Secret Hotels of Cornwall
Springtime on England's Cornish coast means walking along windswept beaches, touring gardens that are just beginning to bloom, and lingering over meals made by some of the country's most popular chefs. Best of all, there are no summer crowds or high-season prices.
Primrose Valley Hotel, St. Ives
Outside the front door lies a jumble of buckets and spades, brightly colored wet suits, and children's neoprene swimming socks. Just inside, a window ledge is crowded with wedding portraits, baby pictures, and some shots of then-shaggy-haired owners Andrew and Sue Biss taken in the early '90s. "We're slightly embarrassed of those," Andrew says. He needn't be: Primrose Valley is the kind of family-friendly place that lets it all hang out--stylishly. Since buying the Edwardian villa in 2001, the Bisses have ripped up old carpet to reveal hardwood floors, and they've nixed heavy antiques in favor of contemporary oak tables and soft Italian leather chairs. There's a full-service bar and a kitchen where the Bisses and Sue's mother, Rose, whip up full English breakfasts and picnic lunches using local ingredients. The 10 bedrooms come with private baths and vary in size. Four have ocean views--two from covered balconies. Primrose Valley is in a residential cul-de-sac just across a set of raised railroad tracks from crescent-shaped Porthminster Beach. As the hotel's website advertises, it's "bed to beach in under a minute." The nearby town of St. Ives--a five-minute walk--has been an artists' enclave since the 19th century (J.M.W. Turner, James McNeill Whistler, and Barbara Hepworth all lived here at one time or another). Its narrow cobblestone streets are home to galleries, studios, and an outpost of London's Tate collections. 011-44/173-679-4939, primroseonline.co.uk, doubles from $140, includes breakfast.
Old Coastguard Hotel, Mousehole
As its name implies, the Old Coastguard Hotel is a former lookout for the Coast Guard, and as such, it has the best ocean views in the harbor town of Mousehole (pronounced mau-zel). Picture windows look out on the bay in many rooms, which are decorated simply in a contemporary style, with beech and pine furniture and beige and brown fabrics. Of the 23 rooms, eight are in the Lodge, a newer annex down the hill. At the hotel's award-winning restaurant, the catch of the day (brought straight to the kitchen from the fish market at nearby Newlyn Harbour) is jazzed up with Thai spices, tangy salsas, and saffron. Not far from Land's End, the westernmost point in mainland England, Mousehole is a wonderfully typical fishing village--and an old one: Part of its south quay dates from the 14th century. The little cove is surrounded by shops, pubs, and tearooms. A walkway traces the coastline from the harbor, and passes right by the stone steps leading to the Old Coastguard's back garden gate. When the tide is out, large boulders are revealed just below the path. Guests bask on the sunbaked rocks, while children check out the natural tide pools, their long-handled fishnets at the ready. 011-44/173-673-1222, oldcoastguardhotel.co.uk, doubles from $158, includes breakfast.
Trehellas House, Bodmin
Built in 1740, Trehellas House has served as an inn, farmhouse, private home, even a courthouse. Some of its history is evident in the courtroom suite, where there's a cut-glass chandelier, a wood-burning fireplace, and a large bed that rests on what was formerly the judge's dais. (Another remnant of the past is the friendly resident ghost, Mr. Lobb, a farmer who owned Trehellas House 200 years ago.) The 10 other rooms have a comfortable country feel, with patchwork quilts, floral curtains, and iron beds. They're scattered throughout the main building and in a coach house annex across the gravel driveway. The restaurant, in one of the oldest and most striking parts of the building, still has the original slate floor, low-beamed ceilings, and a fireplace that's lit on cold nights. Trehellas House is a good base for garden tours. The hotel grounds are planted with soft grasses, flowering shrubs, and heathers. A stone patio is dotted with deck chairs and potted plants, and there's a large swimming pool--an unusual feature for a historic inn. The property backs onto the Pencarrow estate, a Georgian home with 50 acres to explore. Also nearby is Lanhydrock House, with extensive gardens of its own and a kitchen that would make Martha Stewart swoon: There are separate larders for fish and meat and a marble-countered dairy to keep puddings cool. The hugely popular Eden Project--with two enormous biomes that contain plants from around the world--is a 15-minute drive away. 011-44/120-872-700, trehellashouse.co.uk, doubles from $136, includes breakfast.