Cornish historic houses and gardens are among the most magical places to visit while you’re on holiday in Cornwall. They’re home to some of the most striking, rare and beautiful plants and trees in the British Isles. The south coast is sheltered from wild Atlantic winds and warmed by the Gulf Stream, providing the most favourable growing conditions.
Best gardens to visit near looe
After breakfast at Polraen Country House, you can drive in under an hour from the Looe Valley to reach any of our pick of the best historic houses or gardens to visit in South East Cornwall.
*All distances shown are from Polraen Country House in the Looe Valley
1. The Eden Project, near St Austell
35 minutes by car.
The world-famous Eden Project is at the top of everyone’s ‘must see’ list. In a disused clay quarry near St Austell, space age biomes with climate-controlled conditions house plants and flowers from the Equator and Mediterranean regions. Outside, you’ll recognise more familiar horticulture in the temperate zone.
The Eden Project is very much an educational experience. It’s not to be compared with seeing flowers and plants in their more traditional setting at historic houses and gardens. There’s a big emphasis on sustainability and lessons for mankind in how to care for planet earth. As Cornwall’s leading visitor attraction, the Eden Project has great facilities, catering for all abilities. We suggest you allow a minimum of 4 hours for your visit.
2. Lanhydrock, near Bodmin
26 minutes by car.
Lanhydrock is described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ for the National Trust. It’s undoubtedly one of the most impressive historic houses and gardens in Cornwall. Although the original house dates to 1620, a terrible fire in 1881 paved the way for the most amazing renovation, which featured the latest technology and mod cons of the day. The kitchens at Lanhydrock are straight out of Upstairs Downstairs.
Faced with crippling death duties, the family handed over the estate to the National Trust in 1953, so you experience an incredible sense of time and place seeing all the personal memorabilia intact. The house is set in 22 acres of superb gardens and 30 acres of woodland within an estate of 450 acres. There are 50 rooms open to the public so Lanhydrock is always our top suggestion for a rainy day.
3. Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey
55 minutes by car.
The Heligan valley rises above the quaint fishing town of Mevagissey. It basks in its own microclimate, allowing exotic plants in Heligan’s Jungle Valley and its famous walled kitchen to flourish.
In June, an emotive sight is the field of red poppies planted to remember the fallen from the First World War. So few of Heligan’s estate workers returned from the trenches that Heligan fell into disrepair. Through neglect, the house and garden were lost until the mossy carpets were rolled back in the 1990s by Tim Smit who later went on to establish the Eden Project. In Heligan’s walled garden in autumn, you might see plump pumpkins and pineapples grown on site.
Other highlights include large areas dedicated to wild habitat with bird hides and viewing areas to watch nesting owls. Allow a whole day to get lost at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, combining a visit to Mevagissey.
4. Caerhays Castle, Roseland Peninsular
1 hour by car.
Another of our historic houses to visit on a day out from Looe is Caerhays Castle just beyond St Austell on the Roseland Peninsula. Visit in April and May to see the gardens at their best. Here a fairy-tale castle overlooks a beautiful lake and stream running down toward Porthluney Beach.
The castle stands majestically against a backdrop of magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas which tower above you as you walk the many paths through the wooded estate. Caerhays holds one of the UK’s National Magnolia Collections, some over 100 years old. To this day, the collection of camellias and magnolias in Cornwall exceeds anywhere else in the UK.
5. Mt Edgcumbe House & Country Park
Half an hour by car.
Just a short drive heading east along Whitsand Bay brings you to Mt Edgcumbe House and Country Park on the Rame Peninsular. Open to the public all year, there is no entrance fee to gain access to the formal gardens, where themes created from the 16th century include Italian Renaissance, French, New Zealand, Japanese and American Gardens.
Mt Edgcumbe is famous for its National Camellia Collection with camellias appearing from January on. Our favourite time to visit is a perfect sunny summer’s day when the lawns sweeping down to the water’s edge overlooking Plymouth Sound make such a wonderful picnic site.
6. Antony, Rame Peninsular
23 minutes by car.
Antony is one of the National Trust’s lesser-known properties, boasting magnificent magnolias and enjoying sweeping views across the River Lynher and Rame Peninsular. The house remains the home of the Carew Pole family and more recently found fame when its magic was captured in the film ‘Alice in Wonderland’.
After exploring its formal courtyard, terraces, ornamental Japanese pond, fine summer borders, sculptures, and knot garden, you can enjoy afternoon tea in the delightful Broomhill Cottage Tearoom oozing vintage charm.
SOME EXTRA REALLY USEFUL ADVICE ….
Nearly all visitor attractions have introduced the advance purchase of tickets online and require you to book a visiting slot so they can manage social distancing now we’re living with Covid 19. These measures are likely to remain in place for some time.
National Trust Membership
It will pay you to take out National Trust membership in advance as it not only confers free access to so many historic houses and gardens but also gives you free parking in car parks on National Trust land in breath-taking locations around the Cornish coast.
National Garden Scheme
While National Trust membership opens the door to many of Cornwall’s best gardens, it’s worth noting that the National Garden Scheme gives visitors unique access to 100’s of exceptional private gardens in Cornwall whilst raising money for charities.
Countryside Mobility Scheme
I cannot praise this not-for-profit scheme highly enough for allowing me to enjoy visits to historic houses and gardens with my late Mum. If you have limited mobility, consider booking an all-terrain mobility scooter designed specifically to cover rough ground, mud and grass safely. At a maximum speed of 4mph, the vehicles enable you to access areas that you might have found difficult or impossible to experience. You can sign up for only £10 per year to prebook tramper vehicles at Lanhydrock, the Eden Project, and Mt Edgcumbe to name a few. And use of the vehicles is often included in your entry ticket, available at a nominal charge or even free.
BBC Gardeners’ World Offer
Check out whether the 2for1 offer promoted by BBC Gardeners’ World magazine is still running. It may be subject to additional restrictions due to Covid but has always been a great way of getting cheap entry to historic houses and gardens including the Eden Project.
If you purchase entry to the Eden Project and The Lost Gardens of Heligan on a combined ticket, you get a 10% discount. And your ticket can be converted into a pass permitting free entry to Eden as many times as you like for a year.