Seaside Delights on the Cornish Riviera
An old yachting refuge, the once-dilapidated Hotel Tresanton has been reclaimed and reborn under the design-savvy auspices of new owners to become the best place to stay in this newly fashionable southwestern edge of Britain.
Here on the Roseland Peninsula on Cornwall’s temperate south coast in the picturesque and unspoiled fishing village of St. Mawes, Olga Polizzi (scion of England’s most famous hotel dynasty, the Fortes) and her family have created a boutique hotel with a nautical motif, featuring breezy terraces, gorgeous views, and a simple but superb restaurant specializing in local ingredients with wisps of Mediterranean influence (one of the hotel’s many aspects reminiscent of seaside resorts much farther south).
This is the only place to be in Cornwall for Sunday lunch. The Tresanton can also plan your getaway picnic to the quiet coves and deserted beaches of the nearby Lizard Peninsula (the southernmost point in England and one of its most beautiful). Sail there on the family’s 48- foot Pinuccia, the sloop-rigged racing yacht originally commissioned by the Italian publisher Rizzoli for the 1939 World Cup.
Another worthy destination is Padstow’s famed The Seafood Restaurant. The friendly little port of Padstow is one of Cornwall’s oldest towns (founded in the 6th century) and quaint enough to attract stopovers by those en route to Land’s End, but the devotees who book here months in advance hardly stumble upon this much-lauded eatery by chance.
People come from all over the country (“foreigners” to home-bred Cornishmen) to eat in this light, airy, plant-filled restaurant housed in a former quayside grain warehouse, and thrill to classic dishes (grilled Dover sole, local oysters) and imaginative adaptations (spicy Goan fish curry, seafood ravioli) alike.
Chef-owner, author, BBC food-series personality and seafood guru Rick Stein’s careful and expert Harborside shopping in Padstow choice of local “gifts from the sea” is best showcased in his signature fruits de mer plate, handpicked off the trawlers and lobster boats bobbing outside.
Britain’s Most Famous and Influential Artists’ Colony
With 326 miles of dramatically contorted coastline (well over 100 of them protected as the ruggedly scenic Coastal Path, a must-hike choice for international trekkers), Cornwall also offers peaceful villages and deserted headlands. St. Ives is the most famous of the West Country’s fishing villages, a Cubist tumble of well-kept white cottages falling over one another.
The almost Mediterranean quality of light has attracted artists here; today’s art galleries and artisans’ shops prolong its role as Britain’s most famous artists’ colony with a holiday-resort air.
That London bastion of British art, the Tate Gallery, opened an offshoot here in 1993 in a handsome rotunda above the sea with striking views from its rooftop restaurant. It includes works by the St. Ives school of artists, mostly from 1925 to 1975, drawn from the mother museum’s rich collection.
It also administers the small but special Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, studio and home of St. Ives’s leading artist who, together with her husband, painter Ben Nicholson, helped establish this port town as an outpost for avant-garde and abstract artists in the 1930s.
This is also the land of ancient myth: according to legend, King Arthur was born and held court at nearby Tintagel Castle, its crumbling ruins crowning Cornwall’s north coast, with Merlin’s Cave at the foot of the rocky cliffs below.
Where England Comes to an End
The last town before Land’s End, Penzance is famous for its pirates and for a climate so mild (courtesy of the Gulf Stream) that palm trees and subtropical plants are commonplace. As a favorite base for exploring the westernmost county in England, Jean Shrimpton’s Abbey Hotel is the town’s first choice and one of the most eclectic and charming hotels around. In the deft hands of the 1960s supermodel, this rambling row of 300-year-old townhouses built on the foundations of a 12th-century abbey is filled with antiques and a certain bohemian air.
Much of Penzance’s importance is as the starting point for a trip to the castled island of St. Michael’s Mount, attached to the mainland by nothing more than a cobbled causeway. For centuries it has been the subject and inspiration for the local artists’ community, seeming to float ethereally just above the sea. It was originally created in 1135 as a sister abbey to the more famous Mont-Saint-Michel across the Channel in Normandy. From afar, the parapets and terraced cliff gardens of the monastery-castle-fortress create a romantic profile against skies of changing light and scudding clouds. The arduous climb to the top of the castle, rising 250 feet from the sea, is well worth it for the views.
Nearby Land’s End is an obligatory day trip. Often called the “toe” of England, this is the southernmost and westernmost point in the ancient duchy of Cornwall with a distinctive flavor and coastal beauty. It is one of Britain’s most visited natural attractions, since the craggy promontory’s tip (more officially called Penwith) is where England ends—or begins. The ancient Cornish called it “Pen von Laz” meaning “end of the earth.” For those seeking bleak end-of-the-world solitude or moved by geographical extremities, lonely heather moors that overlook the point where the Atlantic Ocean converges with the English Channel are a gull’s cry away. Facing west, on a clear day you’ll see the outline of the Isles of Scilly.
Of the group of 100-plus rocky islands (five inhabited but many more named) with exotic palms, rare seabirds, and some of the most beautiful beaches in Britain, Tresco, privately owned since 1834, is most visited— primarily for its world-famous gardens. With more than 3,000 species of plants, they are considered the finest in the British Islands, a subtropical wonderland thanks to the Mediterranean-like climate provided by the Gulf Stream. The only place worth staying on the car-free island is also one of its highlights: The Island Hotel sits on its own little promontory, surrounded by gardens and open views of the sea and off-islands.
A Walled City and Architectural Feast
In 1779, author James Boswell wrote of Chester: “It pleases me more than any town I ever saw.” Important in Roman times (England’s largest amphitheater is here), the Middle Ages, and during an 18th-century revival, Chester has much to show for its three historical heydays.
A well-preserved fortified wall, one of the finest in England, surrounds much of the historic city: built during the Roman period, and rebuilt at different times after that, it is topped by a lovely 2-mile footpath. Parts of the wall bypass the city’s important red sandstone cathedral on two sides and lead to the 19th- century Eastgate, where Chester’s famous wrought-iron clock tower proudly stands.
Chester’s greatest attraction is the city itself: within the walls is one of England’s best collection of black-and-white “magpie” buildings, some facades a riot of striped patterns.
Anticipating today’s high-rises, the two-tiered decoratively timbered buildings with a connecting walkway above street level make up the Chester Rows, a popular double-decker shopping area that is the city’s most famous feature. After a day full of history and architecture (and the crowds they attract), repair to the serenity of the city’s premier hotel, the Chester Grosvenor. This handsome 19th-century building in the heart of Chester’s historic neighborhood can trace its origins to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
It is owned by the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate, and as a sophisticated hotel featuring its own gourmet restaurant, the Arkle, the Grosvenor knows no competition in this area of the country.
England’s Most Visited Heroic Site
Standing at the very heart of the British national identity, Windsor is the oldest and largest castle in Britain and, with 1,000 rooms, the largest occupied castle in the world. The present queen, Elizabeth II, spent much of her childhood here, so it is not surprising that her public felt her pain when a devastating fire partially destroyed 100 rooms in the state and private apartments in 1992, her annus horribilis.
A magnificent $53 million restoration completed in 1997 employed a beehive of artisans using the same techniques as when the castle was begun under William the Conqueror, 900 years ago. It has been lived in by eight successive royal houses since then. In 1916, King George V assumed the name of the place out of fondness—and to disassociate the royal family from its Germanic origins.
Highlights of a trip to Windsor Castle include the Changing of the Guard, which takes place even when the queen is not in residence (although with less pomp and regalia); the Queen Mary’s Doll House, an exquisite gift in miniature designed in 1923 by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens; and the 16th-century architectural jewel of St. George’s Chapel which, together with Westminster Abbey, shares the distinction of being a pantheon of many English monarchs. The flat tomb in the center contains the vault of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour.
Medici Pleasure Palace by the Sea
Europe is a place where people come from,” wrote Henry Morrison Flagler more than 100 years ago. “Nobody should actually go there.” The self-made American developer, railroad magnate, oil baron, and partner of John D. Rockefeller in the creation of Standard Oil, built the magnificent Breakers in 1896, importing master European artisans to create his twin-towered, Medici villa—inspired extravaganza.
Today, the ultra-affluent enclave of Palm Beach has other top-drawer mega-resorts to be sure, but the 140-acre Breakers was the first to envision Florida’s then wild and alligator-infested swamplands as the playground destination of choice for the North’s most socially prominent families.
Rebuilt after a fire in 1926, it is possibly the most remarkable beachfront hotel on the eastern seaboard, having secured its priceless sliver of real estate way back when competition was nonexistent. A heroic $145-million lily-gilding renovation has recently put it back on the map.
Vaulted ceilings, frescoes, Venetian chandeliers, 15th-century Flemish tapestries, and a friendly, snap-to staff of 1,300 combine with a cool Floridian palette of sea foam greens, aqua, and seashell pinks to create the ultimate warm-weather resort. Gorgeously manicured, fountain-splashed grounds are shaded by more than 3,000 regal palms (representing thirty species) and include two 18-hole golf courses (one of which was Florida’s first) and twenty-one Har-Tru tennis courts.
Meandering pathways lead down to a half-mile of private beach, the breezy location of the hotel’s Beach Club and Mediterranean-style 20,000-square foot indoor/outdoor spa.
The Most Popular Resort Destination on Earth
Still the pacesetter for theme parks around the globe, the brainchild of entertainment giant and genius animator Walt Disney is an ever-expanding universe of make-believe and escapism, celebrating magic, technology, nature, and, of course, Mickey Mouse. In the 30-plus years since it opened its doors, the 30,000-acre former cow pasture has developed into four distinct main theme parks, each of which nurtures its own personality.
The Magic Kingdom (opened in 1971), the lighthearted fantasy world that revolves around Cinderella’s Castle, is home to two of Disney World’s most famous (and very different) attractions: It’s a Small World and Space Mountain. Epcot (1982), the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, is an educational theme park where thrills are mostly of the mind, with attractions such as the very popular Spaceship Earth. At Disney-MGM Studios (1989), visitors walk right onto a “Hollywood that never was and always will be” movie set that blends nostalgia with high-tech wonders (don’t miss the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror).
The 500-acre Disney’s Animal Kingdom (1998) is Disney World’s largest and newest theme park, with more than 1,000 animals (from giraffes to lions) roaming in a natural, Serengeti-like setting. Three themed water parks fill out the Worldly options.
There are countless less expensive (and less fantastical) hotel options in the Orlando area, but make the magic last by staying in one of the Disney-owned and-run hotel/resorts. The benefits are numerous, including sheer logistics:They’re close to the principal attractions and are linked by complimentary boats, buses, or monorail.
Of Disney’s luxury options, the re-created gabled vintage of the Victorian-style Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is one of the most elegant and least contemporary in atmosphere, evoking the breezy days of a turn-of-the-century summer resort.
A Grand Winter Escape, Italian Style
Sometimes called the “Hearst Castle of the East,” the Italian Renaissance-style Villa Vizcaya was completed in 1916 as the extravagant wintertime retreat of Chicago industrialist James Deering, known for his deep pockets and keen European sensibility.
A thousand continental artisans labored for five years to create the estate and its world-famous bay-front gardens in then-undeveloped Miami (whose population at the time was less than 10,000), incorporating a rich collection of antique doors, gates, paneling, ceilings, fireplaces, and decorative arts brought home from Europe by the owner and his architects.
Deerings’ fascination with 15th-through 18th-century art and architecture is obvious in every detail of the lavish mansion, forty-two of whose seventy rooms are open to the public. It’s a remarkable paean to late Renaissance architecture, authentic enough to convince visitors that it’s been standing here overlooking Biscayne Bay for 400 years.
Of Vizcaya’s current 28 acres (all that remains of the original 180), 10 are dedicated to formal gardens planned by Deering’s Florentine-educated landscape artist. Adaptations were made to accommodate South Florida’s brilliant light and subtropical climate, but the stone fountains, grottoes, statuary, and plant life still evoke a Mediterranean grandeur of centuries past and make a favorite spot for wedding photos. The waterfront tea house, with its little footbridge, is a traditional proposal spot.
Art Deco Darling on the American Riviera
As Miami continues to nurture its role as an international crossroads, the hot-spot neighborhood of South Beach remains its vibrant, glamorous, multicultural core, open 24/7. Much of the neighborhood’s visual allure derives from palm-lined Ocean Drive, along whose length (from 5th to 21st Streets and east to Alton Road) lies the largest concentration of tropical Art Deco architecture in the world, some 800 pastel treasures from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this electric concoction of teal, lavender, pink, and peach buildings houses outdoor cafes, shops, nightspots, condominium apartments, chic hotels, and world-class restaurants, but the real artwork here is the parade of people.
If all the world is a stage, Ocean Drive is its casting couch, its sidewalks and eating places fairly choked with alarmingly good-looking people. It’s all best appreciated from Ocean Drive’s Cafe Cardozo (in the Cardozo Hotel at 13th and Ocean Drive), a kind of 24-hour reviewing stand that allows you to step out of the path of the year-round tourist crush and take in the sights.
To really escape the rollerbladers, buffer-then-thou poseurs, and Euro invaders, retreat to the cool oasis of the ultra-hip but classy Tides Hotel, a Deco queen from 1936. All of its oversized seaward-facing rooms are done in a quiet, good-taste style and have telescopes for “beach combing.” The Tides’s small but excellent lobby-level restaurant, 1220 at the Tides (the hotel’s address) is a total scene-and-cuisine experience.
A South Beach Institution
Before SoBe, Joe be, touts Miami Beach’s (and possibly the nation’s) number-one crab institution, referring to its decades of renown prior to the rebirth of its trendy neighborhood, South Beach. Word spread quickly when the family-run place first opened; in 1913, and the line to get in has been long ever since. On the menu, the stone crab: A delicacy of sweet meat that is as much a symbol of Miami as the palm tree or the state seal, and especially delectable because of its limited-season availability (mid-October to mid-May).
At Joe’s, they come in four different sizes (from medium to jumbo) and the standard order is an ; imposing mound of crabs, served with drawn butter or a piquant and creamy mustard sauce, coleslaw, creamed spinach, and cottage-fried sweet potatoes. For dessert, the Key lime pie is the real thing. Freshness and quality are paramount, but if you can’t indulge in person, Joe’s will FedEx you your fix, overnight. That helps explain why they sell about 200 tons during the average crab season, with 1 ton alone served on a good day in the 450-seat indoor restaurant, manned by a formally attired staff. Tender and sweet, Joe’s crabs aren’t cheap, even though they come from local waters—Damon Runyon once said they were sold by the karat. Go anyway and find out what all the hype is about—but be prepared to wait.