Cornwall is a great destination for vacationers who don't like to compromise. Where else can you visit magical castles in between surfing plenty of right waves?
Picture this: You've always dreamed of visiting castles, chasing after the legends of ancient kings and legendary magicians. But your significant others would rather go surfing, or kayaking, or camping in yurts, or visiting gardens, or playing with farm animals. You get the idea - planning a vacation that suits everyone can be tough.
Lucky for you, Cornwall, in England's southwest, combines a mild, sunny climate with miles of sporty beaches, magical castles, great seafood and family attractions all packed closely together. So nobody has to give up what they enjoy doing.
These are some of my favorite Cornish castles, along with nearby attractions for the rest of your tribe.
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Tintagel - King Arthur's Birthplace
The remains of a 13th century medieval castle cling to rugged cliffs and tower over amazing caves on the North Cornish Coast. Parts of the castle are even earlier, going back at least 1,140 years, to the days of the Celtic kings of Cornwall. The precipitous flights of steps and suspended bridges have sturdy railings for the faint of heart but access to the main castle site still requires climbing 100 steep steps. A tunnel through the rocky headland provides access to Tintagel Island, another part of the site.
- Claims to Fame The myths and legends that swirl about Tintagel are of the first order. This is where King Arthur was said to have been conceived and born after Uther Pendragon seduced the Lady Igraine. Look for Merlin's Cave while you are there. The castle is also said to be associated with King Mark, whose nephew Tristan fell in love with Isolde.
- Best Beach Widemouth Bay is an wide stretch of Atlantic-facing sands near Bude, popular with surfers and families.
- B...est for Kids National Lobster Hatchery , fun visitor center at a hatchery that promotes research and education about sustainable Cornish lobster stocks
- Best Garden Lanhydrock This National Trust property is a large, eccentric Victorian House with vivid gardens and extensive woodlands.
- Best Seafood Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Port Isaac is a foodie destination holding two Michelin stars since 2011, plus 4 AA Rosettes and inclusion in all the most prestigious guides. And it's only 9 miles from the castle.
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One of Henry VIII's string of coastal fortresses, the round tower was strengthened with a curtain wall and larger ramparts during the Elizabethan Age. In addition to the fortified round tower and the star-shaped ramparts, the castle precinct includes a 17th century Royal Garrison Artillery Barracks.
- Claims to Fame During the English Civil War, the garrison sheltered the future King Charles II before he fled to the Isles of Scilly and onward to France. It was the penultimate Royalist garrison to fall to the Roundheads. The Custodian's House is a vacation rental. If you stay there, after closing time you can be King of the Castle.
- Best Beach Gyllingvase Beach One of several popular Falmouth beaches, this one has Cornwall's first stand-up paddleboard center. Usually called Gylly Beach, it has good facilities and lifeguard cover in season.
- Best for Kids Orca Sea Safaris run wildlife watching and coastal adventure trips from the Fal Estuary. See dophins, basking... sharks and seals and hear tales of famous shipwrecks and smugglers.
- Best Garden Trelissick The Falmouth area has a remarkable pockets of tropical micro-climates and there are more than enough gardens to keep your plant fanciers happy. Trelissick is known for its stunning views and tender, subtropical plants.
- Best Seafood The Wheelhouse in Falmouth doesn't have a website, but that doesn't stop word getting around. The word of mouth on this shellfish place is enormous. So are the portions of locally harvested mussels, scallops and crab, served in big bowls and meant to be shared. Luckily the prices aren't - enormous that is. Look for it on Upton Slip in Falmouth or telephone +44 (0)1326 318 050. It's open Wednesday to Saturday nights only, from 6pm
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St Michael's Mount
A medieval church and castle, parts of which date from the 12th century, crown a tidal island off the coast of Cornwall, reachable over a man-made causeway at low tide. The island was a busy port exporting Cornish tin to Europe at least since Roman times. Recent discoveries of Bronze Age relics indicate the St. Michael's Mount may have been a thriving community 3,000 years ago. Its visual similarity to the French Mont St Michel is unmistakeable. Perhaps that's what the Normans noticed when they gave the island to the Benedictines of Mont St Michel after the Norman Conquest. Today, though owned by the National Trust, St Michael's Mount is leased to the St. Aubyn family, who open it to the public for house and garden tours. The castle's main attractions are its striking location and the adventure of getting to it, on foot or by boat.
- Claims to Fame In 425, local fisherman claimed to see a vision of St Michael near the summit, giving the island castle its name. Other... legends connect it to the stories of Jack the Giant Killer - a heart shaped stone in one of the paths is said to be the giant's heart. In 1588, the first beacon warning of the arrival of the Spanish Armada was lit on the mount.
- Best Beach Marazion Beach faces St Michael's Mount so you can't beat the view. But only 20 miles away on the Lizard, the most southerly part of Britain, is Kynance Cove. This National Trust managed beach, a splash of white sand and blue water hugged by dramatic cliffs and only accessible at low tide, is one of the most beautiful in the world and a "must" if you are in the area.
- Best for Kids Flambards in Helston, is a multi-experience amusement and adventure park with rides, a Victorian Village, an Aviation Exhibition and all kinds of entertainments to exhaust the most hyperactive child.
- Best GardenTregwainton 25 acres of National Trust gardens with outstanding spring displays of rhododendrons, camillias and magnolias, a walled kitchen garden and a glade of prehistoric giant tree ferns.
- Best Seafood 2 Fore Street in Mousehole is about 8 miles away. Not strictly a seafood restaurant, the place nevertheless usually has local crab, mussels, Cornish monkfish and other fish fresh off local boats. The restaurant has the best sea views in this pretty village.