With its open spaces and beautiful beaches, it comes as no surprise that Cornwall tops the table as one of the most sought-after destinations to visit post lockdown. Jessica Way finds sanctuary in the lesser-known Polperro Heritage Coast, avoiding the crowds and embracing the Cornish Riviera lifestyle.
WHERE WE STAYED: FOWEY HALL HOTEL
Perched up high on the hillside we stand together for a moment, bags down by our sides, in awe of the sweeping views, beautiful sounds from the harbour, the glistening blue river and the small fishing village of Polruan on the opposite bank. We’d arrived at our luxury home-from-home getaway for the weekend, the majestic Fowey Hall Hotel, South Cornwall.
The original inspiration for Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows, this luxurious country-house hotel is one of the Luxury Family Hotels’ five stunning hotels, renowned for their individual character and exceptional family-focused hospitality. And, as almost every parent with young children will know, it really is the small details and finer touches that can make or break your holiday experience.
Complimentary childcare, baby monitoring services and a morning breakfast club can be a godsend for exhausted parents in need of some extra shut-eye on a Sunday morning. Or take the opportunity for some additional precious couple’s time, a guilt-free pamper in the spa or to simply enjoy the sea views over a glass of locally-made Camel Valley wine. And it’s far from a half-hearted ‘family-friendly’ approach, we discover that at Fowey being family-focused is at the heart of ‘everything’ they do. The warmth and friendliness from the staff meant there were big smiles all around. The fully-fledged games room, cinema room, children’s library, and Wind in the Willows-inspired outdoor play area with a zip line help to keep those smiles in place throughout the stay.
For guests with babies in tow, heated bottles and fresh morning and evening milk can be brought up to your room (free of charge) – and the chef is able to make puréed food from morning to evening. There is an all-day welcome hours policy for babies and children at the swimming pool, and lots of places to relax quietly without the feeling of being on top of other guests.
The hotel’s recent multi-million-pound refurbishment has highlighted many of the hotel’s impressive original features, to include feature fireplaces and a beautiful parquet floor dating back to 1899 when Fowey Hall was built as a private house by local businessman Sir Charles Hanson.
Inside the hotel’s historic lobby, you are welcomed by a roaring log fire, and antique white walls lit by an eye-catching Jamb globe chandelier on the ceiling. Sofas have been upholstered in a combination of British heritage-inspired luxury fabrics including tweeds, hounds tooth, and herringbone with velvet and leather accents and striped canvas and rustic reclaimed stools add a playful twist.
Everywhere you look there’s something interesting to catch your eye, from handmade smoked oak coffee tables to creative wallpapers and beautiful artwork by local artists taking inspiration from the surrounding landscape. My daughters especially enjoyed seeing the charcoal prints of characterful dogs by Cornish artist Justine Osbourne, an ode to the dog-friendly ethos of the hotel.
Our family room was located in the Mansion House, one of 16 bedrooms that have been refurbished featuring oak wooden floors painted in soft grey, vintage pieces of furniture, oversized wool rugs, and bespoke handmade turned oak beds made by Cornwall furniture and homeware designer-maker Headandhaft.
There was ample space, even an additional play room, which would be the ideal setting for reading a bedtime story. My girls are a bit too old for that now, but still young enough to adore the ‘softhead’ dogs in top hat and glasses displayed on the walls, which we also enjoyed spotting elsewhere around the hotel. The bathroom was designed in an authentic Victorian style finished in two-tone crackle glaze tiles – and I was delighted to find Elemis shampoo, conditioner and body wash.
There are 36 rooms in total, 12 family rooms and plenty of interconnecting bedrooms, to include the Garden Wing and separate Coach House, around a minute’s walk from the hotel. Bedrooms in the two-storey Garden Wing have a more modern feel, designer furnishings and a deep rust coloured freestanding bath to enjoy a long, relaxing soak. While the hotel’s rustic Coach House bedrooms feature four-poster beds and a mix of new and antique furniture.
Over in the restaurant, Head Chef Wesley Pratt and his team have certainly got to know their local suppliers. Seafood is sourced from a small family business, Fish For Thought, while their eggs are laid by free-range hens at Colin Carter’s Eggs, near Truro. Their award-winning artisan ice cream comes from Treleavens, churned at Tretoil Farm in the north Cornish countryside. Not to mention the finest Cornish tipples such as Fowey Brewery ales and Tarquin’s gin, distilled in the southwest. (Rooms from £249, bed and breakfast).
Fowey is an ancient Cornish seaport, with narrow winding streets, flower-bedecked houses and pretty cottages jostling side by side. Quaint shops and ancient pubs stand beside the new trendy restaurants, luxury hotels and fancy icecream parlours. Fowey has held on impressively well to its picture-perfect harbour charm.
Today Fowey is regarded as one of the most stylish and picturesque towns in Cornwall – with a flourishing food and drink scene.
Set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, its deepwater harbour is the perfect pull for sailing fans and the old town is a vibrant reminder of its fascinating maritime history. For foodies the many bistros, cafes and restaurants, offering the best in local produce, will certainly not disappoint either.
It’s no surprise that Fowey attracts tourism and homeowners from across the globe, to include famous actress, writer and comedian Dawn French, whose beautiful £3million coastal mansion overlooks the Fowey River.
Fowey’s history has an equally extraordinary story to tell, as it was home to author Daphne du Maurier in the 1920s – and references to her work can be found everywhere in and around the town.
Daphne took much of her inspiration for writing her novels from Fowey, including this beautifully descriptive extract from ‘Vanishing Cornwall’: “There was a smell in the air of tar and rope and rusted chain, a smell of tidal water. Down harbour, around the point, was the open sea. Here was the freedom I desired, long sought for, not yet known. Freedom to write, to walk, to wander, freedom to climb hills, to pull a boat, to be alone.”
Following a delicious stress-free breakfast, a game of table tennis, a couple of rounds of Pac Man and then Space Invaders, beach towels and picnic lunches in our hands, we head out on our way to discover Readymoney Cove. It’s a fifteen-minute walk from the gate at the bottom of the garden to this beautiful sandy hidden beach sheltered by the surrounding cliffs. The shimmering water was clear and still, and we enjoyed a swim followed by a coffee and cake from the Readymoney Cove Beach Shop. We decided to take a stroll a little further around the coastline, and headed up a pathway leading us onto the South West Coast Path, where we discovered the medieval St Catherine’s Castle with views back down to Readymoney Cove and to the harbour entrance.
Later that afternoon we decide to head into the old town, passing the grand parade of Edwardian and Victorian houses. A special highlight was discovering the Quiet Gardens, a wonderful collection of planting by local garden designer Ali Siddell with a fascinating history.
More than 300 years ago, Fowey landowner John Treffry donated land to the town to build a free school, Fowey Grammar School, where 30 poor boys could be educated in maths, history and navigation. The school has long since been demolished, but this garden, planted in the school grounds, still survives as a very special place – and view.
Reach the main Fore Street and you will find many small, independent shops selling unusual gifts, artwork, clothing and books. If you’re a foodie then Fowey is home to many bistros, cafes and restaurants where you’ll find menus offering the best in local produce. We ate dinner at Sam’s, a bright bistro with pop memorabilia hung all over the walls – wherever you choose to dine, Fowey River mussels are a recommended choice!
After another leisurely morning at the hotel, today’s main adventure is a two-hour kayaking river safari adventure with Fowey River Hire. On our wander down to meet Ben, our tour guide, we stumble across a blue telephone box transformed into what must be one of the UK’s smallest libraries.
We also pass the magnificent St Fimbarras church, rebuilt in 1460 by the Earl of Warwick after being destroyed by French marauders -and don’t miss The Ship Inn, Fowey’s oldest pub, also known as ‘The Old Lady of Fowey’.
We arrive at our meeting base, the Caffa Mill car park where we meet Ben and his daughter, keen to share their passion for the Fowey Estuary with us right from the get-go.
It’s high tide, so we head up river towards Golant, admiring the views, paddling around the river, spotting the birdlife, while looking out for seals or dolphins.
Ben and his daughter guide us under a bridge to see what must be Cornwall’s most unusual waterside property, The Old Sawmills in its own private inlet with no road access, surrounded by woodland. The hidden creek, known as Bodmin Pill, was used by merchants in medieval times, as a landing point to avoid paying landing dues upriver at Lostwithiel (the ancient county capital). In the 1970s, owner Dennis Smith, a music-industry mentor transformed the 3,135sq ft main building into one of the UK’s first-ever residential recording studios! We were floating outside the legendary studio, where bands such as The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Verve, Supergrass and Muse worked by day and partied by night, and where Oasis recorded their breakout album, Definitely, Maybe in 1990.
We stop in at Ruby’s, Fowey’s newest ice cream parlour before heading home; I chose a limited edition Tarquin’s gin and berry sorbet – and I don’t want the moment to end.
It’s no wonder the location has already had so much fame, inspiring authors, songwriters, and comedians, and leaving a special mark on all who visit. As far as an enjoyable family staycation goes, Fowey Hall comes out on top – an ultra-stylish and luxurious hotel, located in one of the most quaint and relaxing seaside settings in the British Isles”.
Editor’s Highlights – you might also enjoy…
Visiting the Fowey Aquarium: Pop into the charmingly old fashioned Fowey Aquarium on the Town Quay where you can literally get in touch with local sea creatures in the petting pool. A great nostalgic fishy fix. www.foweyaquarium.co.uk
Taking a ferry trip to Polruan: Take the passenger ferry across the harbour to Polruan and explore the narrow lanes that climb steeply through the village, or out towards the medieval blockhouse. www.ctomsandson.co.uk/polruan-ferry/
Hiring an open cockpit canoe: Take to the water yourself on an escorted river trip in an open cockpit canoe, perfect for observing the abundant river wildlife and a real adventure even if you’re a total novice. www.foweyriverhire.co.uk
Taking a countryside hike: There are many fantastic coastal and woodland walks around the area including The Hall Walk which links Polruan with Bodinnick via the hidden creek at Pont. www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Taking a River Cruise: See the town from the water with a trip on board one of the pleasure boats that regularly depart from the Town Quay steps. Cruises take you upriver past the docks, where you will see huge china clay ships being loaded with cargo, and out to sea taking in the best views of the town. www.foweycruise.co.uk/our-services/
Visiting the Fowey Museum: Located in the town centre the Fowey Museum holds an interesting collection recording Fowey’s rich and varied history. Includes the Daphne Du Maurier collection, Mayoral Regalia, costumes, old photographs, models of old sailing ships and postcards. www.museumsincornwall.org.uk