Stylist’s acting production editor, Gareth Watkins spends a weekend on the north Cornish coast…
It’s Friday night after a long week at the typeface and my six months pregnant girlfriend Sophie and I are standing on the packed concourse of Paddington station waiting for the platform to appear for the 19.03 to Bodmin Parkway. I sigh surveying the crowd, “Surely all these people can’t be for our train?” then turn around to see her disappearing towards platform four (she’s surprisingly quick on her pins for a heavily pregnant lady).
The first rule of travelling to Cornwall on a Friday night: book seats, otherwise you’re standing all the way to Totnes with all the other commuters. And they are commuters – more and more people are prepared to spend over four hours on the train to balance the work/life scales at the weekend. It’s the go-to destination for celebs (Madonna, Damien Hirst, Richard and Judy – all the big names – have houses out west) – more rugged, secluded and ‘real’ than the Cotswolds and with that salty whiff of nostalgia for the seaside holidays of your youth.
Even our hotel, the St Moritz – with its art-deco styling – looks like it could be taking time out from Miami Beach to enjoy the stunning view overlooking the Daymer Bay on the Camel estuary. But this is no interloper; there has been a hotel on the site since the Thirties. Named after the renowned luxury Swiss resort, the current hotel retains a commitment to the finer things but with a laid-back ‘it’s fine to wear flip-flops to dinner’ atmosphere. It’s the kind of place you’d expect to find Richard Branson lolloping round in shorts and sandals, phone in one hand, bodyboard in the other. Little coincidence perhaps that one of the current owners is a former CEO of Virgin Atlantic Airways.
Saturday morning and having arrived in the dark it’s time to explore. Firstly of our suite, or more accurately, luxury flat, all hi-tech kitchen and designer Ercol-esque furniture. Breathtaking as it is, it’s nothing compared to the views along the coastal path which takes you down to the village of Rock and from there a short boat ride to Padstow, or Padstein as it is now widely known – current Rick Stein count is four restaurants and three shops (rickstein. com). As we have an afternoon of pampering at the hotel’s spa we opt for a ‘light’ lunch of the three Cornish food groups: pasty, ice-cream and fudge. Consumed in the classic British style – on the harbour wall, being attacked by seagulls.
Back at the hotel Sophie pops to the Cowshed Spa, the only one outside London aside from Babington House, for a special maternity massage (one word review: “Aaamazing”). Of course there’s plenty of nonmaternity activities; learn to surf at nearby Polzeath (wavehunters. co.uk), head to the Eden Project (edenproject.com) or search for the beast on Bodmin Moor (bodminmoor.co.uk). I just fall asleep under a book on our terrace.
Thoroughly unwound, we head to the restaurant. Local produce is at the fore; all the ingredients in the pollock, lobster and asparagus risotto all come from within five miles. In this very foodie corner of Cornwall with Rick Stein and Nathan Outlaw’s two Michelin-starred restaurant just down the road (nathan-outlaw.com), the hotel has some culinary heavyweights as neighbours, but head chef Jamie Porter more than holds his own, his standout being duck breast, confit leg pistachio croquette, carrot purée and grapes (£18.75).
Sunday arrives but there’s none of that back-to-school feeling as we’re chauffeured back to the station in the hotel’s own Land Rover. We’re re-invigorated and re-booted for the week ahead. See you on platform four next Friday.
Rooms in the St Moritz Hotel start at £145, stmoritzhotel.co.uk.