Cornwall is known for its stunning beaches, world-class surfing, fresh seafood and picturesque harbours. In pursuit of a taste of this summer-utopia, Jessica Way takes a family weekend break to Newquay’s iconic Fistral Beach on the west coast.

A surfers paradise”. “But mum I can’t surf?” said my 15 year old daughter as we travelled the four hour car journey from Southampton. “It’s ok”, 

I reassured her, we’ll take a lesson together. We could have caught a flight (its just 40 minutes from London Gatwick to Newquay) but with four wet suits, bodyboards and beach towels filling up the roof rack, we made the right choice.

The excitement levels rise as we reach the hotel, both daughters recognising the dramatic Victorian red brick immediately from one of their best-loved movies, The Witches, from the book by Roald Dahl. We are staying at The Headland Hotel – where the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston) plotted to kill children, turning them into mice, and where the Hotel Manager (Rowan Atkinson) tried desperately to protect his hotels’ reputation.

We arrive to check in, though sadly it’s not with Rowan Atkinson, however we are told about him – “in real life he is just like Mr Bean…”  the girls chuckle and Joshua (Front of House Operations Manager) continues… “On one occasion, he ran a bath, and went to bed without turning the taps off. The flood reached the ground floor from his second-floor bedroom and all the equipment, the photocopier, electric typewriters, that were in the film’s production office (in the first-floor bedroom) were completely written off!”. 

The grand lounge is in view from the reception desk, accessible through a white-wooden panelled glass door frame. It invites us in to further explore the red carpet and stylish antique furniture; white beaming arches, high ceilings, chandeliers, fireplaces, and fabulous draping curtains around the great bay windows, where light is flooding in to the hotel. 

This is modern luxury – the grotty carpets and shoddy interiors are nowhere to be seen. “It’s rooms 223, 227 and 205 that were used in the movie” Joshua tells us. “(No, I’m sorry girls – that’s not where we are staying tonight)”. We are gently escorted to follow the porter back outside – and as we walk, we agree, any wide-eyed children looking around the hotel for mice today would be likely to fail.

Where we stayed

The Headland Hotel and Spa are celebrating 40 years (in 2019) since the owners John and Carolyn Armstrong first bought the property. A labour of love – it has cost them around £30 million over four decades on improvements and repairs. Though this is an investment that has paid off; the multi-award-winning hotel has been completely transformed, as has its spa (the first ‘Five Bubble’ rated spa in the region) – and they are not stopping there. The overall ambition is huge, with the launch of a stunning new outdoor swimming pool and leisure complex planned for launch in 2020 – and more recently the announcement of their new 5-star self-catering cottages. Perched on a private clifftop, luxury cottages just yards from the UK’s most famous beach? Yes please! 

We were lucky enough to be amongst the first to try them out. Designed to offer a more flexible, relaxed coastal experience, and as an alternative option to staying in one of the 95 bedrooms within the hotel, but still offering guests use of their hotel, spa and rosette-worthy dining. 

Like ours, most of the holiday cottages (there are 39 in total) offer ocean views, and outdoor spaces such as a deck, balcony or lawn, and I loved that seasonal and fresh farm produce could be delivered direct to your door. The interior is as awesome as the waves from the sea below, surf-inspired, coastal chic, with luxury touches throughout – as well as practicality, such as having a large area for hanging and drying your wetsuit.

The Headland Hotel

There’s a modern, beachy, sky blue and turquoise green colour scheme, complimented by crisp white paint work, contemporary artwork, painted wooden shutters, light oak furniture, bright flowers, colourful fruit bowls, and stylish candles splashing vibrant colour throughout the large open plan kitchen and living area. Light and airy – and the views are spectacular.

You need to walk across the hotel car-park to get to the spa, located at the rear of the hotel, but they are happy for you to stroll around in your dressing gown and slippers. The spa includes six stylish treatment rooms, to include a VIP suite, Rhassoul mud chamber and Swedish sauna, there’s also a Cornish salt steam room, hot tub, aromatherapy showers, hydrotherapy pool and state-of-the-art gym. I escaped to enjoy a lovely 40 minute Indian Head Massage, then it was time to hit the beach.


Forget Maui and Malibu, Newquay’s famous Fistral Beach has some of the best breakers around. Between autumn and spring surfers can test their skill with impressive swells known to reach up to 12 feet high. This much-loved beach is known as being one of the most consistent and best surfing beaches in Europe. Summer is perfect for beginners to have a go though, with 1-4ft waves gracing the shoreline.

Surfing aside, it’s a beautiful long and sandy beach, backed by dramatically beautiful rocks and cliffs. It’s a great all-rounder, perfect for strolling, sunset-watching and sandcastles, as well as being home to a number of restaurants, including Rick Steins famous fish & chips (or try the take-away Pad Thai noodles – delicious!) Another must try is the Fistral Beach Pasty Shack, serving one of the best Cornish Pasties you will find in Cornwall – simply, delicious food.

So although Fistral Beach has earned its place as the destination choice of many competitions and festivals in every surfer’s competitive and social calendar, it is also a friendly, lively, picturesque spot, welcoming to everyone – including those who, like me, are in search of their first taste of wave-fuelled excitement. 

First, we head down to the Surf Sanctuary to get kitted out for these wave-riding endeavours. The Headland offers introductory surf classes, hire, and improver and private lessons, as well as coasteering, kite surfing and stand-up paddle boarding. We opt for straightforward surfing… though we discover it’s far from straightforward! 

Even the 4ft waves we find challenging. We spend more time practising our method on the beach than we do actually attempting the waves. However, it’s great fun, our instructor is fantastic, and we are enjoying the experience. By the afternoon we are back in the sea, full of grit and determination, and with a lot of super-fast arm paddling our persistence starts to show signs of paying off. The girls are catching the occasional wave, while I am mostly on my knees, until finally I stand and, keeping my balance, don’t fall. It’s taken me what feels like a million attempts, but it’s all worth it for that one wave – incredible. I feel so alive, I can actually surf (well, kinda). 

During Boardmasters

Boardmasters Festival, held every August, is a great time to visit – the beach is transformed into a vibrant surf festival complete with installations, live music, Cornish food stalls and bustling surf shopping village. 

In fact, the festival has become so popular that it’s split between two iconic locations, Fistral Beach and Watergate Bay (a 20 minute drive from The Headland Hotel). During the festival, Watergate Bay is the home to the main music arena. With multiple stages, bars, foodie feasts, fest-stalls and rides, it’s a show-stopping music-lover’s haven.