It’s official: Cornwall is where it’s at. Whether it’s the Instagrammers thronging the beaches in their thousands this summer, the urban escapees looking for their own slice of the coastal lifestyle, or the Poldark groupies vainly praying for a fleeting flash of Aidan Turner’s hallowed torso, Cornwall is where everyone wants to be (or be seen) these days.
It wasn’t always like this, though. Not so very long ago (and, having lived most of my life in Kernow, I should know), Cornwall was the undisputed champion in seasonal boom-and-bust – packed to the gunwales for two muggy, traffic-jammed months of summer, and deserted for the other 10.
But things have changed out west. B&Bs have gone boutique. Country pubs and village cafes have gentrified. Celebrity chefs have set up shop. Dawn French has moved here. We’ve got our very own lunar landing station in the shape of the Eden Project. There’s even talk of turning Newquay airport into a space port, for heaven’s sake.
And these days, Cornwall has some really good hotels. Not just quite good, but seriously good. Tell your-friends-about good. And then wonder whether actually you shouldn’t have told them after all, in case they actually decide to stay there, and then they tell their friends about it, and then the place is completely booked out so you never actually get to stay there again.
But don’t fret about it. Cornwall’s secret is out. Here are of our favourites, which means you get to stay there, and then blame us for telling everyone about them, and ruining everything. Don’t mention it. You’re welcome.
Best for design: The Scarlet
Neighbourhood: Mawgan Porth, near Newquay
Few Cornish hotels command a view as epic as this: a widescreen, sea-to-sky panorama over grassy bluffs, the beach of Mawgan Porth and the white caps of the Atlantic. Since it opened in 2009, the Scarlet has established itself as the county’s prime boutique proposition, a Grand Designs affair of glass, wood and concrete, complete with living grass roof and floor-to-ceiling windows offering cinematic views of the sea. There’s no reception: staff check you in sitting on the lobby sofas, then off you pad to your room, which is graded according to its luxury-level (from Just Right to Indulgent). Inside, there’s the same minimalist-meets-modernism design – capacious, open-plan spaces enlivened by so-cool-it’s-kitsch furniture (day-glo plastic chairs, say, or lime-green sofas, or mosaic-tiled bath-tubs plonked in the middle of the room). It all feels quietly, insistently indulgent: there are al fresco hot-tubs on the cliffs, a luxurious spa with cocoon pods and relaxation chairs, a smart bistro and an extraordinary infinity pool that appears to melt out into the Atlantic. The verdict? Cornwall’s swishest, sexiest hotel. No question.
Doubles from £340
Best for old-school luxury: Hotel Tresanton
Neighbourhood: St Mawes
Owned by hotelier Olga Polizzi, this is one of Cornwall’s longstanding luxury choices, established back in 1998 in a former 1940s yacht club on the seafront in chi-chi Mawes. It’s pitched somewhere between an upscale Italian villa and a chic Riviera hotel – rooms are a blend of nautical navy-blues, shipshape stripes, seashell lamps, sculptures and bay windows with delightful water views. Outside, there are terraced gardens filled with palms and subtropical plants – ideal for sundowner cocktails - and on the ground-floor, a bistro with crisp white tablecloths and French windows onto the seafront. Bellissima.
Doubles from £265
Best for location: The Old Coastguard Hotel
Neighbourhood: Mousehole, near Penzance
This little whitewashed hotel sits on the edge of one of Cornwall’s prettiest villages, Mousehole, a couple of miles west of the fishing port of Newlyn. There are just fourteen bedrooms, so it’s the kind of place where you’ll be on first-name terms with the staff before you know it. Design-wise, it’s country-house-by-the-seaside – candy-striped armchairs, tartan bedspreads, Robert’s radios, wooden furniture and old-fashioned bath-tubs, with a slightly lived-in feel that seems designed to encourage guests to kick off their shoes and relax. The restaurant does good food (the owners also run the excellent Gurnard’s Head pub, near Zennor), and there are tiered gardens sloping down to the sea. But it’s the views that sell it – a wraparound vista over Mount’s Bay and the island abbey of St Michael’s Mount, stretching clear to the Lizard on a fine day.
B&B rooms from £140
Best for artists: Artist Residence Penzance
This playful hotel is one of several Artist Residences (there are others in Brighton, London and the Cotswolds, with another in Bristol in the works). It sits in a prime spot in old Penzance, on the thoroughfare of Chapel St, surrounded by salty pubs, antique dealers and sea-captain’s mansions. Wit and imagination are the draw-cards here. Every room is different: some have tongue-and-groove and tea-chest bedside tables; others angle-poise lamps and pieces of upcycled furniture; a few have wall murals painted by local artists (our favourite, the attic Lookout, has its own wood-burner and a handsome copper bath). It’s creative, friendly and fun, like a vintage shop crossed with a designer hotel. The Cornish Barn on the ground floor serves excellent grub, too – although rates don’t include breakfast.
Doubles from £160
Best for activities: Watergate Bay
Neighbourhood: Watergate Bay, near Newquay
When Henry Ashworth took over the family hotel in 1998, he reimagined it as a ‘ski resort on a beach’ – an elegant-but-informal place where guests could sleep in style, while also indulging in the outdoor opportunities afforded by Cornwall’s north coast. It’s proved a big hit, especially for families, with many guests returning year after year. Rooms are beachy chic, combining greys and yellows with stripes, seagrass mats and bleached-wood floors. On the ground floor, it’s open-plan and informal – staff wander about in t-shirts and trainers, and guests lounge around in beach towels and bathrobes, sipping lattes as they ooze seawater onto the floor. There are three restaurants – fine-dining Zacry’s, the more relaxed Living Space, and the surfy Beach Hut – as well as a wondrous glass-walled pool above the beach. But it’s the outdoor pursuits offered by the hotel’s Extreme Academy that mark this place out. There’s surfing and body-boarding of course, as well as stand-up-paddle-boarding, kite-surfing, traction kiting, wave-ski and hand-planing – and guests are encouraged (if not cajoled) to get out in all weathers.
Doubles from £200
Best for boutique B&B: Trevose Harbour House
Neighbourhood: St Ives
There’s no shortage of places to stay in and around St Ives, but for our money, this posh B&B is the pick of them all. It’s on a meandering street called the Warren, a terrace of whitewashed houses which runs down from the train station to the harbourfront. There are just six rooms, but they’ve been done up with impeccable taste: a maritime combo of clean whites and sea-blues, with abstract prints, dangly lightbulbs and mid-century modern furniture dotted around, and art deco mirrors and his-and-hers sinks in the bathrooms. Some offer glimpses over St Ives’ rooftops to the Atlantic. On the ground floor, there’s a cool snug with a woodburner built into the wall and design magazines to browse. Outside, there’s a private patio where you can breakfast on avocado toast, salmon smorgasbord and chia seed porridge. Admittedly, the overall effect is more Chelsea chic than authentically Cornish – but then that’s St Ives all over these days, so you might as well just embrace it.
Doubles from £170
Best for bookworms: Fowey Hall Hotel
Topped by cupolas and chimneys, graced with a river-view colonnade and surrounded by clipped green lawns, this imposing 19th-century manor allegedly inspired Toad Hall in the Wind of the Willows (it was actually built for local-lad-made-good Charles Hanson, who made a fortune in the Canadian lumber trade and went on to become a baron and Bodmin MP). Despite its grandeur, however, this is no stuffy museum piece – the architecture is Georgian, but its rooms are bright and cheery, with checks, high ceilings and old-meets-new furniture. It’s especially well geared for families, with interconnecting rooms, an onsite crèche and child-friendly activity clubs – and the streets and quaysides of Fowey are a stroll downhill. Note that some rooms are in the original house, while others are in a modern annexe. If it makes a difference, specify when you book.
Doubles from £160
Best for families: The Rosevine
Neighbourhood: The Roseland Peninsula, near Portscatho
Squirrelled away on the Roseland Peninsula near Portscatho, this hotel is one of Cornwall’s top choices if you’re travelling en famille. It’s half country hotel, half apartment complex. Rooms come in various configurations, but all are thoughtfully kitted out to provide everything you need for a comfy family stay: mini-kitchens, fridges, dishwashers, sofas and dining areas, plus enough storage space for even the most generously sized of families to spread out. Décor is simple, mainly white walls and plain wood; most rooms have views of the grounds, but as always in Cornwall, splashing out on a sea view is worth the extra. Facilities are ample enough (there’s a restaurant, indoor pool and an adults-only lounge), but the Roseland’s many beaches – including Porthcurnick and its wildly popular Hidden Hut beach cafe – are within easy driving distance.
Rooms from £157
Best for exhibitionists: Padstow Townhouse
If anywhere symbolises Cornwall’s gentrification, it’s Padstow – an old fishing port turned chi-chi culinary destination, transformed by celeb seafood chef Rick Stein and his miniature gastronomic empire. But there’s a young pretender to the throne in the form of Paul Ainsworth, whose Michelin-starred Number 6 has become one of the town’s dining addresses du jour, and who’s now opened his own plush B&B in partnership with his wife, Emma, and support from sister Michelle. They’ve pulled out all the stops to spoil their guests. Each of the six rooms (all named after sweets) has its own theme: Honeycomb has a handmade wrought-iron bed and golden bathtub; Bon Bon is all leather sofas and sporting memorabilia; Popcorn looks like it’s been lifted out of a French château with Toile-de-Jouy wallpaper and rococo furniture. Its madcap collision of styles won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – even Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen might blush at some of the design decisions – but it certainly feels sumptuous, and thoughtful touches such as nightly turn-downs and pillow treats add to the pamper quotient.
Rooms from £300
Best for island escapes: Hell Bay Hotel
Neighbourhood: Bryher, the Isles of Scilly
If mainland Cornwall doesn’t already feel far enough away, then the Isles of Scilly beckon. Scattered over the Atlantic, 28 miles west of Land’s End, this remote archipelago is the stuff of which island dreams are made. Hell Bay is the only hotel on the island of Bryher, and overlooks its eponymous beach (if you’re wondering why it’s so named, come in midwinter when the Atlantic storms are in full force). The hotel is decorated in a comfy New England style, with cornflower blue and pale yellow colour schemes, a surfeit of checks and slatted wood, and balconies overlooking the hotel’s pretty gardens and the wide-open bay beyond. The overall effect is rather like staying in a complex of upmarket beach cabins - and the rest of the island (and its many lovely beaches) is right on your doorstep.
Doubles from £140
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