A five-day road trip through Cornwall shows this rustic peninsula is redefining itself by offering luxurious touches to its colourful history, discovers Gayatri Bhaumik.
The southwestern peninsula of Britain, Cornwall is probably best known for smugglers and mining. But amidst its wild landscapes, storybook villages, and myth-like history, this enchanting county is experiencing a renaissance. Chic boutique hotels, sumptuous fine-dining and other luxurious offerings are adding new elements to Cornwall’s contemporary charm, or so I discover on the first stop of a five-day roadtrip with my friend Nivi.
An idyllic property by the Helford River, Budock Vean blends old-world charm with 21st century luxe. Our cottage-feel Signature Room boasts soothing white and grey tones, Elemis amenities, and views of the onsite golf course. At the Natural Health Spa that afternoon, the Head in Heaven, a pampering back and face massage, has me nodding off in minutes. By evening, elegant guests – the dining room, refreshingly, has a dress code – are treated to decadent three-course meals packed with local produce, from pan-seared Falmouth Bay scallops to perfectly cooked, locally-reared beef.
Early the next morning, we explore Helford River aboard the Hannah Molly, a traditional Cornish riverboat. This is a gorgeous spot of storied cottages and country inns hidden among vividly lush greenery, but the real drawcard is Frenchman’s Creek, the setting of Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous novel about debonair pirates. The wide swathe of water is calm and lined with untamed foliage, and while it’s bigger than one imagines, it’s still a place of serenity.
Leaving Helford, we drive north towards Fowey, stopping at the legendary harbour in Falmouth. Fringed by vast beaches and quaint Georgian houses, this was once a major British port. Today you’re more likely to see recreational yachts than cargo ships. After it stood in for Falmouth in the BBC’s hit TV show, Poldark, fans descend in masses on the nearby 18th century harbour of Charlestown. It’s certainly worth a photo op, but the real treat here is Tall Ships Creamery, considered home to some of the best ice cream in the United Kingdom.
Kenneth Grahame was a frequent visitor to Fowey Hall, and it’s said the property inspired Toad Hall in his children’s book, The Wind in the Willows. The charming country manor-style hotel is at once stately and comfortable. The big library is cosy, not imposing; the sitting room, with its lounges and fireplace is ideal for afternoon tea; while rooms are elegant and inviting, with vintage-inspired furnishings, plenty of creature comforts, and garden views. The lord-of-the-manor feeling continues at dinner; in the elegant, adults-only dining room, an indulgent dinner begins with baked camembert, before moving on to hearty catch-of-the-day mains accompanied by intriguing local wine, and finishing with sticky toffee pudding and Pedro Ximenez port.
Late the next morning, after a lazy breakfast and a meet-and-greet with Bramble, Fowey Hall’s resident pooch, we’re off to Camel Valley. Accessed by a dirt track, the winery is an unlikely proposition, but since 1989 the vineyard has been producing award-winning wines and now counts the royals and chefs Rick Stein and Raymond Blanc as fans. With a panoramic backdrop of lush vineyards and verdant hills, and few people around to spoil the experience, a visit to Camel Valley is an oenophile’s delight.
A bottle of Cornwall’s finest in hand, we head for one of the area’s most famous destinations. A historic coaching house, Jamaica Inn is best known as the setting of another eponymous Daphne du Maurier novel. The author’s stay here, in 1930, inspired her tale of a smuggler gang led by the inn’s wicked landlord. It still operates as an inn, but these days the property trades off the legends associated with its name. The onsite Smuggler’s Museum offers great insight into this side of Cornish history, while bibliophiles will appreciate the comprehensive Daphne du Maurier display. After a refreshing pint of Rattler’s Cider in the back garden, we continue through the wilds of Bodmin Moor.
Offering dramatic cliff and ocean vistas from its perch above Magwan Porth beach, The Scarlet is a sophisticated, sustainable adults-only hotel. Our room is an airy, hi-tech space with a private balcony perfect for quiet morning coffees. A must-do indulgence, the spa’s clifftop hot tubs are a guest favourite; we laze here for an hour, enjoying some bubbly while watching the sky turn fiery shades of pink and orange as the sun dips below the horizon. The design-savvy restaurant here offers refined dishes laced with seasonal ingredients; the fresh, zesty Cornish crab and smoked salmon salad are real standouts.
The next morning, we get a taste of traditional Cornish charm as we mosey south along the coast, stopping at whim to explore. In the little village of St Agnes, locals sip coffee overlooking the dramatic cliff-fringed beach at Trevaunance Cove; later, we join visitors wandering through the small boutiques and Tate gallery offshoot at St Ives.
St Ives has its charms, but its tourist crowds and impossible roads can spoil stays here, so tonight’s stop is the Boskerris, a small boutique hotel located five minutes away in Carbis Bay. Thoroughly modernised in 2004 by the Bassett family, this contemporary property is a charming bolthole done up in relaxed New Englandinspired style. Our rooms are calming oases of whites, greys and blues, with White Company amenities and well-stocked tea trays. As the sun sets, guests gather on the expansive terrace for drinks, then move to the dining room for dinner. The Boskerris focuses on unfussy menus bolstered by quality ingredients from small local producers; the result is simple, delectable fare – like the particularly memorable pâté – in keeping with the hotel’s laid-back feel.
Bent on enjoying our last morning, we drive the coastal road south, then west, towards Penzance. The route meanders through the heart of Cornwall, past tiny hamlets, and its mining heritage. We stumble across Carn Galver, a prehistoric crag that housed a small tin mine during the Victorian era, and Levant Mine, a Natural Trust site that was also used as a Poldark filming location.
It’s a rugged landscape where the restored steam engine and mine sit amidst untamed wilds and sweeping coastal views. Cornwall has countryside charm in spades, but it’s clear the peninsula is redefining itself. Visitors have long been drawn to Cornwall’s captivating history, rural pleasures, and legends, and by striving for excellence in hospitality, food and drinks, and leisure offerings, the area is endearing itself to discerning visitors.