Paradise on Earth in England's Southwest
The Eden Project, is probably as astonishing to visit as it is hard to describe. Describing itself as a tourist attraction, an educational charity and a social enterprise, for the average visitor - with a family or without - this attraction is simply a great day out in Cornwall.
If you and your family are interested in plants, you'll be in seventh heaven. The Eden Project's enormous "biomes" are biospheres for different climate regions - Rainforest and Mediterranean - filled with all kinds of plants, insects and even some birds native to the regions; the tropical rainforest is the largest "in captivity." There are also outdoor gardens with floral displays, tea, hops and exotic vegetable allotments; giant sculptures (indoor and out) and a range of activities, performances and things going on all the time.
In all, gardeners at the Eden Project look after more than a million plants.
Why Did They Put Eden in Cornwall?
Because they had a big hole in the ground waiting to be filled, basically.
Cornwall has been known for its mineral resources since prehistoric times. Tin and gold were mined there and exported to Europe in the Bronze Age, 3,500 years ago.
One mineral resource that is still mined in Cornwall is china clay, also known as kaolin. It's used in making fine bone china but also for coating paper, as a light-reflecting whitener in cosmetics, as a diffuser in light bulbs, in ceramics, in medicine and even in products destined for human consumption - toothpaste for example.
China clay mines are on the surface and are landscape changing. The Eden Project fills 35 acres of abandoned china clay pits near St. Austell in South Cornwall.
Yet another reason for locating the Eden Project here is Cornwall's mild climate. Pockets of microclimates make growing exotic plants and a wide variety of plants from different habitats easier in Cornwall than in most other places in the UK.
Things to See - The Rainforest Biome
The steamy tropical rainforest has jungles, waterfalls and a towering forest canopy plus a viewing platform above the treetops for the fearless. The biome is 50 meters (about 165 feet) high and has mangrove swamps,fruiting banana trees, a Malaysian hut with a vegetable plot and paddy field, cola and cocoa plants, a soya plantation and probably dozens more things I've left out. From time to time, the gardeners are able to bring a Titan arum - the world's largest and stinkiest flower - into bloom.
It takes six years. Watch a video of the Titan Arum.
If you are lucky, while you are in the rainforest, you may well see one of the gardeners fly up to the canopy in the biome's helium balloon to check plants and do a bit of pruning. While I was there, I managed to see adventurer Ben Fogle ride the balloon to fly the London 2012 Olympic Flame to the top of the biome.
Things to See - The Mediterranean Biome
The Mediterranean climate is similar to four other global regions - South Africa, South West Australia, Central Chile, and California. Inside the 35 meter high (almost 115 feet) biome you'll find the plants, fruits and herbs of these regions - lemons, olives, grapes, fragrant rosemary and thyme and oregano. In the vineyard, Bacchanalian sculptures enjoy the fruit of the vine.
The more than 1,000 species of plants found here thrive in temperatures ranging from 9 to 25 degrees Celsius (48 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit). Highlights include a Californian grassland with poppies and lupins; perfume vats where natural scents are collected; South African proteas, cork trees, giant citrons and sprouting aloe veras. Watch a stone pine "explode" in the Mediterranean biome.
Things to See - The Outdoor Gardens
Taking advantages of Cornwall's mild climate, the outdoor gardens at the Eden Project include 80 different exhibitions, often combining plants in unusual ways to inspire visiting gardeners. Among the highlights:
- A wooden ship afloat among the tea leaves
- Outdoor sculptures including a giant bee and a robot made of all the electronic trash one person creates in a lifetime.
- The Nest - a giant climbing frame for kids
- The Spiral Garden to stimulate the senses
- Hops, barley and hemp plantations.
What is there to do?
The Eden Project is not just about looking. It's also about learning, playing and enjoying. In "The Core", the main visitor center overlooking the entire site, find hands on exhibits about plants, the environment and us. The Core also houses several cafes, the educational center and gift shop. There's free WiFi throughout and kids can enter the site through a secret entrance via a slide.
A wide variety of special events keeps the Eden Project buzzing - everything from "make and do" sessions for kids to art workshops, classes and exhibitions, evening concerts and gigs, daily storytelling sessions from noon to 2 p.m. - even back massage sessions in the biomes.
Eden Project Essentials:
- Where:Eden Project, Bodelva, St Austell, Cornwall, PL24 2SG, UK
- Contact:+44 (0)1726 811911
- Hours: Every day of the year from 9a.m. except Christmas and Boxing Day. The domes sometimes have private functions or weddings going on and may close early. Early closings are sometimes necessary to maintain plant health - so it's a good idea to double check their website before you go.
- Admission: Children 4 and under are free. Prices available for adults, Seniors over 60 and concessions, and family tickets. The ticket price includes annual membership and free entry for a year. Discounts are offered for online purchases. Visitors who arrive by bicycle or train can also receive discount admission.
- Accessibility: The Eden Project was named as Britain's most accessible attraction in 2010. The site welcomes guide dogs and all kinds of wheelchairs and mobility vehicles. Signs in braille are scattered all over the facility. To find out more, check their award winning, online access guide.
- Dining: There are several facilities depending upon your mood or where you happen to be on thie enormous site when hunger strikes. All food is local, seasonal or fair trade and the cafes offer vegetarian and gluten free options. We sampled the Bakery - an indoor and outdoor cafe between the domes.There are lovely salads, traditional Cornish pasties and the most moreish selection of cakes and pastries, all very reasonably priced. Mediterranean food is served al fresco-style in the Mediterranean Biome. Watch a video about the Eden Project Bakery
- Getting There:St. Austell, the nearest rail station, is about half an hour away by bus. Regular bus services from the train station travel to the Eden Project. (In 2016, that was First Bus services, Route 101 - Check a the bus timetable.) Visitors who change at St. Austell for a local train to Luxulyan, Bugle or Par stations can cycle or walk the two or three miles to the station. Visitors who arrive by bus or train are offered discount admission (not available for tickets purchased online). Check National Rail Enquiries for train times.