Set on an exclusive clifftop overlooking the famous sands of Fistral Beach, The Headland is, without doubt, one of the grandest and finest hotels in the British Isles. Although you don’t need a reason to stay here, the brand new £10 million Aqua Club could be your motivation to check-in this season.
Dramatic, unapologetic and authentic, The Headland Hotel & Spa is an Victorian architectural masterpiece, made famous by Roald Dahl’s movie The Witches.
The striking red-brick façade and imposing peninsula position on Fistral Bay’s rugged cliffs simply demands attention.
It was in June 1900 when the first guests stayed in this beautiful Duchy of Cornwall landmark, when the hotel was at the height of luxury for its time, with lavishly decorated rooms, hot and cold running water and electric lights.
Fast forward 122 years with the opening of a brand new state-of-the-art Aqua Club, and we are seeing history repeating itself, as this award winning, much-loved five-star hotel once again raises the bar high.
It has been far from straightforward, however. The Headland’s owners, John and Carolyn Armstrong, have invested over £45 million since taking on the hotel in 1979.
Despite joyful beginnings that lasted through the fruitful twenties, the combination of postwar rationing and owners unable to invest in the property, left it neglected, creaky and dilapidated. Despite its run-down state, peeling paint and rotting wood, John and Carolyn were ready to take on the challenge, which included a serious amount of structural work and interior refurbishment.
The phenomenal husband-and-wife team still own the hotel today, and have stopped at nothing to reinvent The Headland as a modern, luxurious destination of distinction.
Their labour of love, making improvements and restoring the hotel might have taken four decades, but it has now paid off. The Headland Hotel & Spa is now a multi-award-winning, five-star 88-bedroom property, with a state-of-the-art gym, a five-bubble spa, a six-pool wellness centre, three restaurants and the best sea views in Cornwall.
If you want to impress your kids, book hotel rooms 223, 227 or 205, as these were used in the bedroom scenes of The Witches. Or for a special occasion, you might want to stay in a Fistral suite, Ocean suite or Best suite. We struck it lucky in room 210, an absolutely beautiful suite with its own private balcony, separate lounge with electric fireplace, an exquisite bathroom and spectacular sea views.
If you would prefer something more private, in 2020 the hotel launched their ultra-stylish exclusive guest village with a selection of contempary one-, two- and three-bedroom self-catering cottages and apartments. Whether in one of the cottages, apartments or the hotel itself, all guests are welcome to enjoy the hotel’s new Aqua Club.
Three years in the making, the eagerly anticipated Aqua Club is a no-luxury-spared swimming and wellbeing complex situated adjacent to the hotel. The new facility has six stunning pools (both indoor and outdoor), a sun terrace overlooking the ocean, and a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant named The Deck.
Outside on the sun terrace, there is a heated sunset spa encircled by an infinity-edge pool. There is also a heated outdoor vitality pool that has a Cornish granite menhir at its centre – the perfect spot to let go of the stresses and strains of everyday life.
Don’t disregard The Headland’s original spa sanctuary located inside the heart of the hotel, however, where there’s a sumptuous relaxation suite and further treatment rooms, a Rhassoul mud chamber, a Swedish sauna, a Cornish salt steam room, aromatherapy showers, hydrotherapy pool and a state-of-the-art gym.
In celebration of the Queen’s incredible 70 years of service this summer, you might also enjoy devouring a decadent Platinum Jubilee afternoon tea. The Headland chefs have created a menu of quintessentially British treats and light bites, including cucumber, cream cheese and coronation chicken sandwiches and The Queen’s Chocolate Cake.
With an old-fashioned charm and attentive staff throughout the hotel’s restaurants, you are made to feel like royalty wherever you are, from double- A-Rosette-awarded dining in The Samphire restaurant to sampling the Mediterranean-inspired menu in The Deck and enjoying sundown cocktails on The Terrace. Menus change with the seasons, reflecting the best regional produce with a selection of fresh local seafood, chargrilled cuts of the finest meats and irresistible daily specials, along with expertly mixed cocktails. The Headland is remarkable in how it has maintained a traditional service and charisma from the early 1900s, when royals King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra stayed at the hotel, and it is no surprise that the current Prince of Wales and Princess Royal have also enjoyed several visits in recent years, along with celebrity royalty George Clooney.
To really appreciate the history of the place, take some time out to dwell in the sitting room, where vintage photos, hotel memorabilia and press cuttings from days gone by adorn the walls and antique furniture.
You acquire a sense of timeless connection to those who have stepped the same footprint before you at The Headland, from standing on the balcony sharing the same mesmerising experience of losing yourself in the sights and sounds of the perpetual waves to the glamorous feeling of gracefully winding your way down the grand sweeping staircase.
You know that, while this is your moment to enjoy the charm of the hotel, it comes with the familiarity of these ageless qualities, the breathtaking views and preserved architectural beauty, having been enjoyed for over a century by others before you.
There are not many hotels in the world that can claim this level of enchantment for their guests, and this makes The Headland a very special hotel indeed, especially when you consider its remarkable achievement of modernising the hotel with à la mode luxuries without compromising this exceptional quality. And if this historical significance isn’t spine-tingling enough for you, the hotel’s unrivalled location just a stone’s throw from the golden sands of Fistral Beach, offers every reason to brace the sea and enjoy the waves.
Head down to the Surf Sanctuary to get kitted out – introductory surf classes, equipment hire and private lessons, as well as all you need for coasteering, kite surfing and standup paddle boarding; it’s all available here. And, Fistral, although positively popular with the surf professionals, is extremely welcoming to everyone, no matter your level of experience or confidence in the water.
We picked up one of Dick Pearce’s environment-friendly wooden bellyboards, loaned to hotel guests on a complimentary basis. Founder and World Bellyboard Champion, Jamie Johnstone and his team make the ecoconscious handmade boards at their workshop just a short stroll from the hotel in Hope’s Yard. Take some time to visit the two-storey studio and surf shop to see the sanding, smoothing, varnishing and painting, and to treat yourself to a gift or two. As well as selling the surfboards, at the shop you’ll find fashionable artwork prints, t-shirts, blankets, books and more.
If surfing and wave-riding has left you feeling hungry on the sand dunes, a delicious Cornish pasty from the Fistral Beach Pasty Shack should hit the spot, or for Rick Stein’s famous fish & chips there’s a laid-back restaurant with the option to take-away.
The Headland Hotel & Spa really does have it all: the spas, the sea, and the incredible hospitality. But transcending its glitz and glamour, for me, it has become more than just a hotel. It’s a place that makes you feel so special during your stay, giving you such a sense of place in all its alluring history that your memories become even more magical. In a similar way to cherishing an heirloom, you feel a desire to savour these moments and to enjoy The Headland with your family, who will hopefully continue to pass the tradition down, perhaps even sharing their family holiday memories with their own children – from generation to generation – in the same spot, and with the same ocean view as you.
Jessica Way was hosted by The Headland Hotel, a member of Pride of Britain Hotels, a very fine collection of hotels dotted around the British Isles. The carefully curated collection includes privately owned properties, each one unique and characterful.
Prices for an overnight stay start from £210 per night based on two people sharing, including breakfast. Contact Pride of Britain Hotels on 0800 089 3929. prideofbritainhotels.com
Words | Jessica Way