Coastal walks, sandy beaches, surfing and art galleries: there’s many reasons to visit St Ives, north of Penzance. With the opening of Una St Ives luxury resort it is now easier than ever to plan your perfect trip to this much-loved destination.
Situated on the north coast of Cornwall within easy reach of the white sands of Carbis Bay and buzz of St Ives town, Una St Ives is an idyllic holiday village delivering laid-back indulgence in one of the county’s most desirable hot spots. British Travel Journal first wrote about Una St Ives in our Spring 2021 edition, featuring the resort as one of the most exciting new coastal launches in the UK. It is no surprise then, that given the first opportunity to stay in one of their brand-new luxury lodges, we had our suitcases packed.
Named ‘Una’ after the first boat to win the Cornish Gig Rowing Championships and built with beautiful Cornish stone amid stunning landscaped grounds, the resort has taken its Cornish heritage and artistic influences to heart. The design is consistent throughout the lodges, leisure facilities, restaurants and spa, with spacious and creative spaces and contemporary furnishings, inspiring coastal living. Packing is made easy as your home-from-home lodge is kitted out with items you might need, including a washer/dryer and all your bathroom luxuries. It is so easy to put down your bags and let your holiday begin, whether by making yourself a cuppa in the kitchen, relaxing in the dining area, putting your feet up on the sofa, or unwinding on your private terrace.
The Scandi-influenced ecolodges, using solar panels and lamb’s wool insulation, range from one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom properties. The exciting next phase of development will see a further 27 high-end two- and three-bedroom villas with private hot tubs, a 20-metre heated outdoor lido with an additional kids’ pool, an outdoor kitchen, a bar and restaurant serving barbequed burritos, rotisserie chicken and flat iron steaks prepared al fresco over charcoal to create a street-food-festival vibe by the pool, along with a games room and padel-tennis courts. Plus, there’s a 55-bedroom apartment–hotel with its own central piazza, bar, restaurant and further leisure facilities in the pipeline – in total there will be 93 new luxury villas to be completed by the end of 2023, making it the largest luxury resort in the south-west and a spectacular jewel in Cornwall’s crown.
Yet, even with just the newly completed lodges and Atrium (home to the the leisure club and Una Kitchen restaurant), and some construction work taking place around us, it was already a fabulous resort – far exceeding our expectations. (The new villas are also available to purchase under a holiday-home-ownership scheme.)
After a restorative night’s sleep in the super-comfortable beds, the tranquility and calm continued through the morning, helped largely by a stocked fridge following our pre-arranged supermarket delivery the night before. It was weekend breakfast-as-usual only in a much brighter, more uplifting setting than our usual Hampshire abode.
It had been such a long time since I had been to a spa (due to COVID-19) that I was delighted to kick-start my holiday wellness with an ELEMIS bespoke deep-tissue body massage while my husband and daughters enjoyed the swimming pool, sauna and steam rooms. Following a Cornish coffee espresso and slice of home-made banana cake from Una Kitchen we jumped in a taxi to St Ives (to avoid parking on a Saturday – it costs around £5 for the journey), excited to explore the picturesque town.
One of Cornwall’s best-loved and most-visited places, St Ives is famed for the artists, past and present, who have visited and settled here. This isn’t surprising given its natural charm and beauty and, important to any painter, its crystal-clear light. Hugging the shore is the town itself, with higgledy-piggledy lanes presenting no end of treasures. Around every corner, a tiny workshop, gallery or studio beckons, and there are many independent boutiques selling fashionable seaside clothing brands, handmade gifts, chocolates and other artisan creations.
We wandered down the cobbled streets before stumbling upon Noall Square, a pretty courtyard with coloured flags, a rock shop, a record shop, and a tea room where we had some lunch.
By the time we arrived at the picturesque harbourside it was time for an ice cream, which we enjoyed on Town Beach before meandering back through town to the opposite coastline to discover Tate St Ives – the world-renowned must-visit attraction.
Perched above the town, Tate St Ives looks over Porthmeor Beach. Part of the famous Tate family, with siblings Tate Britain, Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool, this landmark is recognised as an international showcase for modern art, with a permanent collection and regular contemporary exhibitions. It epitomises the unique culture of St Ives, celebrating the artists associated with the town, including Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo, Alfred Wallis and Mark Rothko. Join in one of the guided tours or stop for a light lunch while enjoying the sea views and activity below.
Contrasting with the space and openness of Tate St Ives is the intimacy of the neighbouring former home and studio of Barbara Hepworth (one of Britain’s most recognised 20th-century artists) known as the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Here you can wander among the stunning sculptures, perfectly placed in their garden setting, take time to sit and reflect and feel yourself getting to know and understand the great sculptor. The shade, solitude and sheer beauty of the garden is there to inspire, refresh and enliven any art lover or green-fingered visitor.
Just a short journey from this buzzing art scene is another of Cornwall’s top tourist attractions: The Minack Theatre. In 11931, local Rowena Cade, who lived at Minack House, felt that the cliffs she saw from her garden would be the perfect setting for a production of The Tempest. After that performance, the theatre was established and today attracts audiences from all over the world. There’s no better backdrop for any play or musical performance than a sun-kissed shore, a Cornish sunset and distant waves.
For us, though, it was time to get back to Una St Ives for our dinner reservation at Una Kitchen. Led by multiple AA-Rosette-winning Cornish chef Glenn Gatland, Una Kitchen’s Mediterranean inspired seasonal menus have been quick to impress. So much so, that at the recent Cornwall Tourism Awards they were declared the winners of the highly acclaimed Restaurant of the Year award. Starters include much-loved favourites like sticky chicken wings and salt & pepper squid, and for the mains, if you like your sea-to-fork fish dishes, the Una Kitchen Seafood Chowder is tasty enough to give Rick Stein a good run for his money, while children are likely to be fans of their wood fired Gozney-oven-cooked pizzas. To finish off we devoured some chocolate ganache and strawberry and cream pavlova.
Guests are also welcome in the evening to enjoy the bar, which offers a wide selection of wines, local beers and handcrafted cocktails with Cornish Orchards Gold cider, Alba IPA or Hella Pale Ale from St Ives Brewery, and St Ives Blood Orange gin.
Eager to explore the many beautiful beaches, including Gwithian, Hayle, Porthmister and Porthmeor, all within easy reach of Una St Ives, we got dressed into our wetsuits. Together with our beach bags and our Dick Pearce wooden bellyboards from Newquay, we were ready for a day of wave riding. We had been told by one of the locals about The Towans (Cornish for ‘dune’) – a three-mile stretch of sand linking Godrevy Beach at the eastern tip of St Ives Bay to Gwithian Beach, all the way to Hayle Sands.
We headed to Gwithian and couldn’t believe our luck: white sand, turquoise water, dramatic cliffs, glistening rockpools and rolling dunes.
The sun was shining and we hit the surf under the backdrop of Godrevy Lighthouse – the inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s seminal novel To the Lighthouse.
There were a few dog walkers and surfers, but for one of Cornwall’s best-loved and most visited coastlines it was surprisingly uncrowded. We might have been lucky due to the time of year (it was late April), but possibly it is the vast natural wilderness and expansive coastline that helps keep it so peaceful. We weren’t lucky enough, but you might see dolphins in the waves here, and seals are frequently spotted in the rocky shallows.
For lunch or light snacks there’s the Sunset Surf Cafe adjacent to the Gwithian Beach car park, or if you fancy a wild clifftop walk, head towards Godrevy on the South West Coast Path in search of The Rockpool (20 to 25 minutes). Both beach cafes have a laid-back and rustic vibe, catering for surfers, wild swimmers and dogs, while the kitchens serve great, fresh Cornish food with both indoor and outdoor seating, and incredible beach views.
For wild sea swimming you just can’t beat the glistening waters of Carbis Bay, an absolutely gorgeous spot, with golden sand surrounded by subtropical plants, just 15 minutes by foot or five minutes by car from the villas. In complete contrast to The Towans beaches we had visited earlier in the day, the coastline here rarely has big waves, so, rather than attracting adrenaline-seeking surfers, families and sunbathers come here in search of relaxation – and we were happy to leave our bellyboards behind. I urge all Una St Ives guests to feel the sand here between their toes – it comes as no surprise that this stunning beach is listed as one of the world’s best by the Most Beautiful Bays in the World organisation. You know you have arrived as you hear or see a train pulling into the picturesque railway station, and you cross the line over a pretty bridge to a convenient coastal path taking you down onto the golden sands. It wasn’t quite yet summer and the water was cold, but knowing the hot tub was bubbling away back at the ranch gave me the encouragement to fully submerge, in true Wim Hof style. At low tide you can walk across to Porthkidney Sands, where you’ll find an RSPB bird sanctuary, an important habitat for seabirds.
If an afternoon walk is more your scene than swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, there are many excellent hikes from Una St Ives too, including winding your way to Trencrom Hill where you are rewarded for your effort by the farreaching vistas across to St Ives Bay in one direction and St Michaels Mount in the other. Or, another local favourite is the path to Porthkidney Beach, the former home of artist John Miller, famous for his series of beach landscapes. Una St Ives certainly lived up to my expectation and was the wellness break I had needed; memorable, rejuvenating and life-affirming.
Prices to stay self-catering in a one-bedroom lodge at Una St Ives from £180 per night for a three-night break, including leisure club access; unastives.co.uk
Text by Jessica Way