Any holiday in Cornwall must include at least one
night on its dramatic north coast. Cornwall’s north and south coastlines have
very distinct characters. The south coast looks out on to the frequently flat,
tranquil waters of the English Channel while the north faces huge waves surging
in from the Atlantic. At Cornwall’s narrowest point, these two stretches of seaside
are only fifteen miles apart.
One of the best beaches on the north coast, and one of
the coast’s best hotels, is in Newquay. Here the broad expanse of Fistral Beach
is home to a community of surfers and dogwalkers. If you’re not carrying a
board, you’re probably trying to stop your overexcited puppy chasing after all
the other dogs. Presiding over this busy, happy scene is the Headland Hotel. The
Headland sits on a literal headland that divides Fistral Beach from the town of
Newquay. At first sight the hotel looks like a film set – indeed it has been
one. It’s a towering structure, almost in the style of a French chateau with a
mansard roof and lavishly decorated red terracotta columns and pediments. When
it opened in 1900 the Headland boasted furnishings all the way from Heal’s of
London, an electric lift and electric lighting in all of its 120 rooms.
Designed to cost £25,000 it had run up bills of £50,000 by the time the first
guests arrived. Silvanus Trevail, the most prominent Cornish architect of the nineteenth
century, had boasted that he would build Newquay the grandest hotel in the
southwest and he probably did. Edward VII and Queen Alexandra came to stay so
it was obviously good enough for royalty.
Today the Headland dominates Newquay, not just because
of its size but because it is the only historic hotel in the town not to have
been spoiled by modern accretions. From every angle the hotel looks almost
exactly as it did when it opened in 1900. Even the modern Terrace Restaurant is
located within a recreation of the Victorian conservatory that ran along the
hotel’s southern flank. The old lift,
though now modernized, occupies the same lift-shaft from 1900, next to the
concierge’s desk. The long visitor’s lounge
– known as The Ballroom - only needs a few aspidistras placed between its many
sofas to step right back in time.
Not surprisingly the main staircase is very wide but
with shallow steps for the benefit of ladies in generous Victorian skirts. It
leads up to a first-floor landing so deep that it’s known as The Library. Here rattan
and leather chairs are grouped around a table on which Ordnance Survey maps of
Cornwall are laid out under glass for perusal. There is even an enormous (seven
by four-foot) Lego model of the hotel made with loving attention to detail by a
Dining at the Headland’s Samphire Restaurant under
glass chandeliers is a rather grand affair with tables well-spaced, attentive
service and an excellent sea-based menu. Try the scallops thermidor if they’re
on the menu.
The Headland isn’t just a heritage property, however.
It has a modern spa and gym in its basement and a brand new Aqua Club with six
pools, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant and a sun terrace looking out to the
Atlantic. In keeping with the sensible and sensitive way the Headland has been
developed, the Aqua Club is not tacked on to the old Victorian building but is
located at a discreet distance across the car park. It’s modern in style, with
a rugged façade of local stone, but that is fine because it’s entirely separate
from the hotel. There is also a self-catering “village” of modern rooms
clustered together on the hotel’s northern edge. These 39 low-rise apartments
resemble a fisherman’s village and again don’t distract from the Headland’s unspoiled
architecture (although anyone staying in the self-catering accommodation can
also dine in the Samphire Restaurant and use the Aqua Club).
Somehow the Headland manages to offer something for
every kind of guest without ever losing
WHAT TO DO LOCALLY:
On Fistral Beach, just below The Headland there is a
tall, light blue pennant advertising Tarquin’s Gin, which is probably
There actually is a real distiller called Tarquin. In
2012 he was 23 years old, working in the City of London having first trained as
a Cordon Bleu chef in Paris. Unhappy with his lot, Tarquin Leadbetter moved
back to Cornwall, began experimenting with distilling a gin that he liked,
found one and marketed it. Now 10 years later, Tarquin’s bottles are well-known
around the world for their light blue waxed seal that looks as if a candle has
melted down the bottle’s stem.