Surrounded by untamed jungle, I wipe the beads of sweat from my brow as I trek through the brilliantly green, steamy rainforest. I could be in the Amazon.
But I’m not in an exotic land, I’m in the Eden Project’s rainforest biome, a cavernous dome containing a staggering 1154 different plant species, which has been hailed the largest conservatory in the world. With a sticky, hot temperature that sits between 18˚C and 35˚C, the 50m high and 240m long biome is alive with streams, trees, flowers and a waterfall.
West African farm
To complete the notion of a living theatre of plants and people, the gargantuan conservatory contains a West African farm, where coffee and cocoa grows and tie-dyed shirts hang on a washing line. Alongside this is a Malaysian jungle home, made entirely from bamboo (so-called, we are told, because of the noise it makes when it burns – “bam … boo”).
As we roam through the frangipani-fragranced dome, we learn everything about rainforest agriculture, from the history of cocoa production and the banana trade, to the medicinal power of plants, such as the innocuous looking Madagascar periwinkle, a pretty pink flower used to treat childhood leukaemia.
The smaller Mediterranean biome is a microcosm of plant life from South Africa, southwest Australia, central Chile and California.
My journey begins with Greek-style white-washed walls flanking a gold mosaic pavement, before I’m confronted with a bevy of brightly coloured flowers and trees. People-sized sculptures of Dionysus, Greek god of wine, dance through vineyards, labelled with the name of the grapevine and the wine it produces.
Outside the biomes, a giant bumblebee sits alongside a rainbow of flowers and a variety of Cornish crops. There’s also a sinister model of a skeletal creature constructed entirely out of electrical products, such as irons, computers, washing machines and microwaves, providing a visual reminder of the importance of recycling. Named WEEE man, the model is made of the 3.3 tonnes of waste electrical products that the average person in the UK chucks away in a lifetime.
Sited in the depths of a disused china clay pit and surrounded by rolling green countryside, the Eden Project’s giant biomes make for a striking sight, with a futuristic and space-age feel. The hexagon design of honeycomb provided the inspiration for the design of the biomes. The transparent roofs are made from a type of plastic called EFTE that unlike glass, transmits UV light, so wear a sunhat if you visit in the summer.
The Eden Project is sexed-up horticulture, and visitors certainly don’t have to be green-fingered gurus to enjoy this global garden, which seeks to entertain while educating people about the importance of plants to our lives. The environmental message is strong throughout the complex: we can’t survive without plants. You have to see it to Adam and Eve it.
Top five Cornwall attractions
1 Tintagel Castle Chock-full of legends of King Arthur and Merlin, this atmospheric castle sits atop cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. See english-heritage.org.uk/tintagel.
2 St Michael’s Mount Steeped in folklore, this 14th-century castle can be found on a small island just off Penzance. See stmichaelsmount.co.uk.
3 Surfing Newquay boasts some of the best surfing beaches in Europe so grab a board and a wetsuit, and start riding those gnarly tubes and bitchin’ breaks. See surfnewquay.co.uk.
4 Land’s End Mainland England’s most westerly point is all craggy cliffs and knockout views, with some great routes for hikers. See landsend-landmark.co.uk.
5 St Ives This charming seaside resort is famed for its golden sandy beaches, narrow streets and top-notch art galleries. See stives-cornwall.co.uk.
WHEN TO GO: The Eden Project only closes on December 24 and 25.
GETTING THERE: The Eden Project is a five-hour drive from London. Hire
a car at easycar.com/tntmagazine to get a 5 per cent discount. National Express (nationalexpress.com) runs four coaches a day from London to St Austell, which take around seven hours.
GETTING AROUND: Take the 101 or 527 bus from St Austell station to the Eden Project.
GOING OUT: A pint of beer is about £2.50.
ACCOMMODATION: Dorm beds start from £18, while a B&B costs from £30. There are plenty of caravan and campsites in Cornwall for the budget traveller.