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.

Trevalsa Court Country House Hotel, Mevagissey

German expats Klaus Wagner and Matthias Mainka have spent the last seven years creating a sumptuous pre-WWII atmosphere at Trevalsa Court, formerly a family home that dates from 1937. They've obsessed over every detail, down to the door handles. The 13 rooms are furnished with Lloyd Loom woven chairs, and the moss-green walls are decorated with black-and-white art. In the main sitting room, light streams through mullioned windows, lemons are piled high in a silver bowl, roses float in a shallow vase, and glossy art books in English, German, and French are stacked on the coffee tables. Dinner is served in the oak-paneled dining room, where tables are set with candles and white tablecloths and windows frame the sea. The German chef, Achim Dreher, sneaks Swiss-German influences into his menus with favorites like apple strudel and potato dumplings filled with prunes. Wagner and Mainka planted the garden with spiky palms, camellias, and flowering bulbs that bloom at different times of the year. "It definitely looks like a Cornish seaside garden," Wagner says. "But you also see palm trees and things to remind you that you're on holiday." Several pairs of Adirondack chairs on the lawn face the sea, and a path at the end of the garden leads to secluded, and highly swimmable, Polstreath Beach. The Lost Gardens of Heligan, a massive garden restoration project, are two miles away. 011-44/172-684-2468, cornwall-hotel.net, doubles from $158, includes breakfast.

Mill House Inn, Trebarwith

In a small wooded valley at the bottom of a steep road, this 18th-century former corn mill looks higgledy-piggledy, with roofs and windows at all different levels. A young crowd whiles away time on slouchy sofas in the reception area, waitresses crack jokes in the dining room ("If you don't eat that garnish, we'll use it again for your main course"), and a few friendly dogs lie at their masters' feet on the bar's original flagstone floor. Visitors feel less like hotel guests than locals who've popped down to the pub for a pint. Make that gastropub: The restaurant attracts diners from around Cornwall with locally sourced seafood and meats. Weather permitting, weekly barbecues with live music are held on the terrace. Upstairs in the nine bedrooms, the thick, whitewashed stone walls are unadorned, setting off the dark wood of the headboards and desks. All rooms have pretty views of the gardens; on a clear day you can just spy the sea from No. 6 and No. 9. The village of Tintagel, three miles away, is home to the remains of a castle said to have been owned by King Arthur. And Trebarwith Strand Beach is a half a mile down the road. 011-44/184-077-0200, themillhouseinn.co.uk, doubles from $140, includes breakfast.

Mount Haven Hotel, Penzance

Orange Trevillion was drawn to Penzance, at the end of Cornwall, because of the town's proximity to St. Michael's Mount, an ancient craggy island that looks a lot like a lopsided volcano. "It's a sacred place," says Trevillion, an eccentric with carrot-colored hair (of course) who believes that four of the Earth's energy lines come together here. Formerly the site of a Benedictine priory and rumored to have once been home to a giant, the island got its name when a fisherman claimed to have seen the Archangel Michael there many years ago. Trevillion and her partners bought Mount Haven in 2001. They knocked down walls and reconfigured the old coach house to maximize views of St. Michael's Mount and the ocean. Most of the 18 rooms look out on the water. They have a distinctly Asian feel, with silk bedspreads and throw pillows covered in embroidered fabrics from Trevillion's frequent trips to India. (Room 6 is the quietest, away from both the front desk and the terrace.) Even the restaurant--where many dishes are flavored with curry and lemongrass--has views of the Mount from one end. But the best seats are on the terrace: You can see the island rising steeply out of the water, a medieval castle on its tippy-top. (Owned by the National Trust, the castle is open to the public.) At low tide, when people stroll across a granite causeway to visit, it appears as if they're walking on water. Beyond Mounts Bay and Penzance--the city made famous by Gilbert and Sullivan--is Land's End. 011-44/173-671-0249, mounthaven.co.uk, doubles from $147, includes breakfast.

Rick Stein's Café, Padstow

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