St Mawes, Cornwall
Hotel Tresanton exudes an air of cosy solitude and secluded intimacy. It is incredibly well located with wonderful St Mawes Castle just at the top of the hotel (accessed via 137 steps), and a little beach at the bottom of the hotel. A cluster of white stone buildings dating from 1760 at the earliest and linked by almost Mediterranean courtyards, terraces, flights of narrow steps and little covered passageways, it is a charming and wonderful hide-away that offers pure peace and relaxation, stepping back in time to a slower way of life.
The very approach to the hotel is quirky – one has to drive past the car park situated above the establishment, round past the castle and down to the bottom, and stop in a narrow road on double yellow lines, while the hotel sends a porter round to collect one’s luggage and park one’s car. Then it is up through the passageways and the flower-filled courtyards to the reception – a small area with polished wooden desk and a friendly greeting from the lady behind.
The hotel has several themes going – there is the inevitable preoccupation with the sea, which manifests itself mainly in the artwork – both in the lounge, which is full of thessalian works of art, and in rooms, with large and more modern coastal paintings; and there is the intriguing and gloriously cultured theme of antiquities. This is evidenced in the mosaics that comprise the floors and walls of bathrooms and the restaurant floor; the large fossil replicas that adorned stairwells; the drawings of The Great Bow and Odysseus and Penelope just outside our room door; a Poseidon mosaic in an entrance passage; and the occasional Ancient-Greek-style head dotted here and there throughout the hotel.
The main body of the hotel was originally a sailing club, which morphed into a hotel before closing for a while, whereupon it was bought by the designer Olga Polizzi, who has carefully managed the design of the entire hotel, down to the individual rooms. Everything bears her individual stamp, which roughly translates as a well-considered and tasteful mixture of contemporary and old, with an emphasis on placing the hotel in its particular context (hence the nautical themes), and tapping into local arts and crafts (there are, therefore, several pictures from the Newlyn School dotted around).
Our room, reached via an impressive dark wooden staircase and along corridors of a colour somewhere between cream and beige, was spacious and yet snug, with a wide and deeply sumptuous bed, large windows offering views that look out to the sea and to St Anthony’s Lighthouse; a most gorgeously carved wooden Jacobean chair, a laudably small and basic television and DVD player (hurrah! At long last, somewhere that doesn’t place an emphasis on modern contraptions!); elegant furniture and a few well-chosen books. Actually, well-chosen books were another theme of the hotel – again, with a slight classical bias – and these could be found scattered around in numerous rooms and passageways, available for interested guests to browse. The decor of the room – as throughout the hotel – was sophisticated, classical and elegant – a well-judged mixture of old and new, but nothing too garish or outlandish – just pure comfort and grace. The bathroom sported a large marble sink, Ren toiletries and a shower in the bath. Yes, there were a few faded corners in the bedroom and badly-patched-up mosaic tiles in the bathroom, but this did nothing to detract from the charm of the place. Tristan was all-catered for with a z-bed made up for him at the end of our bed, and a complimentary soft toy seal, which was an immensely thoughtful and highly appreciated touch (this has since become a favourite toy).
Although the hotel is child-friendly (and offers a playroom and children’s garden complete with playhouse), children are not allowed in the restaurant at dinner-time, except for a very early sitting (incidentally, I was pleased to note that they take dogs as well, with a special dog-friendly bar, which also caters for children after the hour in which they are not allowed in the restaurant), and so I was regrettably dining alone. But we all went down to the lounge together, first, for drinks.
They were only too pleased to welcome Tristan here (in fact, several members of staff came in just to meet him!), and quickly brought wine lists and the menu for me to peruse. We settled ourselves in clean and smart grey sofas flanking the huge and ornate stone fireplace – which was blazing away with logs and coals, throwing a tremendous amount of heat out into the large, lemon-coloured room. There were various other tables surrounded by cosy-looking sofas and chairs; interesting furniture and ornaments, and piles of board games, books and magazines available for entertainment. The effect of the decor, ancient fireplace, furniture and lay-out was not a home-from-home, but the home one could only ever wish to have.
The wine list itself was good, with a wide range of wines broken down by country – a touch I rather liked, and with a good range of prices, although there were no descriptions for those less confident in their wine knowledge.
I chose a Yealands Gewürztraminer from the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand. A very pale straw colour is contrasted by a very strong nose, with predominantly floral aromas – orange and apple blossoms but with a hint of the traditional Gewürztraminer lychee and rose. On the palate is a curious mixture of a texture that is refreshing, yet also thick and luscious. Incredibly smooth, it rolls over the tongue in a sumptuous wave, bringing with it flavours of lychee, those that were captured on the nose – including some fresh apples, more mineral tones – a touch of dry, crumbly chalk, and spice – with a fierce little bite at the end of ginger and pepper. All round, an excellent and impressive wine, with a perfect balance of a touch of sweetness and dryness.
Olives and salted cashews were brought, and we played a game of dominos, before I was taken through to the dining room. The walls, ceiling and delineating square pillars are all boarded in tongue-and-groove cream-coloured wood; whilst the nautical theme is brought back into effect by the wall lights, which emulate shells and by the wave-like ceiling lights. These latter were turned off to provide a more subdued and intimate atmosphere, which was enhanced by glowing candles set into stones and burning on every table. A contrast to the predominant white is provided in the form of plants in the corner, and rather lovely bird iron-work flanking the entrance door. Tables were dressed in white linen tablecloths; creamy-painted wooden chairs are padded with dark blue seats with matching blue banquettes, on one of which I was comfortably seated, with a few nautical-style cushions.
There was – refreshingly – no music in restaurant but enough entertainment was provided by the woman on the table nearest to me who insisted on not allowing any of member of her party to get a word in edgeways, and talking exclusively about herself, down to describing in detail her recent trip to the dentist (this was more of a horror film than a classic movie, however), and a description of her Romanian hairdresser in Hastings (did you know people go to their hairdressers every week?!). As my astonishment at this woman’s self-preoccupation turned to despair at humanity, I was provided with a flash of relief and amusement when, as she described a trip during which, in what was clearly an unprecedented feat of bravery and daring, she embraced a 40-foot whale, one of her companions commented wryly “and the whale never recovered from it”!
The menu is relatively short, with five starters (including Iberico ham), five fish and shellfish starters, and five main courses: three of which are fish, the other duck and a vegetarian mushroom and polenta dish.
Bread had already been placed on the table when I arrived, both brown and white, with the latter standing out, as an outstanding chewy sourdough with crunchy crust that went beautifully with the very strong-flavoured, spicy and grassy olive oil provided as a dip.
My starter of mozzarella, tomato and avocado was superlative – one of the freshest-tasting salads I have ever encountered. The tomatoes were heritage, and bursting with different flavours and colours; the salad leaves and basil were lightly dressed in oil and crunchingly fresh; the avocado perfectly ripe and enhanced by a touch of salt, and the mozzarella wonderfully creamy. It was a highly impressive start to the meal.
The high standard was kept up in my main of whole lemon sole. This was served with a side dish of crunchy buttery cabbage and Romanesco; and topped with slices of chorizo, capers and stir-fried tenderstem broccoli. The latter was the only element that I didn’t think worked particularly well – its oriental flavour seemed to jar with the otherwise Mediterranean air to the dish. The fish itself was extremely fresh; tender and delicate and perfectly cooked – the chorizo worked surprisingly well to add a needed salty element, as did the buttery cabbage which also lent a contrasting texture. I would have wished for more of the buttery sauce, but could not otherwise quibble with a beautifully-executed dish.
The dessert menu was equally short, with four desserts and a cheese plate, as well as some ice-creams and sorbets and dessert wines listed. To accompany my dessert, I had my arm ever so easily twisted to try a chilled sweet red wine that cut like a dream through the creamy richness of my chocolate delice. This was a crunchy-bottomed concoction, topped with luxurious dark chocolate and with an upper layer of creamy mousse. I had swapped the accompanying espresso ice-cream for praline ice-cream, which was almost as rich and exquisite as the delice.
The staff had been exemplary throughout the meal: polite, efficient, friendly, informative when I asked questions about the hotel, and ever so helpful. Tea, taken up to the room, was excellent, and accompanied by lovely truffles.
Breakfast was served back down in the restaurant – a circular table provides fresh juices, pastries, cereals, fruits, nuts and seeds, and an excellent menu offers a variety of tempting hot options (including one featuring Welsh rarebit which I found hard to resist). Tristan was again well-looked after, and was offered hot chocolate when we ordered tea and coffee; and was given a choice of sweeter options off the menu, including the pancakes which we ordered for him, and he much enjoyed. Mr Marshall-Luck had perfectly acceptable smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, and I had excellent smoked haddock on a bed of spinach with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce – which worked perfectly as a dish and was a healthy, delicious and nourishing breakfast.
This is an utterly enchanting place to stay, where nothing seems too much trouble for members of staff, who are delightful; and with the most wonderful food. To stay here just one night was a delight; to stay longer must be a little taste of paradise.
Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s Food and Wine Critic