Cornwall in winter? Hardly the ideal time of year to visit the West Country, you might think. Yet on a trip to the village of St Mawes I began to wonder why I don’t always wait for the end of autumn before going away.
When we arrived there was a pleasant nip in the air but the sky was china-blue and the whitewashed and pastel-coloured houses around the harbour were basking in sunshine. And unlike in summer, when this Cornish hotspot hums with well-heeled holidaymakers and their 4x4s, the scene was very much a local one: a handful of villagers chatting by the St Mawes ferry, which pootles in from Falmouth several times a day.
Right on the seafront, the striking Idle Rocks hotel has the best position in the village. Since it opened in 1913 it has seen many different incarnations, but in its centenary year, under new ownership, it has now surely reached its prime.
David Richards, the chairman of Aston Martin, and his wife Karen bought the hotel in 2010 with the intention of turning it into a glamorous seaside hideaway for a discerning clientele. After an extensive – and clearly expensive – refurb, the hotel reopened in July for a busy summer season.
Five months on, the hotel was quiet and we were spoiled like house guests. Hot-water bottles in cashmere covers were slipped into our Hypnos beds; we chatted idly to the Italian barman while he fixed us the best martinis this side of New York; and we were on first-name terms with Sid, the dapper young concierge, by the time we came down for breakfast.
While it doesn’t bill itself specifically as catering to children, it’s hard to imagine a better place to have brought our lively 15-month-old on our first family trip to a hotel. High tea – fresh fish goujons, chips and peas, berries and cream – was served at six, and thanks to the hotel’s high-tech iPad baby monitoring device we were able to slink downstairs for a grown-up dinner of locally caught lobster washed down with a fantastic Chablis. And, la pièce de résistance: a playroom, equipped with toys for every taste, buckets and nets for crabbing on the beach, and bean bags for parents to slump on with the Sunday papers.
The decor offers just the right amount of seaside stripage, colourful wooden oars and beachy artwork to make you feel holidayish; but there are also cosy Welsh lambswool rugs on the bed, reindeer-skin throws on the sofa and thickly lined French linen curtains to make you feel cosseted in the darker months. A fire is lit in the sitting room from 4pm and kept ablaze until after the last guest has gone to bed.
But the very best thing of all: opening the window of our room right on to the clear sea below, lapping gently at the hotel ramparts. It almost made me want to strip off for a bracing dip. Until, that is, I was told that the water is about 12 degrees – in summer.
The Idle Rocks
Habourside, St Mawes, Cornwall, TR2 5AN; 01326 270 270; idlerocks.com; Doubles from £180
St Mawes is 16 miles west of St Austell, which has direct trains from London, taking around four hours
Hot holidays: new tropical treats
Andaz Papagayo, Costa Rica
Just in time to tempt those fantasising about an escape from the festive onslaught, the Andaz Papagayo opens this weekend on Costa Rica’s northwest coast. The first Latin American property from the Andaz chain (part of the Hyatt group), it has cascading infinity pools, access to the beach and activities from zip-lining to jungle treks. Doubles from $440; www.papagayo.andaz.hyatt.com
Cheval Blanc, Maldives
The Cheval Blanc in Courchevel is one of the world’s most lavish ski hotels, and one of just 13 properties in France with “Palace” status. Last month its first sister property (also managed by luxury-goods group LVMH) opened on Noonu atoll in the Maldives. It has just 45 villas, all with private infinity pools. Villas for two from $1,300 per night; www.chevalblanc.com
A boutique retreat with just 10 suites, Iniala opened this month on Natai Beach, on the Thai mainland just across the causeway from Phuket island. It is the work of some of the world’s most celebrated designers, and the menu is overseen by Eneko Atxa, whose Spanish restaurant has three Michelin stars. Ten per cent of room revenues go to charity. Suites from $21,000 per week; www.iniala.com
Edited by Tom Robbins