Falmouth harbour at dusk. Falmouth on a cold winter’s day. Unlike many other Cornish towns which seem to wither and die out of season, Falmouth is alive with its thriving mix of art students, ex-hippies and ancient mariners. There are no tourists in early January yet the streets are full with the hustle and bustle of a working town. Like many other parts of Cornwall, Falmouth has had a cool makeover – the National Maritime Museum, Rick Stein’s foodie emporium, the hipster Gylly Beach Café – but its busy harbour (the third biggest natural harbour in the world) ensures this historical town keeps its salty sea dog credentials.
Falmouth is also a university town – home to University College Falmouth which recently absorbed Dartington's famously outre art students - so you can take your history with a large dose of nose-ringed attitude. We like. Arguably Falmouth’s heyday came way back in the 17th century when it was appointed as the Royal Mail packet station, delivering mail and messages right across the globe. For a while there Falmouth was known as the information hub of the Empire. First stop, then, to get the full picture has to be the National Maritime Museum which opened almost a decade ago on the waterfront as part of a £28 million regeneration project.
Credit: Peter Edwards The beautiful and ground-breaking architecture - much like the Eden Project - heralded a new wave of environmental Cornish cool. It's a fun place to pick up some nautical history - there's the lookout tower with its stunning views of the harbour, the tidal zone where you can stand under water and experience the rise and fall of the tide and boats everywhere. The National Maritime Museum has just put in a bid for Yinka Shonibare's sculpture of Nelson's ship in a bottle which currently resides on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square - we say it's the perfect place for it. Stumble out of the museum into the spanking new Discovery Quay where Rick Stein is in residence with a Seafood Bar (beautiful circular bar just made for chugging back oysters) and a fish and chip shop. Good fish and chips are increasingly hard to come by these days - needless to say Stein's nailed it.
You’re also in the right spot for cocktails at The Shed, the go-to place, we hear, for killer drinks and full monty burgers. Heading into town now, you'll pass some lovely tall Georgian houses and then a myriad of pubs.
Yes, pub culture is alive and well in Falmouth - not exactly gastro, more brown carpets and flaky paintwork but the locals love their pubs and we do too. You'll find the best Cornish real ale, snooker tables and lots of live music. It's a university town so there's plenty of variety on one essential theme - how and where to get pissed - try Hand Beer Bar UK (more than 80 different kinds of beer) in Old Brewery Yard if you're up for a student hangout. Call it an age thing but we're a bit more old school in our tastes. First up, then is The Seven Stars (I The Moor, Falmouth TR11 3QA tel 01326 312111) which is the exact opposite of a gastro pub and all the better for it. Tatty and much-loved, this old boozer opened in the year when Charles 11 restored the monarchy and has been run by the same family for five generations. It's an old seafaring, pewter tankards kinds of place, step inside and drift back through the ages. Trengilly Wartha Inn is slightly out of Falmouth in Nancenoy, Constantine TR11 5RP but worth a mention for its legendary barring of George Osborne after the budget. We do like a pub with attitude. It also serves brilliant food. Overlooking the harbour, facing out to sea is The Quayside Inn,(41 Arwenack Street, TR11 3LH01326 312113) which hasn't changed much in a hundred years. And another favourite in the centre of town is The Front Bar on Custom House Quay which serves the best real ale. Hungry after all that beer? When it comes to restaurants Falmouth just happens to have three absolute crackers, each one a few minutes outside the town centre but well worth the (minimal) effort. We've written about the wonderful Gylly Beach Cafe which is an ummissable Falmouth feature in our view. The Cove is another humdinger, sat slap bang on Maenporth Beach with incredible views across Falmouth Bay. Innovative taps and exceptionally fresh fish are the order of the day - catch a sunny day here (winter or simmer) and you'll be hard pressed to find anywhere better in the world. An old favourite of ours The Three Mackerels has recently turned into Indaba on the Beach. Same restaurant but slightly suped up, on the gorgeous Swanpool Beach just outside the centre of town. The seafood is amazing - think pan seared scallops, lobster, crab, steamed shell fish and moules marinieres.
These restaurants are what the new Falmouth is all about - cutting edge eateries that make the most of this town's amazing location and natural resource - outrageously fresh seafood. I'd be hard-pressed to find a restaurant in London that I liked as much as these three. Shops? Well alongside plenty of junky, antiquey places to poke around on the High Street, we loved Willow and Stone a groovy ironmongers that stocks vintage fittings and the family run Falmouth Bookseller which is one of those bookshops where you'll just want to park yourself down for an hour or two. Well informed staff and well chosen books - bibliophiles should leave plenty of time for this one. Got time for some culture? That's just as well because there are two essential stops on this tour. Pendennis Castle was built in Tudor times by Henry V111 and was one of the last Royalist strongholds. Bloody-thirsty boys will love the gun room and everyone else will appreciate stunning views of the city.
Courtesy: English Heritage We loved the family friendly Falmouth Art Gallery where you can find artists as diverse as Burne-Jones, Francis Bacon, Albrecht Durer and Roy Lichtenstein in its permanent collection. Look out for its new exhibition A Childhood with the Surrealists which opens on January 21 and features among others Max Ernst, Henry Moore, Roland Penrose, Man Ray and Lee Miller. Just one last thing, of course, where to rest your weary head. We loved the very cool Falmouth Townhouse, a boutique hotel, with sea and harbour views plus a bar you just won't want to leave. Falmouth off season? The beauty of this laid-back, historical town is that it's always in season. * Planning a road trip? Falmouth Food and Drink week 4-11 Feb has got to be a good time to visit. Lots of foodie deals in some of the great cafes, bars and restaurants around town.