Penzance: new life at the end of the line

The arty, authentic town is becoming a destination in its own right, not just a stop en-route to St Ives and the Scillies

Financial Times, Travel
16 June 2016

Beneath a rather leaden sky, I stood on the edge of the Jubilee Pool and gazed beyond its glacial Art Deco curves and high terraced walls towards St Michael’s Mount. There’s always something invigorating about an al fresco dip, but for outdoor swimmers this historic saltwater lido — the largest in the UK — is worth the trip to Penzance alone. It was closed in 2014 after being extensively damaged by a freak storm, but its grand reopening last month reflects a new energy in the town.

The last time I came here I was en route to the Isles of Scilly. The town was merely a transit point; my family had taken the train from London, getting off at Penzance, the end of the line, then walking the few hundred yards to the dock. We boarded the ferry and sailed away with barely a glance at the town.

For a long time this has been Penzance’s lot: overlooked in favour of gentrified, resort-feel destinations such as nearby St Ives, with its more upmarket shops, sweeping beaches and a Tate gallery. Many other visitors to Cornwall stop before they get this far west, heading instead to Newquay, Rock and Padstow, which have become ever more chichi, attracting crowds of visitors to their neat little seafronts filled with the restaurants and gastropubs of TV chefs such as Rick Stein and Jamie Oliver. Penzance has looked a little too “authentic” by comparison. And when the economic downturn struck in 2008, it suffered further: the high street here took a beating as shop after shop closed.

Yet a flurry of recent openings points to a turnaround. That authenticity, combined with an independent and entrepreneurial streak, seems to be attracting visitors looking beyond the polished honeypot towns and villages of north-east Cornwall.


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