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.
Weekend Guests of the Astors
As surprisingly comfortable as it is overwhelmingly grand, this National Trust property is England’s most majestic country-house hotel.
Even adjectives like “spectacular” and “magnificent” seem inadequate amid the aristocratic proportions of the Italianate villa, much of whose present-day character reflects three generations of Astors (preceded by one Prince of Wales, among others), who lived here until 1966. (In the 1960s Cliveden was also the setting of the infamous Profumo scandal that led to the collapse of the Conservative government in 1964.)
A dinner in the excellent restaurant Waldo’s is reason enough to drive from London, though as an overnight guest you’ll have the luxury of working it off on the hotel’s 376 acres of riding paths or jogging trails.
Overlooking the River Thames, 15-foot-high windows afford views of the hotel’s antique boats, including Nancy Astor’s silent electric canoe. Piloted by uniformed boatmen, these are available for predinner Champagne cruises or picnics with large hampers of food furnished by the hotel.
Take pleasure in the formal gardens, drawing room fires, tailcoated footmen, chandeliered dining rooms, and palpable air of exclusivity, but what you may enjoy most is the royal treatment extended even to titleless guests.
Cliveden was built in 1666 by the Second Duke of Buckingham.
What: hotel, restaurant.
Where: 10 miles/ 16 km northwest of Windsor.
Tel: 4411628-668-561, fax 44/1628-661-837 ; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.clivedenhouse.co.uk
Cost: doubles from $320. Prix fixe dinner at Waldo’s $75.
When: dinner only daily.