Thinking of Cornwall, I was quite excited about visiting the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Two huge must-see attractions while in Cornwall. And since these two differ a lot from each other, I figured they deserve a separate post. Here we go then!
A perfect example of how to make something out of nothing. This place used to be a china clay pit. Dying one to be precise, as supplies started to run out. One day, Tim Smit looked at it and figured if he made huge greenhouse biomes with some exotic plants inside, maybe somebody would like to pay a few pennies to see it all? Well, judging by the huge queues, even midweek and out of season, a bit more than a few people want to visit the gardens. The place works also as an educational charity. Everything sold there is advertised as eco-friendly and produced in harmony with the environment. There is a lot of things to entertain you, like educational exhibitions, paths and games, but also a terrace from which you can see the whole biom from the inside. You have to climb it using a wobbly staircase (part of fun, apparently). Not for heart fainted, that. I’ll tell you something. A lot of people warned me before cleaning my camera sensor myself saying it’s one of the most stressful life experiences. I risked it, and it wasn’t such a scare at all! But no one was in Eden to warn me before entering the staircase and that was something I would appreciate somebody warning me about! I’m not being funny but I was shaking like a chicken! It really is high. I could not look down even once. Thank God, in situations like that I look through my camera viewfinder – helps a lot 😃! Consider yourself warned.
The founder of Eden had his input in this one as well. These natural abandoned gardens were found and restored to their previous greatness in the 90’s. This was done in a natural way so you wander through rhododendron forests and observe inspired by nature works of art as well as exotic plants. There are also proper gardens with rows of flowers and old houses with tools helping to keep them in proper state. There is a little barn with farm animals such as goats, peacocks, sheep. In the Jungle bit, you have a bridge made out of creepers. Nothing as frightening as the terrace in Eden Project but surely a nice experience. This 200-acre area of open land has a lot of natural feel to it.
The overall experience? Well, let’s start with saying that both of the places know how to make a tourism product, that’s for sure. Interesting stories behind the creation of the establishments, shops with unique items, cafes and restaurants with themed menus, charity and educational donations on the premises… Everything is just on point and creates a lot of income. Nobody can say otherwise, and a lot of countries can learn from them. And saying that, I am definitely impressed. Seriously! But… there is always a ‘but’, ay? Let’s put it this way… If I won a free entry to one of the places and were given a choice of where to go for the second time, I would choose the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Simply because it is more of a natural experience. Eden Project has the bioms, which are impressive, but still, these are artificial structures and for me I can already hear a voice in my head shouting: ‘fake’. The climate is made specific to suit the plants and animals (yes, there are birds as well!), so for instance in the Rainforest Biom the humidity is making it really difficult for you to breathe and at the same time enjoy the tour. Everything is constructed in an informative and interesting way but there is just too much of commercialism going on. Literally everything in the shops is advertised as organic, locally made and in that way connected to Eden Project or the Gardens of Heligan. This is a very clever way of doing business, but hey – Mr Smit had a few great ideas and now it all pays off! And, of course, people. Loads of them. Everywhere. Breathing down your neck. There is a queue to everything. There is lots of rubbish everywhere. Some of the hands-on exhibitions are partly broken or missing some parts. The Lost Gardens of Heligan on the other hand, I could call a huge land with garden, forest and meadows where you can peacefully explore in your own pace anything of your liking. You can take a seat on a bench, listen to the birds chirping. You can eat a steak from the grill while sitting at a wooden table and enjoying the view of the meadows or simply grab an ice cream, climb a nearby hill and watch the surrounding views. This latter vision is more appealing to me than a busy, artificial one, but you know who Eden Project is perfect for? Children. If you’ve got a family with your little ones being all over the place – go for it! The Heligan Gardens have a few tricks for them as well, especially in the so called ‘Jungle’ but I would still vote here in favor of the Eden Project when it comes to the abundance of attractions for the youngest ones.
A few practical tips for the end:
- Both of the places are reachable from St Austell trian/bus station. Get a bus no 101 to Eden Project (£5,00 return) or bus no 102 to the Gardens of Heligan (£7,50 return). If you want to go by car, there are several car parks so you shouldn’t be worried you won’t find any space.
- There are lockers to leave your staff in Eden Project so imagine my relief that I didn’t have to carry my backpack with me :D!
- Eden Project is definitely more expensive when it comes to the entry: nearly £30 (and only £2 less booking in advance). Almost twice as much as the Lost Gardens of Heligan. But! If you donate the cost to the charity, you can visit it however many times you want to during the whole year. It is pretty much useless for a one-off visitor (like me) but might be an option to some families whose children just love returning to Eden. No, there is no chance of giving the ticket to somebody else as your personal details are being taken at the time of purchase (nice try :P!). There is also a possibility of purchasing a joined ticket to both of the attractions, which saves you a few pennies with the same option of a yearly pass to Eden for free.
- While in Eden, do go to the Invisible Worlds section and check out an installation called ‘Blue’. I can’t quite pinpoint what it was, but it just made me feel hypnotized in the way that I just wanted to stay there forever.
- After visiting Eden Project, I recommend staying in one of the nearby hostels. You can choose YHA, which is good but Eden Yard Backpackers… this is a place to be. Great atmosphere, fireplace in a common room and newly refurbished interiors but in an old style. You simply can’t miss it!