Cornwall, admittedly, does hold a rather soft spot in my heart. Having last visited with my husband only weeks after he asked me to marry him back in 2010, we recently headed back with our three-year-old daughter, Lola. Though there was significantly less alcohol involved this time, this stunning pocket of England shined brighter than ever and we had a glorious three days of beach walks, much-lusted after restaurant visits and some serious relaxation.
We live in Dorset so, admittedly, the Cornish coast isn’t a million miles from us, but we collected Lola from nursery on a Friday afternoon and headed off. Arriving at twilight, we checked into our gorgeous four-bedroom abode at Natural Retreats – a gorgeous new assortment of luxurious, self-catering cottages located in Trewhiddle just a hop outside of the better-known St. Austell. After dropping our bags we sought out the nearest, locals-only pub for supper which happened to be the charming, extremely quaint Polgooth Inn, a hearty pub – what I call a 'proper' pub – perched on a hill high out of town.
After a gigantic dinner we flopped into bed at Natural Retreats for our first of three seriously good night’s sleep. Now, self-catering may not be what you want on holiday, but these cottages are extremely luxurious and very well decked out so you have the intimacy of your own space, but with lovely marbled bathrooms, enormous beds, high tech entertainment systems and a 24 hour concierge service, such as you would find at a hotel. This is hardly camping, is it? Our weekend home made the perfect spot from which to explore the idyllic fishing village of Padstow, the sweeping beach of Watergate Bay and the Eden Project, which we’d heard so much about and vowed to visit this time.
What to do
The Eden Project is like nowhere we have ever seen. A drive through almost arid countryside leads to the entrance of this vast space, a sort of living, breathing homage to environmental protection. Appearing as if out of nowhere, the biomes of this incredible conceptual space house perfect examples of untouched environments that are, sadly, so rarely found on today’s planet. The rainforest biome, for example, is an immaculate example of a natural rainforest, demonstrating exactly the same humidity, heat, sound and plant life. Lola was mesmerised, as were we, and it was a wonderful way to introduce her to basic concepts of the natural world.
Where to eat
And then, there was the food. I’m married to a chef and restaurateur so food plays a pivotal role in our daily lives. Holiday destinations are chosen around whether or not locations offer worthy restaurants, the local cuisine is always overly scrutinised and we have always delighted, more than anything, in eating in new restaurants. This area of Cornwall certainly delivered. Our delightful Friday night, fireside supper at The Polgooth Inn started our weekend, from a culinary perspective, with a bang. Local sea life was delicately crafted into creamy fish pie; game graced the menu on more than one occasion (rare for most local pubs) and there was a lovely children’s menu to choose from (though Lola was fast asleep in her buggy at this point). And things only got better from there.
We booked ourselves into the seriously memorable Seafood Restaurant of Rick Stein. Padstow, a picture-perfect harbour town if ever I saw one, has the great man’s stamp all over it (though it still retains a charming local quality – at least we thought so, having never been before). If you don’t want the formality of the restaurant (or your children are of an age where sitting for more than five minutes without wrecking a white tablecloth is impossible), his fish and chip restaurant just next door is ideal. Food can be taken away and eaten on the local beach or at communal (but comfortable) wooden benches with views across to the water. And if, like us, you fancy braving the formality of Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, it’s well worth every penny (your children must be aged three or up, however). Smart and impeccable it may be, but it is in no way intimidating. Everyone was extremely sweet from the moment we walked in, the Mini Stein’s menu is a wonderful combination of kiddie favourites (battered fish and chips, of course) or healthier options of grilled fish fillets and lots of vegetables. Lola was invited into the kitchen after her lunch to meet the chef (and receive some chocolates to take home which went down a treat), and crayons and paper were provided from the moment we sat down. All this meant I could sip on a surprisingly delicious Rick Stein Spanish white with my lobster risotto and Jamie could slowly feast on a perfect monkfish curry. It was a memorable family meal, to say the least.
The next day proved no less spoiling as we headed to the beaches just outside of Padstow at Watergate Bay. A sweeping and vast expanse of sand, the area is teaming with surfers, children rock pooling and flags flying for as far as the eye can see. The vista is enormous and, though we were totally exposed to the elements, the air was warm and fresh, making the beach a perfect spot for a pre-lunch blast. And atop Watergate Bay, hovering as if out of a rock, sits the infamous Fifteen Cornwall. As with Jamie Oliver’s other Fifteen enterprises, this is no exception in hiring young men and women to work in the kitchen who wouldn’t necessarily get the chance otherwise. The décor is funky (we especially loved the graffiti-rimmed, open-plan kitchen), the Italian menu is extremely enticing and the staff are, again, very welcoming of children. So laid back is the atmosphere, children passed from table to table, playing and giggling and no one batted an eyelid, neither guest nor waitress.
When to go
Any time of year is fabulous in Cornwall, but visiting just after the schools went back at the end of summer was pretty idyllic. I imagine Spring being wonderful for much the same reason. The beaches were buzzing but offered breathing space; the restaurants had atmosphere but we didn’t have to worry about lack of availability; the climate was temperate and the colours autumnal.
How to get there
We drove from Dorset to Cornwall, which took just over 3.5 hours but, should you prefer to take the train, St Austell train station is a direct line from London’s Paddington station. Fancy flying? Newquay has an airport, meaning you needn’t worry at all about delays or road traffic.
Natural Retreats prices start at 2 nights in a 2 bedroom cottage at Natural Retreats Trewhiddle from £330, based on 4 sharing.
FAMILY FUN PACKAGE, 2 ADULTS AND UP TO 3 CHILDREN FROM £411
· 2 nights’ accommodation in a 3 or 4 bed villa at Natural Retreats Trewhiddle.
· Your complimentary welcome hamper is upgraded to include bacon, sausages, eggs and mushrooms.
· Family ticket to the Eden Project
· Family ticket to The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
To book or to find out more please contact the Concierge Team on +44 (0)844 384 3166. All packages are completely flexible and can be tailored to your requirements. Visit www.naturalretreats.co.uk for more information and to book.
Freelance travel writer Cass Chapman is the founder of luxury family travel website, Kodomo.com
Cass was also an esteemed judge at the Junior Design Awards 2014