Looking for a new romantic getaway? Consider Cornwall for the perfect cosy escape for two, says MEG WALKER.
Think of Cornwall and what immediately springs to mind are beaches, cream teas, surfing, seafood and ice cream. But what you might not realise is that this little corner of the UK offers the perfect wintry escape. Think about it: the crowds have all gone, leaving you this beautiful wonderland to enjoy sans queues and hefty accommodation fees.
So, what does one do in Cornwall in winter? Firstly, the area benefits from a unique subtropical climate, so you're not likely to be met with snow, stopping you from enjoying a bracing coastal walk. And feel free to indulge in as many cream teas as you wish, as beach season is a few months away yet.
I've had the pleasure of visiting Cornwall twice now, and neither one was in summer. On both visits, I was met with inviting boutique hotels, Michelin-worthy food, perfect temperatures to enjoy explorative walks, and mesmerising attractions I never knew existed here. And on both occasions, I had wished my husband was with me. It seemed the perfect place to reconnect: quiet, charming, where nooks invite you to cosy up with a tipple and catch up on all the things you never seem to have time to talk about back home.
WHERE TO REST
Let's start with the digs: My experience of Cornwall's accommodation leaves me thinking they really know how to do hospitality here. Beginning with the slate sign that read ?Meg? as I reached my bedroom door at The Idle Rocks Hotel in St Mawes (idlerocks.com), every little detail told me I was a truly welcome guest. Each bedroom carries the same de?cor theme, but with little unique touches. Mine, for instance, housed a china cabinet that complemented the red details in the fabrics, while another featured a giant bathtub at the foot of the bed and artwork that hung above which perfectly mirrored this feature. I was told the owner's wife was responsible for such finishes. And I think I'd like her very much. Everything about The Idle Rocks feels luxe, with only 19 bedrooms, meaning you're not just a number, but an honoured guest. It's also a member of the Relais & Cha?teaux group, meaning the food here is superb. I dined on saffron arancini, roast pigeon and a beautiful piece of hake that was delicately prepared. And each morning, I grabbed a small basket, filled it with my choice of fruit and veg, and handed it to the smiling server, who took my ingredients and turned them into my own personal juice to prep me for the day. (We won't mention the sinful eggs Florentine or porridge with clotted cream I accompanied it with...)
The Idle Rocks? sister, the St Mawes Hotel (stmaweshotel.com) is a charming seven-bedroom hotel, which has seen a recent refurb that mirrors the de?cor of The Idle Rocks, and features a 25-seat cinema and super-cosy bar and restaurant where dishes like calamari and lobster risotto pair perfectly ?with a glass of Cornish Orchards cider. The vibe here is definitely a little more laid-back than that of its big sister - a bit younger, more casual, but the standards are equally high.
DON?T LEAVE WITHOUT SEEING
The beauty of St Mawes (aside from its actual beauty) is its location. Situated just 50 minutes from Cornwall Airport Newquay, it's a short hop from some of Cornwall's most charming attractions, including The Lost Gardens of Heligan (heligan.com), a phenomenal restoration project that unearthed a vast natural wonderland that was left to near ruin when the gardeners left to serve in WWI. Today, it offers visitors an intimate rendezvous with nature, from the naturally grown pineapples through Victorian methods to the hens, pigs, sheep and cattle that reside on the land. Make sure to set aside time to feast in the organic cafe?. Everything served is grown or reared onsite or sourced from very nearby (forget food miles - they do things in yards).
Staying on the theme of local produce, a visit to the Tregothnan Tea Plantation (tregothnan.co.uk) will provide you with a newfound love of the famous cuppa. The folks here are passionate about tea - right down to the number of minutes they brew each cup (it's four, by the way). Fascinatingly, this is the UK's very first commercial tea plantation, and only began planting tea in 1999, and selling it in 2005. A walk amongst the grounds is a must, and I promise you that once you've tasted their produce, you'll want to take some home.
St Mawes? famous castle, built by Henry VIII in the 16th century as a fortress, is well preserved and serves as a great example of the Tudor king's military investment. For me, it was the perfect starting point for a lovely stroll to St Just in Roseland, home to a beautiful 13th century church and a cemetery that rests on the hillside. Your walk will naturally lead you to Miss V's Cornish Cream Teas, a little tea hut on the side of the road set up by the innovative Amy Long, who bakes all the treats herself. (Surely, you've earned a scone by now.)
PREPARE TO FEAST
Cornwall's famous port of Falmouth is just a short ferry ride from St Mawes. Here, you'll find yourself spoilt for choice when it comes to unique coffee shops, pubs and restaurants.
You can't go far wrong, though, with a visit to the Star & Garter, where owners Elliot and Becca serve up eclectic but hearty fare that focuses on fresh local produce and nose-to-tail eating. Before your stay is finished, however, a dinner at The Watch House in St Mawes (watchhousestmawes.co.uk) is called for. We sampled a superb sharing platter of shellfish before tucking into the freshest fish you can imagine (the harbour is just outside the door).
You might be wondering at this point about that romantic element I mentioned earlier. Well, in my mind, nothing says romantic getaway more than cold walks along the seaside, a quiet pint by the fire, and tucking into a gorgeous feast for two before turning into a plush room overlooking the harbour and listening to the sounds of the waves delicately crashing outside your window. I long for the chance to return here with my plus one.
The Winter Getaway package at The Idle Rocks and St Mawes Hotel includes two nights? accommodation, cream tea, three- course dinner on both nights (one at each hotel), breakfast and a film screening in the St Mawes Cinema, from approx €280 per room per night midweek at The Idle Rocks, idlerocks.com; €265 at the St Mawes Hotel, stmaweshotel.com. Flights from Dublin to Newquay, from €29.99 each way, aerlingus.ie.