Photo of Gurnard's Head

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 13th January 2008.

When my husband and I first published the Charming Small Hotel Guides back in the mid-1980s, Gurnard's Head was just the sort of place we set out to highlight: genuine, full of character, well-located, personally run, and inexpensive but with high standards.

In the years since then, such hotels and inns have become much harder to find; existing ones are dying out, while new ones may be small and intimate but are also far less characterful and far more bland, with all the latest mod cons and price tags to match, but little of the atmosphere.

Few truly simple hotels that also excel in what they do, open these days: a new owner usually means a modish colour palette of brown and cream and quite possibly a plasma telly at the end of the bath. Apparently that's what people expect these days, however eye-popping the bill.

Call me peculiar, but I'd rather be tucked up at Gurnard's Head (beds are one thing that the owner, Charles Inkin, has rightly splashed out on) than anywhere. My room also has a revamped bathroom, nothing too flash, but with slate floor and heated towel rail; others still have basic bathrooms inherited from the previous incumbents, but also, like mine, brand new beds, gaily painted walls and jam jars filled with fresh flowers that scent the air. And radios but no TVs. Or telephones, despite the fact that mobile signals don't have so much as a nodding acquaintance with the skies in these parts. Yet, I promise you, panic at being cut off quickly gives way to a sense of relief and peace, only reinforced as you tramp along the South Coastal Path and allow the ley lines (so my taxi driver explained) to work their calming magic.

"Simplicity done well" is Inkin's winning mantra, amply illustrated by the huge success of his Griffin Inn at Felin Fach in Wales, now run by his brother Edmund, and a destination for foodies. But success breeds expectations, and that might be a problem for Inkin here in Cornwall because what you'll find is true simplicity, not the Marie Antoinette version. Just homespun accommodation, hospitality, great food and prices that will never make your eyes pop. Walkers will love it; spoilt yuppies will have a harder time.

I took the inn's Sunday Sleepover package: lunch, dinner, bed and breakfast for £90 all in (in Room 7; £75 in the others). Take my advice: do that, and also book Saturday night at the charming Abbey Hotel in Penzance. With a four-hour walk to Gurnard's the next morning, you'll have the perfect weekend.

The food? Sublime, particularly the dish of wild, locally picked alexanders with mousseron mushrooms and shavings of pecorino, and a creamy yet nutty risotto of white onion and rosemary. What can I see from my scrubbed wood table by the fire? A mustard-yellow room with dated pine-panelled bar; a windowsill with a pile of Smallholding magazines and another of Giles cartoon collections; an unlovely bank of plugs and wiring on the wall beside the door; an assortment of thrift shop bar stools; and people, warm, chatty, well-fed and content. And then to my toasty bed.

Three cheers for the Inkin brothers and their efforts to provide our hotel guide with the sort of places we love.

Treen, Zennor, St Ives (01736 796928; Doubles from £82.50, including breakfast.