Seagulls swoop overhead (just mind that they don’t steal your fries!), ancient rooftops sway in the salty sea breeze, and an endless sea stretches out into the distance before your eyes: welcome to Polperro, an ancient Cornish village dating back as far as the 14th-century, perhaps even earlier. Here’s a quick guide to the best things to do in the port of Polperro, a small harbour settlement near the town of Looe.
Today, thanks to a population hovering just under six thousand resident, Polperro remains one of the larger villages in this part of Cornwall. Nearby places worth a visit include Fowey, the Lost Gardens of Heligan, and several Henrician sea forts. If you don’t like large crowds and lots of tourist shops, then it’s worth noting that Polperro is incredibly touristic, especially in the summer months, and you’re better off heading to somewhere like Rame Head if you want to avoid the crowds…
Dating back to medieval times, The first attestation of Polperro can be found in a Royal Document from 1303. The nearby hamlet of Talland (which is a moderately challenging walk from Polperro or a ten-minute drive) was first mentioned in the Domesday Book and it’s easy to visit both settlements in the space of a day! Polperro harbour still functions as a fishing port today, and one of the main fish caught in the area is the pilchard, a small fish that’s part of the herring family.
Those familiar with novels such as Poldark and Jamaica Inn (by Daphne du Maurier) will likely already know that once upon a time, this part of the world was rife with smugglers. The Heritage Museum in the heart of Polperro explores the village’s rich history, including that of the villager’s vicar- who is said to have danced on the clifftops to distract people while nearby smugglers broke the law.
Of all the quirky and traditional architecture to be found around town, one of the greatest treasures of all is that of Shell Cottage, a 19th-century fisherman’s cottage decorated in all manner of seashells. Located in the ‘Warren’ part of the village, the design took five years to complete and the work was undertaken by a retired sailor, Samuel Puckey, during the 1930s.
Chapel Rock Tidal Pool & Tidal Beach
There’s a natural pool to be found on the outskirts of the village, in the place where the land meets the sea. Surrounded by steep cliff faces and fragrant flowers come springtime, the tidal pool and tidal beach are pretty places to check out while in Polperro. However, as they are tidal places, caution should always be taken when visiting. I.e. check tide times, always tell someone where and when you’re going, keep a close eye on children and pets, etc.
Best eats in Polperro (Quirky Cafés & Ancient Pubs)
When it comes to visiting the quaint fishing town, a sea-inspired menu is always on offer. Many of the ancient pubs and independent eateries have been operating for decades and cater to plenty of tastes…
Blue Peter Pub: The traditional pub of Blue Peter is situated right by the harbour and offers plenty of people, as well as boat, watching opportunities! So, if you’re looking for a tavern with a little history, then head to the Blue Peter Pub for good beer, great stories, and some well-priced food.
The Three Pilchards: Situated in the very heart of the harbour town, The Three Pilchards is named for the fish which were once the main source of industry for the village (today, it’s tourism).
Couch’s Great House: If you’re looking for a fine dining experience while in Polperro, then you need to look no further than the sea-inspired menu of Couch’s Great House. Located at Saxon Bridge, right in the heart of the village, the restaurant has been open to guests since 2004.
Of course, the biggest draw of a visit to a coastal settlement is the sea itself! Lying along the SouthWest Coastal path, the longest national trail in the UK, Polperro itself lies inside a designated area of outstanding natural beauty. Other highlights of Polperro include a model village (a must-see for those who love teeny tiny things), as well as numerous art galleries and craft stores.
Talland Bay & Talland
One of the easiest places to reach on foot from Polperro is the nearby beaches of Talland Bay, as well as the several cafés dotted along the coastal path. Located roughly a mile and a half from Polperro by foot, the village of Talland is characterised by its traditional Cornish architecture, as well as its imposing church which can be seen for miles across Talland Bay.
Further down, there are several pebbled beaches where it’s possible to paddle in the water, search for underwater creatures in the countless rock pools, or pick up an ice cream at one of the cafés. If you’re looking for a more filling lunch, then I highly recommend a visit to the Smugglers Rest, a quaint café with breathtaking views of the sea and beyond…
Tips for visiting Polperro
As the fishing port is a largely pedestrianised zone, only local traffic is allowed. While this makes the lanes perfect for strolling along with your family or pooch in tow, it also means that the only place you can park is some 750 metres away from the village centre. Car parking is priced pretty steeply and you’ll need cash to pay as cards aren’t accepted.
This being said, there’s a shuttle ‘tram’ which can take you from car park to village centre for a nominal fee! When taking a trip there, make sure to wear comfortable shoes- the harbour, coastal walks, and rest of the village are filled with small steps, cobbled stones, and so you won’t want to be wearing heels!
When to visit Polperro
If you’re looking to visit Polperro and make the most of your time there, I highly recommend visiting just outside of peak season. Like much of Europe during the shoulder seasons, everything is open and yet the crowds haven’t quite arrived yet.
The weather is warmer, the days are longer, everything is actually open (unlike in the winter) and you won’t have to queue or find yourself being accidentally smacked by an unruly selfie stick! Head to Polperro in April, May, or September to make the most of your visit!
Finally… Get a little lost
Polperro is one of those places which is best explored on foot. Though it may be fairly small in comparison to other Cornish villages and towns, don’t let its size fool you- the village packs a lot into a tight space. Winding alleyways, off the beaten path antique stores and centuries-old taverns, can all be found around the unlikeliest of corners, if only you let the village reveal itself to you…