Beside the seaside
Susan Kurosawa discovers the gentle green joys of Cornwall’s Roseland Peninsula around the charming port of St Mawes
The view from the terrace level of the restored Tresanton Hotel OU can sense the promise in the name Roseland . . . botanical rambles, fragrance and soft greenery. It’s the sort of evocative label loved by developers of shopping malls, nursing homes and apartment blocks. But it has a more natural home on the south coast of Cornwall, where the Roseland Peninsula tips into the sea. Here it’s all headlands and hills, seagulls and semitropical plants.
Two lines of ancestors on my paternal side, the Trevithicks and the Candys, are from this neck of Britain. I even spy a speck of a town named Trevithick in my AA Road Atlas but it barely stands out amid all the other towns with that ubiquitous Tre prefix, which means settlement. The locals correct my pronunciation of Trevithick, gradually compressing the ‘‘ e’’ until it all but disappears.
My destination is not of the Tre variety but the charming port of St Mawes perched at the extremity of the Roseland, which plunges south from Truro, where Thomas Trevithick and Elizabeth Randal Candy tied the knot in the mid-19th century and promptly sailed off to Australia. One of their twin daughters, Emma, was my great grandmother.
Even more specifically, I ambound for the Tresanton Hotel, the much-admired seaside retreat owned by designer Olga Polizzi, sister of hotelier Rocco Forte and mother of Alex Polizzi, the unflinching fixer-upper of Foxtel LifeStyle Channel’s
Olga bought Tresanton in 1997 and set to work restoring its whitewashed buildings ranged over steep terraces like so many jumbled sugar cubes. It had been a yachting club in the 1940s and a family-style hotel thereafter; Olga’s vision was a boutique getaway with a touch of Mediterranean flair, a definite nautical character and bags of class.
There are 29 rooms, all with sea views; sizes and configurations vary considerably, some have terraces, two are in the Nook next door and several are tucked up behind the main building in a family wing surrounded by subtropical palms and plantings. One must be prepared to climb here, from the almostconcealed entrance on Lower Castle Road up to the sun terrace set with steamer chairs and public areas and then up and up again to the guestrooms. And further up, behind and beside Tresanton, are the steep Lamorran House Gardens, which could be transplanted from the French Riviera, such is the profusion of ornamental citrus trees, palms, acacias, agaves and aloes, linked by balustraded terraces.
The decor throughout Tresanton is crisp and quirky, with bowls of rinsed-blue and white hydrangeas, nautical touches such as ornamental lighthouses and ships’ bells, tongue-and-groove painted timber and a colour scheme that speaks of sea and sand. In the bar, two navy blue chairs by the fire have button backs that suggest a double-breasted admiral’s jacket.
My small room, No 21, is almost folded under the eaves, with sloping walls and navy-and-white decor, like an old-fashioned bathing box. At night I leave the casement windows open; the air is cold but the room is snug, the bed piled with feather pillows and a throw rug. Everywhere is a clever regard for detail, from algae extract bath salts and seaweed soap to the recurring pattern of the hotel’s lighthouse logo.
This is one of the cheapest rooms at Tresanton and I couldn’t be happier; it feels like pitching up in an Enid Blyton novel, with the prospect of smugglers ahoy. Rugged-up strolls take me past flat-tothe-street village houses with names such as Captain’s Cottage and Tavern Rocks. There are cosied-up cats on windowsills, bright blue shutters and striped urchin shells for sale from street barrows.
But the food alone at Tresanton is worth a meander down the Roseland. Consider, say, a green-and-yellow lunch of asparagus and spinach soup, broad bean and asparagus risotto with pea shoots and vanilla and lemon pannacotta with fresh raspberries.
End of the line: Buildings cling to the hillside at St Mawes
In better weather I would have taken off due right of the hotel on a walk past St Mawes Castle, with its perfect Tudor trefoil. The fortress was built for king Henry VIII in the mid-1500s to keep those pesky Catholic rulers of Europe at bay. Then via a grassy footpath beside the River Fal to the 14th-century church of St Just in Roseland and its slope of graves amid gunnera and palms. Tresanton has a cupboard of wellington boots for such outdoorsy purposes, the pairs divided into sizes and lined up like soldiers.
But it’s cold and misty and, like other guests, I linger over breakfast in the sea-facing dining room, with its creamy timber walls, mosaic floor and royal blue trimmings. A long breakfast is no chore, either, with the likes of smoked haddock and gruyere omelette on the menu. Olga is married to writer William Shawcross and ‘‘ if he’s here he rolls up his sleeves and gets stuck in, helping to serve breakfast’’ a regular guest tells me with a wink.
In the famously clear light of a Cornish summer, there’s sailing on Falmouth Bay aboard Tresanton’s 8m racing yacht Pinuccia, built in Italy in 1938, or from Easter to September hop aboard the hotel’s sleek speedboat with hamper to hand for a picnic across the bay. A ferry goes from St Mawes to Falmouth and the journey takes about 20 minutes; in summer there’s also a small ferry from St Mawes to the headland opposite, site of St Anthony’s lighthouse, the image used as Tresanton’s logo.
A hotel that appears this frightfully posh could be up itself but it’s not; there’s a friendly, fun atmosphere with no pressure to dine in the main restaurant, to dress up or be proper. Children are encouraged and catered for, with special menus and meal sittings and a games room and playhouse; a staff member is available to take little ones to the safe Tavern Beach in front of the hotel for crabbing and paddling in summer.
If the winds howl and the seagulls cough, it’s lovely to sit by the fire in the bar with beer-battered halibut and chips or local bangers and mash or succumb to a Cornish tea with the creamy works between 3.30pm and 5.30pm for a reasonable £8 ($16). There’s also a massage room for all the usual rubs and scrubs.
If you are a keen gardener, Cornwall is your green nirvana. Tresanton offers garden tours with Charles Fox, a member of the Fox family who created notable Cornish gardens such as Glendurgan on the Helford Passage. With a rental car at your disposal, you are within striking distance here of such Gulf Stream gardens as the Victorian valley landscapes of Trebath, the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the much-feted Eden Project. In February and March, there are magnolias and camellias, April and May are the months for spring bulbs and giant flowering rhododendrons, June and July bring hydrangeas and succulents.
During the course of my wanderings it occurs I have not seen masses of roses, as the peninsula appears to promote. Then I find ‘‘ ros’’ means heath or promontory and thus the name was born. Even without roses to stir romance, maybe great-great granddad Thomas wooed Elizabeth by the sea here and picked her a pretty little something from a garden. At least I like to think he did. Susan Kurosawa was a guest of Visit Britain and Singapore Airlines.
Train from London’s Paddington to St Austell takes four hours; taxi onwards to St Mawes takes about 30 minutes but it’s more streamlined to drive from London (about five hours). The dining room is open to non-guests. Lunch is £25 ($52) for two courses or £33 for three courses; dinner, £42 for three courses. Rooms from £190 a double, depending on the season; breakfast and VAT included. Tresanton also has a homewares and clothing shop, Onda, about five minutes’ walk from the hotel, beside the Victory Inn. More: www.tresanton.com; www.kiwicollection.com/property/hotel-tresanton. There is a lighthouse keeper’s cottage available for holiday rental at St Anthony’s. More: www.ruralretreats.co.uk. Tresanton’s sister property is Hotel Endsleigh on the edge of Dartmoor; it has a Sunday-to-Thursday special of £140 a person a night, inclusive of dinner, bed and breakfast, twin-share. More: www.hotelendsleigh.com. www.visitbritain.com.au www.visitcornwall.com www.singaporeair.com
Nautical character and bags of class:
Cornish tasty: The dining room at Tresanton