Perched on the fringes of a dazzling arc-shaped bay, St Ives has to be one of England's prettiest seaside towns. On a balmy midsummer's day, ice-cream in hand, nothing beats wandering along its maze of narrow cobbled streets, lined with quaint fisherman's cottages, and switchback lanes which lead up to the jumble of bustling cafes, brasseries, and - most interestingly of all - dozens of galleries. For more than 120 years artists from all over the globe have been flocking to St Ives, drawn by its extraordinary light.
If you only have time to visit one gallery during your stay make it the Tate St Ives, which overlooks Porthmeor Beach on the north side of town. The airy, gleaming-white building is the perfect setting in which to browse the various paintings, ceramics and sculptures on display, by celebrated local names including abstract artist Terry Frost and Barbara Hepworth, one of the most significant sculptors and artists of the 20th century (Hepworth has a museum dedicated to her work on nearby Barnoon Hill, also well worth a visit). Go mid-morning and pause for tea and cake in the museum's rooftop cafe, which offers some of the best sea views in St Ives.
If you're keen to see some artists in action stop by the Sloop Craft Centre, tucked behind the Sloop Inn, near the harbour; here you'll find a tiny trove of artists' studios, where you can stock up on gifts to take home, from handmade jewellery to wood carvings.
Although it's easy to while away an entire weekend exploring the town's myriad galleries, for some people, the real magic of St Ives lies in its breathtaking coastline. Its main beaches, Porthmeor, Porthminster and Porthgwidden all make for a lovely visit (the latter, being a delightful small sandy cove and suntrap), but it's worth venturing a little further afield to Carbis Bay. You can take the train from St Ives to Carbis Bay in less than five minutes, but I'd recommend the delightful 20-minute walk past Clodgy Point - with its unbroken 180-degree views of the sea, where on a clear day it's possible to see the Bawden Rocks off St Agnes Head.
As you approach Carbis Bay, you'll be greeted by a glorious stretch of sand. The bay - which is part of the larger St Ives Bay and covers an area of some 25 acres - is a member of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World organisation, and has recently been awarded an EU blue flag for water cleanliness. So, if you're blessed with sunshine, make sure you pack your bathers for a midday dip.
If you stay until evening, stop for supper at the family-run Carbis Bay Hotel (which makes for a charming base for a weekend in St Ives), perched right above the beach. It has an elegant restaurant serving super local fish bought daily from St Ives' day boats.
If, on the other hand, you head back to St Ives for supper, the harbour is awash with places to eat - try Alba, a sleek restaurant in a converted lifeboat house, which offers a cracking fish soup and whisky-cured salmon.
It may not have the glitz of Biarritz or the dazzle of Marbella, but for an old-fashioned, laid-back break with plenty of charm St Ives takes some beating.
Nicola Iseard is a travel writer for The Observer.