Watergate Bay, Cornwall
“A "ski resort on the beach"”
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 14th June 2011.
We're sitting in the Beach Hut café, eating rather good Malay fish curry, looking out to sea. It's a chilly, sullen late-spring day, though the long, straight waves that relentlessly roll in are mesmerising, as are the black figures wading through them in order to surf back.
Watching is bliss. Thank goodness I'm not out there crashing about in the icy sea. I wonder vaguely why I'm here.
Accompanying, that's why. The husband, bus pass in back pocket, wants to learn to kite-surf and is gutted that his lesson has been cancelled due to lack of wind, but for now he's content just to sit and gaze, like me, from various vantage points: the Beach Hut; Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant on the floor above; the hotel's Living Space – a huge sitting area, bar and deck for general chilling; and our balcony. The amazing view is on a vast scale: two miles of wide, glistening sandy beach curving towards Newquay.
The only hotel on the bay, the Watergate, built in 1904 but surrounded by modern extensions, has got it made, and owner Will Ashworth, who was behind the reception desk 24 hours after he was born to parents who bought it in the late Sixties, innately understands how it works best.
"We offer lessons and equipment hire at our Extreme Academy; we have a shop, restaurant, cafés, an Ofsted-approved kids' club, self-catering and flexible hotel accommodation across a wide price range," he says.
"Next, we're building a huge new swimming pool, an exclusive residents' lounge with open fire, a gym and spa treatment rooms and a surf room, like a ski room, only for wetsuits. We are, in fact, the closest thing to a ski resort you can find on a beach."
It's a fair analogy. But is it a good ski resort? I do have reservations: the current Seventies entrance is underwhelming (it's going soon, though); too many views look out to parked cars; the staff look as if they'd be happier in wetsuits; and the interior design lacks panache. Cosy it is not.
Heaven knows what was meant in the brasserie. "Funky", I suppose, judging by the weird mishmash of styles and colours. "Someone got paid to do this," says my interior designer god-daughter, who joins us for dinner. "Well, I hope they were aged no more than four", chips in her boyfriend.
At breakfast next morning, staff are indistinguishable from guests. "Could I have some mustard, please?" I asked a holidaymaker from Salisbury. "Feels like a canteen in a campsite", the husband mutters to a casually dressed girl as he queues for bacon and egg. "I'm sorry you think that," she replies, "we try our best".
Our Ocean Wing bedroom is in contemporary seaside style and OK, though not, in my view, worth the whacking price, whatever the view (£295 high season). Shampoos and soaps are bolted to the wall. Comfy bed, though.
Next day the sun is out, the sky wall-to-wall blue, with a romantic sea-spray mist clouding the sand. It's beautiful and warm and the beach is full of people having fun. Ever the fair-weather sportswoman, I book a kite-surfing lesson straight after breakfast.
- Watergate Bay (01637 860543; www.watergatebay.co.uk). Doubles from £105 per night, including breakfast. For trains to Truro, contact First Great Western (08457 000125; www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk)
ON THE BEACH
The Extreme Academy (www.watergatebay.co.uk) and Watergate Bay Hotel go hand in hand and are jointly owned. Here you can learn to surf, kite-surf, traction kite-surf in a beach buggy and wave ski, or do the lot in a day, plus volley ball and ultimate Frisbee, for £85.
The beach is huge and magnificent, the waves never less than splendid, reaching 18ft on occasion, so it would be pointless to choose this hotel as a base for Cornwall … better as a base just for Watergate Bay.
Best of all, kite-surfing – which is now more popular than windsurfing, being easier to learn and lighter on equipment – is better in winter when the winds are stronger and the waves higher. A great off-season break, and half the high-season hotel prices. Come in summer, too for sun, sea and free beach events.
PUBS AND WALKS
If you want to stray from the beach, visit the picturesque village of St Mawgan, which has a village green, shop and pub – the Falcon, with honest pub grub – and a beautiful Carmelite convent.
For walks, the South West Coast Path runs in both directions from the hotel. If you walk along the path to the north, then find the goat track that leads down through rocks, you can walk back along the beach to the hotel.
Other local eating recommendations include Beach Hut(www.watergatebay.co.uk/thebeachhut.htm); Fifteen Cornwall(www.fifteencornwall.co.uk); Lusty Glaze (www.lustyglaze.co.uk); andLewinnick Lodge (www.lewinnick-lodge.info).
The Hotel Guru verdict
Seaside style, averagely executed; flexible accommodation; the cheapest are new and spruce
Ski resort on amazing beach; this is a water-fun factory for all the family
|Food and drink|
No more than decent pub food
|Value for money|
Great if you go for the excellent value Taste of the Bay off-season package