Review by Fiona Duncan, published 16th July 2006.
Some hotels are opened purely as commercial ventures. Others are the all-too real consequences of a dream. Both can make great places to stay and both can be terrible. But the dreamer has the hardest task: in the blink of an eye he or she might wake to a nightmare.Talk to Klaus Wagner before you even think of saying, "I'd love to give up my nine-to-five, buy a house in a beautiful place and run it with friends as an informal hotel." That's what he did, and it landed him in a country he hardly knew, with enough problems - from boilers and foot and mouth to red tape and thieving guests - to make all but the biggest of dreamers give up. In 1999, Klaus, an insurance broker from Stuttgart, had fallen for a small hotel in southern France when the sale collapsed. Casting around for a replacement, he spoke to his friend Matthias, from Leipzig, who suggested Cornwall, having once been there Cornwall meant nothing to Klaus; Matthias had spent just a week there and spoke not a word of English. Yet the moment they walked into Trevalsa Court, then a run-down hotel of the boiled cabbage and swirly carpet variety, they were certain they had found the perfect setting for the dream.
Trevalsa Court was built in the 1930s as a private, cliff-top home with breathtaking sea views. It has Daphne du Maurier character: oak-panelled walls, stone-framed mullion windows, Gothic fireplaces and American oak floors. And it perfectly suits Matthias's eclectic, Berlin/deco-inspired taste, with leather sofas, and black-and-white photographs and etchings by East German artists on the walls. No two of the 13 bedrooms are the same, in shape, size or colour, but all display - to British eyes - an essentially simple but refreshingly different style.
Two years into their project, the crunch came. The problems (headed by unexpected rewiring and heating bills and exacerbated by disappointingly low occupancy rates) overwhelmed them and the dream was on the point of crumbling. Matthias went to Spain and Klaus found a buyer. "I was about to sign, and to say goodbye to Cornwall for ever, when suddenly I knew I had to stay and see this through. We started again; and here we are, thriving, five years later. We have created this hotel with love," says Matthias, who is passionate about the place and never stops working "and we hope you like it, too".
I did, and so did my mum: the polite, unobtrusive kindness; the mix of young German and elderly local staff; the intimacy of the dining room; the excellent dinner (fennel and orange soup, melting scallops, herb-crusted lamb); the garden created from scratch by Matthias; the view; the little summerhouse for two. She wasn't so keen on the beach at the bottom of the cliff, reached by a vertiginous metal stairway, or on neighbouring houses that have grown up around Trevalsa Lodge, rather as a base for visiting the Roseland Peninsula, the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan, all close by, with the coastal path literally at the bottom of the garden. **** An interesting house that reflects its owners' friendliness and flair.
Mevagissey, Cornwall (01726 842468. Doubles from £78 to £178 per night, including breakfast/