
'I have always loved coffee, and coffee culture, and used to visit a pop-up coffee Citroen HY Van in Bristol. I guess I always had a dream that one day I could have my own coffee van. It took a year from idea to converted Citroen van serving coffee.
'The first season was a steep learning curve; it was such a quantum shift from rescuing people, landing a helicopter on the M25. Serving coffee felt very simple. But then I realised the whole business was on my head – buying coffee, cakes, keeping the van stocked. I still had a big responsibility to serve people.
'I am so proud of what we’ve created with the Bear Van. I love seeing people up here enjoying themselves; I feel like I’m offering a service to our community as well as the holidaymakers and nothing beats hearing customers say ‘that’s the best flat white I’ve ever had!
'We’re not locals, but we’re also not second homeowners. We’ve chosen to live our lives here, and I think people accept that. It took a while to feel settled, but now I feel part of the community.'
Is there anything you miss from your former life? 'I miss the flying, but I don’t miss the commuting, the career jobs, living in a small flat, all those people crammed into the city. I need that space we have here - the sea, the land, and the big skies.'
Why is St Mawes special? 'Moving to St Mawes was the best decision we ever made, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone because I don’t want everyone to move here!'
Best hotels in St Mawes
Hotelier and Designer, Olga Polizzi’s Tresanton is nestled on the hillside, with enviable sea vistas. This cluster of cottages-turned-coastal retreat is one luxurious affair; boutique-designed bedrooms offer stunning sea views, while subtropical gardens, a beach club and private yacht provide endless ways to relax in an Italian-inspired haven. Don’t miss the Tresanton summer BBQs, an incredible spread of freshly caught seafood and local produce. tresanton.com
The Idle Rocks
Sitting right on the harbourside, The Idle Rocks hones in on it’s enviable waterside perch, with a completely bespoke approach to each space; expect cool, coastal elegance, where beach-chic interiors create a stylish relaxed seaside vibe, complete with sun-terrace, providing the ideal destination to enjoy sumptuous locally-caught seafood from award-winning head chef Dorian Janmaat and Cornish wines from Trevibban Mill. idlerocks.com
St Mawes Hotel
Set on the waterfront in the heart of the village, sister hotel to the Idle Rocks, St Mawes Hotel offers refined boutique rooms, a bustling bistro-bar and private cinema. The ground floor bar is a lively hub for this idyllic fishing village, with its relaxed ethos, bare floors, wooden tables and nautical paraphernalia. Indulge in modern-European dishes, including delicious sharing plates before drifting off to the sound of the waves. stmaweshotel.com
Hir Kemmyns B&B
Soak up a peaceful, elevated position, with staggering estuary views, just a short walk to the bustling quayside. Hir Kemmyns offers two luxury guest rooms, each with their own private south-facing patio, honing in on the stunning vistas. Enjoy a homemade continental breakfast, and after a long day exploring the Roseland, look forward to a delicious, freshly-baked cake from your super friendly hosts; a sublime spot for a super relaxing stay-cay. hir-kemmyns.com
A dreamy home-from-home, this luxury Georgian style self-catering house is a short walk from the waterside. A beautiful light filled coastal retreat, boasting chic open-plan living areas – equipped with log burner and sprawling sofa - luxe bedrooms, idyllic river-views out towards St Anthony Head and a pretty tiered garden. Milton Minor is a peaceful dwelling, sleeping eight, ideal for a fun-filled family seaside escape.
Things to do in St Mawes
Fish and Trips with James Brown – Don your wind-proofs for a two-hour mackerel fishing trip with friendly local skipper, James Brown. Half and full day charters also available.
Take the Place ferry and walk the South West Coast Path - There are miles of beautiful walks around the Roseland. A popular route is the St Anthony Head loop that starts and ends with a tiny foot ferry from the harbour. Don't forget your swimming stuff for a refreshing dip on some secluded beaches!
Kayak up the Percuil River – Discover St Mawes and the Roseland Peninsula from single or double sit-on kayaks
Waterfront walk - Enjoy a waterfront walk with an ice cream from Fudge and More on one of St Mawes’ four beautiful beaches.
Sub-tropical gardens – Cornwall is home to an abundance of gorgeous gardens, from the St Mawes Italianate-inspired Lamorran Gardens, and the tropical church gardens of nearby St Just in Roseland, to impressive National Trust Trelissick and the magical Lost Gardens of Heligan.
Local landmarks - Visit local landmarks and unearth some fascinating history, including Henry VIII's St Mawes Castle and the banks of the Fal Estuary that were the launch point for thousands of American troops destined for Omaha Beach in the D-Day landings. Follow this up with coffee and cake at the renowned Bear Cornwall Citroen van
Seal-spotting at Towan Beach – In Autumn, walk along Towan Beach, keeping a look out for grey seals frolicking in the ocean, followed by a browse in the galleries of Portscatho, a stroll along the beautiful Porthcurnick Beach, before a bite to eat at the famous Hidden Hut. Holiday heaven!
Explore the Fal River by boat - Take a ferry to Falmouth. Speed up river on a RIB cruise. Charter your own motorboat or savour a slower pace of life by kayak or stand-up paddleboard.