Looe and Polperro are archetypal harbour towns along the south coast of Cornwall. Offering scenic cliff top walks, Cornish ice cream cones topped with clotted cream, pint-sized cottages stacked up the hillside, bobbing boats and dressed crab for sale from the local fish van, these timeless sights are what make Cornwall so attractive.
Looe has been attracting holidaymakers since the word was first invented! East and West Looe are two separate communities linked by a multi-arched bridge over the Looe River. The town boasts one of the largest fishing fleets in Cornwall, although it is much depleted in recent years.
Small sailing boats, the focal point of this historic waterfront community, lean on their keels in the estuary at low tide and bob back to life at high water. Small fishing vessels can be seen making a beeline for the harbour from far beyond Looe Island as they return to unload their catch at the end of the day.
Until recently the bobbing head of Nelson, the one-eyed seal, could always be spotted trailing the boats in hope of an easy meal. When he finally went to the great harbour in the sky he was immortalized with a bronze sculpture which can now be seen on the waterfront.
Overlooked by a series of higgledy-piggledy shops, fish restaurants, apartments and hotels, the narrow road through West Looe climbs the steep hill past the 800-year-old St Nicholas Church, once used as a Guildhall and later as a prison. The road emerges at Hannafore Point, a favourite area for picnics, playing on the rocks and watching the sunset. Overlooked by grand houses-turned-flats and a couple of characterful pubs, it is a great place to enjoy a crab baguette or a local Cornish pasty for lunch.
On the busier side of the town, after negotiating the narrow pedestrianised streets of East Looe, visitors stumble out from the maze of four-storey high buildings into bright daylight at Looe Beach, a small cove of sand that always seems to have some youngsters digging happily. It is separated from the river estuary and the quay by the Banjo Pier which juts out into the sea and is popular with fishing enthusiasts.
Polperro is just a few miles further west along the Cornish coast and is a different kettle of fish, if you'll excuse the expression. Sheltered in a steep coastal ravine beside the babbling River Pol, it is a jumble of whitewashed cottages barely a barrow's width apart.
Visitors are obliged to park near the Old Mill and stroll down the road or take the horse bus, browsing the shops and menu boards of historic smuggling inns as they go. Cross Saxon and Roman bridges, see the famous House on Props and the 16th century home where naturalist Dr Jonathan Couch once lived.
At the end of the road is the picturesque inner harbour where nets are stacked and crates of fish and crabs are still unloaded. After dark you can feel the ghosts of bootleggers hauling brandy casks and tobacco bales silently away to their hideout. The Smugglers' Museum is a great place to learn more.
Fishing trips, pleasure cruises and walks along the cliff path to the tidal swimming pools at Chapel Rock are must-do's in Polperro for summer visitors.