The ancient duchy of Cornwall is in the extreme southwestern part of England, often called "the toe." This peninsula is a virtual island -- culturally if not geographically. Encircled by coastline, it abounds in rugged cliffs, hidden bays, fishing villages, sandy beaches, and sheltered coves where smuggling was once rampant. Though many of the seaports with hillside cottages resemble towns on the Mediterranean, Cornwall retains its own distinctive flavor.

The ancient land had its own language until about 250 years ago, and some of the old words (pol for pool, tre for house) still survive. The Cornish dialect is more easily understood by the Welsh than by those who speak the queen's English.

We suggest basing yourself at one of the smaller fishing villages, such as East or West Looe, Polperro, or Mousehole, where you'll experience the true charm of the duchy. Many of the villages, such as St. Ives, are artists' colonies. Except for St. Ives and Port Isaac, some of the best places lie on the southern coast, often hyped as the Cornish Riviera. However, the north coast has its own peculiar charm as well. The majestic coastline is studded with fishing villages and hidden coves for swimming, which are best seen at the East or West Looe and especially at Polperro, which are the most evocative. Visit these little ports even if you have to skip the rest. A little farther west is Land's End, where England actually comes to an end. And the Isles of Scilly, 43km (27 miles) off the Cornish coast, have only five islands inhabited out of more than 100. Here you'll find the Abbey Gardens of Tresco, 297 hectares (735 acres) with 5,000 species of plants. Finally, a trip to this region is incomplete without a visit to Tintagel Castle, linked with the legends of King Arthur, Lancelot, and Merlin.