England's Riviera

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 28th June 2004.

Something exciting is happening in Cornwall, that bastion of the British seaside holiday. It's always been smart - now it's becoming chic.

Inspired by the success of Olga Polizzi's Tresanton Hotel and Rick Stein's Padstow empire, stylish, modern hotels have been opening all along Cornwall's coast. Three of the county's restaurants have Michelin stars, while towns such as Truro, Penzance, St Ives, Fowey and Falmouth (with its new National Maritime Museum) are all being smartened up and now sport a crop of fashionable bars and boutiques. Paul Robinson, owner of the stylish Driftwood hotel at Rosevine, says, "Whenever a new place opens these days, it's quality."Just as the hotels are radically different, so, to some extent, are their guests. "We get a great mix at Driftwood: young families, professional and media couples and early-retireds in their fifties. We've seen a big change just in the two years we've been here," says Robinson.

Of course, Cornwall is a large county and there is still plenty of room for the surfers and sailors; for the connoisseurs of the leaden Cornish pasty, the soggy chip and the clotted cream tea. But now there is also somewhere to stay for those who can't bear the thought of crowded Rock or contemplate life without a cappuccino.

Here are the best hotels, restaurants, gastropubs and seaside houses in which to see and be seen this summer. Prices quoted for hotels are for one night in high season.

Hotels Leading the pack on Cornwall's south coast is one of the more glamorous hotels outside London: Hotel Tresanton (01326 270055; www.tresanton.com; doubles from £195), in happy-go-lucky St Mawes. With an easily-missed exterior, its allure is only revealed once inside the elegant, stylish series of rooms and on the spacious terrace. Very chic, very Côte d'Azur, and a very good hotel, with beautiful bedrooms, a cinema and an 18ft yacht for guests.

Four miles away at Driftwood (01872 580644; www.driftwoodhotel.co.uk; doubles from £170) in Rosevine, the Côte d'Azur - or perhaps the Italian Riviera - feels even closer, with views that are more Mediterranean than Cornish and a perfect crescent of private beach at the bottom of the garden. Inside, the house has the air of a stylish Provençal hotel; halfway down the cliff there's a romantic cabin, perfect for lovers, and a pavilion that you can reserve for a private lunch or even an aromatherapy massage. The food lives up to the setting: the chef is now Rory Duncan, formerly head chef at One Aldwych in London. Driftwood is more modest but just as smart as Tresanton, and makes a great alternative to its more famous near-neighbour.

A little farther north, in another fabulous beach setting on the Roseland Peninsula, The Nare Hotel (01872 501111; www.narehotel.co.uk; doubles from £230) is the grand dame of Cornish seaside hotels, the sort of place where ladies who lunch in Knightsbridge feel perfectly at home. Traditional and chintzy, but with a Nantucket-style brasserie as well as a formal dining room, and a gym and spa, it\'s perfect for a family get-together.Deep, winding Cornish lanes will take you from the Nare to the tiny fishing village of Portloe, where right at the edge of the minute harbour a former smuggler's inn, The Lugger Hotel (01872 501322; www.luggerhotel.com; doubles from £200), is now a stylish hideaway with a metropolitan air and a rash of impeccably mannered, uniformed staff.

Farther north, bustling Fowey is fast becoming a favourite of those in the know, especially in May, when the literati descends for its Daphne du Maurier Festival. Opened last year, The Old Quay House (01726 833302; www.theoldquayhouse.com; doubles from £140) makes the perfect place to stay, with its laid-back restaurant spilling out on to a teak deck and its bedrooms equipped with the latest future-proof technology.

Also popular is The Marina Hotel (01726 8333315; www.themarinahotel.co.uk; doubles from £134), in a glorious setting overlooking the Fowey estuary, with a stylish Champagne bar and driftwood-fuelled barbecue on the terrace.Inland at St Keyne is another smoothly run hotel of the plush, carefully coiffed variety: The Well House Hotel (01579 342001; www.wellhouse.co.uk; doubles from £115). Everything in this Victorian hill-top house, set in immaculate grounds with a heated swimming pool, has been carefully chosen to create an atmosphere of sedentary calm and luxury. A polished country house hotel on a small scale.My long-time favourite hotel in Cornwall is The Abbey (01736 366906; www.theabbeyonline.com; doubles from £110), in Penzance. It's still owned by Jean Shrimpton, though is now run by Kinga and Ben Tunnicliffe. If seaside chic is becoming repetitious, stay in this 1660 townhouse overlooking the harbour, with its eclectic, ravishingly pretty mixture of antiques, paintings and objets d'art, and the added bonus of Ben's excellent restaurant next door.

Close to Penzance, in its own secret valley running down to the sea, The Lamorna Cove Hotel (01736 731411; www.lamornacove.com; doubles from £120) has had its swirly carpets replaced by bleached wood floors, paired with yards of plate glass and modern-art décor. It's meant to be the last word in chic, though some have found it a little soulless and there have been quibbles about the high prices.It feels like Capri at the Blue Hayes Hotel (01736 797129; www.bluehayes.co.uk; doubles from £130), a new five-room "private hotel" overlooking St Ives Bay and harbour. It has glitzy suites, a white-balustraded terrace, palm-fringed gardens and stunning sea views. This is a much-needed addition in St Ives, another Cornish resort where sleek bars and restaurants have been springing up around the harbour to meet the demand from more upmarket visitors drawn to the town by attractions such as Tate St Ives.

On Cornwall's north coast even naff Newquay, better suited to surf bums than sophisticates, was poised to receive an image makeover until Rick Stein recently pulled out of his planned venture there. That just leaves Padstow (or Padstein as the cynics have it) and Rock for chic places to stay. Stein's hotels are best suited for a night or two, as an adjuct to eating in his Seafood Restaurant. Easily the most stylish is St Edmund's House (01841 532700; www.rickstein.com; doubles £235): it has six cool, minimalist suites with oak flooring, American shutters and double French doors on to a spacious garden, but no reception rooms.

Across the estuary in Rock, St Enodoc (01208 863394; www.enodoc-hotel.co.uk; doubles from £210) is at present north Cornwall's only stylish family hotel, designed to suit its seaside location with bright colours, clean lines and easy-going comfort, plus a Mediterranean-style bar and restaurant and a wide terrace for outdoor dining with marvellous views across the Camel Estuary.

Serious dining

Everyone feels glamorous in the cosmopolitan dining room of the Hotel Tresanton (www.tresanton.com; 01326 270055), with its terrace on two sides, its mosaic floor, smattering of celebrities and modish cuisine. Farther south, overlooking the harbour in Penzance, The Abbey (Abbey Street; 01736 330680; open for dinner Tues-Sat, lunch Fri and Sat only) is another fabulous restaurant, a warm, red cocoon of a bar downstairs (with live video feed showing chef-proprietor Ben Tunnicliffe, who has a Michelin star, at work in the kitchen) and an airy dining room upstairs.

Celebrity-spotting (assuming you booked your table months in advance) is always possible at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow (Riverside; 01841 532700), which serves wonderful fish, but has so far failed to win over the men from Michelin.

A former chef there, however, managed it in lightning speed, recently gaining a star for his new solo venture, Ripley's, at nearby St Merryn (01841 520179; open Tues-Sat). The talented Mr Ripley's cooking is sublime: simply presented, with a combination of flavours that makes the head spin.

Across the Camel Estuary, in an unprepossessing corner of Rock, Cornwall's third Michelin star belongs to yet another brand new, small-but-chic restaurant, the Black Pig (Rock Road; 01208 862622; open Mon-Sat). Its tiny black-and-white interior is the setting for food that makes you want to lick the plate.

Beach bars and restaurants

Whereas most of the county's smartest hotels are found in secluded coves along the south coast, its crop of buzzing new beachfront restaurants are springing up on the wide surfing beaches in the north. At Polzeath, the epicentre of hip Cornwall, popular surfers' hangout Finns (Beach Road; 01208 863472) has kept pace with the new mood and has had a major makeover. The surfboards that used to hang from the walls have been swept away in favour of a pared-down interior, and the food is a polished version of its former "sexy fish and chips" menu. "Very cool, though I do secretly hanker after the pile of chips served in an enamel bowl you got in the old days," says my friend Bee, who has spent every summer in Polzeath since childhood.

She should head for Stein's Fish and Chips (01841 532914), across the estuary at Padstow, which has attracted astonishing daily queues since it opened last Easter. Up on Tristram Cliff above Polzeath Beach the funky Blue Tomato Café (01208 862333) epitomises the new seaside style. Open from 9am to midnight, its buzzword is choice: you can have breakfast, dinner or anything in between, or simply loll on a beanbag or in a three-man hammock with a drink. It's magical at sunset, watching the evening surfers far below.

Henry Ashworth, the owner of The Beach Hut on Watergate Bay (01637 861877), two and a half miles of sand and surf just north of Newquay, says he wanted to create a ski resort on a Cornish beach. The shack-like former beach shop, crowded, laid-back and filled with happy surfers, has much the same ambience as a ski centre, down to the hot chocolates for which it is renowned.

South of Newquay, at Porthtowan, tucked in front of a row of unremarkable beachfront buildings, is Cornwall\'s coolest bar, Blue (01209 890329), with live bands at weekends. If you are over 35, forget it and head instead to the Porthminster Beach Café on St Ives Bay (01736 795352), where delicious fish dishes are served in a calm and beautiful setting on the pale-sand beach. Or choose the equally balmy Three Mackerel on Swanpool Beach at Falmouth (01326 311886).


If neither a beach bar nor a cutting-edge restaurant hits the spot and you pine for something traditionally Cornish (but still can\'t quite manage a pasty), then consider a visit to Mousehole, "the loveliest village in England", according to Dylan Thomas. In the brasserie at the Old Coastguard Hotel (01736 731222) the food is inventive and the setting delightful, with a path leading down to rock pools at the water's edge.

Other Cornish pubs with attitude are the Tregilly Wartha Inn (01326 340332) at Constantine, the Plume of Feathers (01872 510387) at Mitchell, and the Mill House (01840 770200) at Trebarwith near Tintagel, all serving good food in great surroundings.

Perched on Pentire Head close to Newquay, buzzy, stylish Lewinnick Lodge (01637 878117) has a glorious setting overlooking Fistral Beach. There's a wide-ranging menu; the fishcakes are especially good. If the quest for tradition takes hold and you must have that pasty after all, I recommend you eat it in the idyllic, unspoilt Pandora Inn (01326 372678), all beams and polished flagstones and beautifully situated on the estuary at Restronguet Passage near Falmouth.

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