Cornwall is well known for its 300 miles of gorgeous windswept coastline. Quaint fishing ports and spectacular sandy beaches hug rugged cliffs and headlands, lapped by waters so startlingly turquoise that you feel like you’ve landed in a different country entirely.
But while its natural beauty makes it a mecca for ramblers and surfers, the UK’s most westerly county has a host of other attractions, too – not least its vibrant foodie scene, independent boutiques and art galleries, and a whole host of seriously stylish hotels.
A couple of months ago, my husband, Tom, and I spent a few days in Mawgan Porth, a golden arc of sandy beach and small village on Cornwall’s northern coast.
Close to foodie hotspot Padstow (or Padstein, as it is now known, thanks to the four restaurants owned by celebrity chef Rick Stein), it’s also home to one of Cornwall’s best hotels, The Scarlet – a gorgeous 37-room eco retreat right above Mawgan Porth beach.
It was the perfect location for a long weekend away from it all, and though we decided to take the long route by driving down, the hotel’s location is particularly convenient if you plan to fly, with Newquay airport less than 10 minutes away by car.
It’s adults only (over 18s) here. The Scarlet is popular with honeymooners and couples of all ages looking for romance, peace and seclusion, and the chance to relax and unwind completely in the fantastic spa. Popular packages include the three- or four-night ‘babymoons’ and the three-night yoga and wellbeing breaks.
Overlooking the choppy Atlantic, this is also a mecca for surfers (catch the daily surf report on a TV screen in the reception area) and coastal hikers and ramblers will love the ample opportunities for scenic walks right on its doorstep.
The wow factor really begins from the moment you arrive at this beachfront oasis, an imposing modern structure that, to me, initially felt more like a sprawling contemporary beach house than a hotel.
Inside, a small sitting area with quirky, colourful furniture is the only distraction in an otherwise minimalist reception, designed not to detract from the jaw-dropping sea views beyond the massive double-height, floor-to-ceiling window.
Cosy up by the fireside and take in the magnificent views
Glass is used to full effect throughout, making the most of the fabulous location at every turn and blurring the boundary between inside and out.
On arrival, we were greeted by one of the front of house staff and lead over to a sofa for a brief introduction and check-in. There is no formal reception desk here, but you’ll never be left waiting for long, with the attentive staff always flitting in and out, waiting to help. This unassuming welcome makes The Scarlet feel like a home from home – albeit a very glamorous and luxurious one!
Five minutes later, we were whisked off on a tour of the hotel, taking in the bar and restaurant (the latter arranged in front of another floor-to-ceiling window, with a terrace outside for the summer) and the sprawling spa (one of the hotel’s crowning glories – more of which later).
The bar at The Scarlet with its quirky furnishings, including these gorgeous tree-trunk style wooden side tables
We also poked our head into the intimate library next door, with its pool table, board games and quirky furniture – think brown leather sofas with red patterned material seats – and lounge area, accessed up another flight of stairs, which in turn leads out onto another sun deck.
The hotel has a wealth of common areas where you can kick back and relax, and everywhere you turn you’ll see local works of modern art and sculptures, celebrating some of the county’s many artists (they have regular exhibitions, too). The vibe is quirky but homely.
The beautiful guest rooms and suites are arranged over five levels, and each of the rooms (there are five types: Just Right, Generous, Unique, Spacious and Indulgent) are individually styled.
There’s an emphasis on pale wood and natural, earthy tones, and as in the communal spaces there’re quirky touches aplenty, such as the gorgeous contemporary pendant lights next to the bed, the orange plastic dresser chair and the curved, white rocking chairs on the balcony that look like something straight out of an art gallery.
A bed with a view
The bathtub and his-and-hers sinks are integrated with the bedroom to form one open-plan area
Each of the rooms is individually styled, with unique furnishings such as these moroccan-style vases and artistic hooks
The sunsets here are magical
Like all the rooms, our ‘Generous’ one had a glass wall, sliding back to access a small, extremely private balcony overlooking the beach. I loved the open-plan bedroom and bathroom – the bathtub and his-and-hers sinks set behind the bed – and there was a separate bathroom with a toilet and shower (behind frosted glass). Both were stocked with locally sourced soap and Oula toiletries, made with Cornish ingredients.
My favourite spot was the small sitting area, where a cosy sofa for two right sat right in front of another glass wall with uninterrupted views to the sea.
I must admit that, as much as I like the idea of eco, I’m often left distinctly underwhelmed by eco retreats, which tend to skimp on style and comfort. But the plush and luxurious Scarlet Hotel definitely doesn’t fall into this camp.
That said, they really do go the extra mile to ensure that they reduce negative environmental impacts and enhance their surroundings – from banning in-room fridges, teas and coffee in order to save energy and reduce packaging (don’t worry – tea and coffee is free of charge in the public areas!), to providing towels made from organic materials. These are only changed when requested.
All guests’ rubbish is recycled, key cards reused and even the comfy spa slippers are made from recycled plastic bottles, which guests are encouraged to take home and reuse.
Visit their website and you’ll actually find 101 ways that the hotel is sustainable!
While the hotel has plenty of strings to its bow, the reason many people come to stay here is to use its luxurious spa.
The all-glass sea-facing wellness area comprises a large 13m x 4m pool and a steam room, and there’s a relaxation room, which, like the rest of the hotel, is full of quirky touches (think swinging pods and curved day beds). This overlooks a reed-fringed natural pool, which you can take a dip in… though, a word of warning: it’s shockingly cold!
The wow-factor wellness facilities
The relaxation room
The chilly natural pool – take a dip if you dare!
Beyond the natural pool, you’ll find a little barrel-shaped cedar-wood sauna, which has windows carved into the side to allow you to enjoy the views over the beach.
The barrel-shaped sauna
This sits alongside two wood-fired hot tubs, which need to be pre-booked for private use for a small extra fee of £20 per tub (for 30 minutes). But it’s worth it for the uninterrupted views out onto the sea – while your own personal waiter serves you drinks.
Tom and me enjoying the hot tub
Treatment-wise, The Scarlet spa specialises in what it calls Ayurvedic “journeys” – or, as they put it, the “nourishment of your mind, body and soul”. Three- to four-hour bespoke plans can include everything from a salt-and-seaweed scrub and white-clay wrap in the hammam, with a seawater hot tub, yoga in the sun-trap cloister garden and meditation.
I opted for a single treatment, the Sarvanga (£125, for 90 minutes), a dreamy full-body massage that, through the pace, positions and gorgeously-scented, warmed herbal oils, is designed to relieve mental over-activity (it certainly did that – I promptly fell asleep afterwards!). The tented treatment rooms and pods, meanwhile, are shrouded in complete darkness to encourage deep relaxation.
The restaurant here has a daily changing menu, masterminded by Executive Chef Tom Hunter, with dishes made from local produce.
Breakfasts are an á la carte affair, and we opted both mornings for the full works – Cornish sausage, dry cured bacon, grilled tomato, black pudding, mushroom and fried egg, to set us up for the day.
We also splashed out on a dinner during our stay, opting for three courses with a ‘wine flight’. The hotel’s sommelier picked a selection of three European wines paired to each of our dishes, which he explained thoroughly while serving. It made our dinner a really entertaining, educational experience!
Dishes include pan-fried John Dory with wild garlic, cockle and parsley sauce, and St Ives beef with caramelised shallots. I chose the Cornish crab on rye toast for starter and the fillet of black bream with crushed potatoes, asparagus, mustard and tarragon sauce, followed by dark chocolate truffle cake. Needless to say, it was as delicious as it sounds.
The Cornish crab on rye toast starter
The setting is equally impressive, with the restaurant’s open-plan, high-ceilinged space splashed with scarlet hues and low-hanging red felt lampshades. And, of course, if you’re heading here for breakfast or lunch (their three-course Sunday lunch comes highly recommended), you’ll have those wonderful sea views to enjoy with your food, too.
The restaurant, with its spectacular views and scarlet decor
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Foremost among this little town’s attractions are its beautiful west-facing beach and stunning scenery. If the weather is fine, there’s superb surfing – and you can organise a surf lesson, if you’re a beginner, through The Scarlet’s front of house staff.
We decided instead on a blustery cliff walk from Mawgan Porth to the famous Bedruthan Steps (where you can look out over the spectacular sea stacks), which took around half an hour each way.
A blustery cliff-top walk to blow away the cobwebs
The harbour town of Padstow, as mentioned, is only 20 minutes away by car and has lovely independent boutiques selling gorgeous clothes and homeware, as well as bustling bars and restaurants. It was particularly lively when we visited, as the town was celebrating its annual Obby Oss (Hobby Horse) festival, which marks the coming of the summer, on May 1.
We came back on our final night for dinner, but unfortunately didn’t book ahead into Rick Stein’s famous Café and Seafood restaurants, and found both to be fully booked. But we did find a little gem in the shape of Burgers & Fish, a gourmet restaurant run by friendly Redas Katauskas and his wife.
It was just steps from the picturesque, buzzing harbour and served up the most mouth-watering burgers my husband and I had ever tasted! It was a wonderful end to our long-weekend stay.
Beautiful Padstow, which was strung up with flags for the Padstow Obby Oss (Hobby Horse) festival when we visited
Rooms at The Scarlet start from £240 per night.
Address: Tredragon Road, Mawgan Porth, Newquay, Cornwall, TR8 4DQ.
Telephone: 01637 861800
Author: Kirsty Nutkins
Kirsty is an experienced journalist and travel writer, currently working on a national newspaper supplement as Features and Travel Editor. She is the founder of TravelLuxe.co.uk.