Get the very best from your holidays in Cornwall with Practical Motorhome's expert travel guide to the most south-western county in England

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Cornwall, England's most south-western county, is all about the seaside. Understandable. With 295 miles of coastline – the longest stretch of any county in the UK – 80% of the county is surrounded by sea. That's why holidaymakers flock in their droves to enjoy a traditional bucket and spade vacation.

And who are we to argue? With five beaches in the county currently with Blue Flag status, little wonder Cornwall is so popular. These beaches are Carbis Bay Beach (St Ives), Gyllyngvase (Falmouth), Polzeath (also renowned as a noteworthy surfing centre), Porthmeor (St Ives) and Porthtowan. Add to that the county's surfing status, and Cornwall exudes an air of coolness for those that like to attach a surfboard to their campervan's roof; yes, the county is awash with retro VWs.

But it has so much more to offer than chic beachside cafes and delectably lickable ice creams. Take its heritage. Visit Cornwall and head back to the county's Celtic roots where you'll find mysterious standing stones as upright as any surfer, particularly in the most westerly area between Land's End, St Just and Penzance. And while many are building castles in the sand, you could visit Tintagel Castle, where King Arthur makes his presence known. Or hedge your bets on getting your feet wet along the causeway to the iconic St Michael's Mount, which adds a certain je ne sais quoi (the privately-owned island is linked to the similar Mont St Michel in France) to Mount's Bay.

Of course, if you do want to appreciate Cornwall's coastline without lying on a beach, walking the South West Coast Path is as good as it gets. You can pick up this long distance National Trail at Higher Sharpnose Point on the north coast, or Mount Edgecumbe Country Park near Torpoint in the south.

But, if you'd prefer a little slice of paradise without hopping on a long-distance flight (though a short hop is necessary), the Isles of Scilly are just for you. This little group of islands – five of them inhabited – has a microclimate that links them with the Tropics more than the British Isles. The perfect place to retreat, you'll find peacock-blue seas and beaches to rival the exotic. 

Top five things to do in Cornwall

  1. Visit one of Cornwall's best-loved – and most endearing – attractions, the Cornish Seal Sanctuary at Gweek. The rescue centre provides a lifeline for stray, sick and injured seal pups that have been discovered around Britain's coast. Meet the residents, including Grey and Common Seals, Sealions, plus otters and Humbolt penguins.

  2. Take a literary tour of Cornwall to discover the many landscapes, towns, villages and coastlines that have inspired generations of writers, from DH Lawrence and Charles Causley to Sir John Betjeman and Daphne du Maurier. It will take you the length and breadth of the county.

  3. No visit to Cornwall is complete without a trip to the Eden Project near St Austell. The giant bubble greenhouses offer more than just a day's entertainment with the chance to really learn something about climate and the environment. No wonder it won the Best UK Leisure Attraction at the British Travel Awards 2013.

  4. Fancy a pint? Cornwall has a plethora of decent breweries from the 'mighty' St Austell Brewery to microbreweries fermenting barrels in the back of a pub. Enjoy a scenic Rail Ale Trail, where you can relax on old branch lines across the county delivering you to a number of traditional pubs along the way. No driving required!

  5. Go back in time to discover Cornwall's past as a major mining district at several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Key mining attractions to visit across the county include Geevor Tin Mine, Poldark and Levant mines, Cotehele Mill, Morwellham Quay, Heartlands and Godolphin House.

When to visit Cornwall

Cornwall's peak season, particularly for camping, is May to September. That means late March/April – when you can see Cornish daffodil fields in bloom – and late September/October can be great months to visit; the roads and major tourist attractions are all quieter. 

Cornwall knows how to party, so you'll always find something going on to tempt you to the county, whether it's the summer sailing events, the springtime garden shows or the festivals of light to brighten the long, dark days of winter. 

Who doesn't like a good, traditional Cornish pasty? To find the very best, head to the World Pasty Championships in February, or for garden mania, Cornwall's annual Spring Flower Show, which takes place at Lostwithiel in March. The Royal Cornwall Show, the county's agricultural showcase, is held every June at the county showground, Wadebridge.

You can put one foot in front of another with the Boscastle Walking Week to explore the minutiae of this north coast village in April, sing along at the Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival in June, or watch battle commence in the final week of August and beginning of September as the County Pilot Gig Championships get underway, a major event in the Cornish cultural calendar.

Finally, the Cornwall Film Festival, celebrating Cornish film-making, offers several premieres throughout November.

Cheap overnight stops

Overnight sleeping is banned in all council-owned car parks, but then as Cornwall has more opportunities for camping than any other county, you'll be sure to find something budget-based.

One such place is The Halfway House Inn, a part of the Practical Motorhome Nightstops scheme. It offers a £10 stopover that's refunded if you spend £35 on food and drink in the pub. Based near Wadebridge, it is centrally located within the county to access all areas.

Cornwall is also serviced by a number of sites within the Brit Stops scheme, offering the motorcaravanner other overnighting possibilities away from standard campsites.

Motorhome access and information

Sticking to the main access roads around Cornwall (the A30, the A38 for south Cornwall and the A39 'Atlantic Highway' in the north), motorcaravanners will encounter few problems other than occasional jams, particularly in the height of summer school holidays. But the beauty of Cornwall is finding the hideaway places, often along narrow, high-hedged lanes. Check with off-the-beaten-track campsites if they have recommended arrival and departure times to avoid two-way traffic. A fabulous touring route for motorhomes is the relatively quiet B3306 from St Just to St Ives and the B3301 from Hayle to Portreath, both on the north coast.

Motorhomes can park in all Cornwall Council car parks during the day but you'll find an overnight parking ban at specific car parks throughout the county.

It's not possible to take a motorhome (or indeed a car) to the Isles of Scilly. The Scillonian III ferry sails six days a week from March to November (plus Sundays from July to September) with a two-hour and 40-minute crossing from Penzance to St Mary's, the Scilly Isles' largest island. The Skybus air service also operates to St Mary's from Land's End (a 15-minute flight), Newquay (30 minutes) and Exeter (60 minutes). Onward travel to other islands is by ferry. Just four campsites are sited on the Scillies, for tents only (a further two offer glamping facilities), so you'll need to leave your 'van on the mainland and take canvas with you instead.

How to get to Cornwall

Cornwall's main artery, which runs down the spine of the county, is the A30. Connecting with junction 31 of the M5 at Exeter, it travels through Devon and the entire length of Cornwall, finishing at Land's End. Most of the route is dual carriageway to Camborne. 

There are several service stations on the A30 for stopping points, including the Cornish Gateway, near Bodmin (the largest of all the service stations in Cornwall), which opened in summer 2014. Exeter Services at junction 30 of the M5 also has larger parking facilities for motorhomes, just prior to accessing the A30.

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