Carbis Bay Hotel – Cornwall, UK

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I’ve just spent a week pottering around Cornwall with my husband and 11-year-old son.  Despite the changeable weather, we found lots to do in this lovely part of the country.

We stayed in a self-catering apartment owned by the Carbis Bay Hotel, which nestles in an idyllic cliff-side location overlooking its own beach.  This three-star luxury hotel is family-run, and has been for over 100 years. The 47 rooms are of a high standard, the reception area and hallways clad in elegant marble and lit by impressive chandeliers.

On arrival we were welcomed by the smiling receptionist, who efficiently checked us in while the concierge picked our brains about cheap flights from Edinburgh to Newquay. I noticed that other guests were well dressed and quietly well-mannered.  Frankly, it was a bit intimidating.  I found myself asking if it was okay for us to stay for lunch given that we were wearing jeans and trainers, and probably looked (and smelled) a bit the worse for our morning’s travel. The receptionist directed us to the Conservatory, saying we were dressed ‘okay’ for lunch there. (The dress code for dinner is ‘smart, casual’.)  The Conservatory is, as the name suggests, a bright and airy conservatory with a sea view.  We ordered three sandwiches and two soft drinks, which cost £30.  Happily, the sandwiches were man-sized and came with crisps, coleslaw and a salad.

While I munched my tasty cheese and pickle sandwich, I perused the dinner menu.  The hotel has received awards for fine dining, and indeed the menu seemed quite impressive.  For example, one of the choices was Confit Duck Leg with Crushed Minted Peas, Provencal Peppers, Roast Potatoes, Star Anise and Ginger Sauce (sic).  Under each menu item the hotel had suggested a suitable wine to accompany the dish.  A three-star dinner with coffee costs £29.95 per person.  There is also a three-course children’s menu, which was somewhat disappointing. It’s really aimed at younger children and offers the usual chicken and chips, bangers and mash, and fish fingers cleverly disguised as Battered Fish Goujons.

After lunch we wandered through the lush hotel gardens, past the sun terrace, to the small heated outdoor pool.  Boisterous behaviour is not encouraged here, though, so leave your huge inflatable alligator at home.  (There’s a mother-in-law joke in there somewhere.)  A list of rules at the entrance to the pool area provides users with guidelines to suitable poolside behaviour.  I was vastly amused by the one that said ‘use the toilet not the pool’.  Given that the pool is overlooked by guest rooms, the dining room and the coastal path, avoid any lovey-dovey shenanigans.  There was, oddly, no rule about that.

We decided to go and find our house, so that we could unpack swimwear and go for a swim.  A short walk up a hill and under a railway viaduct we found the apartments and cottages, each with its own parking bay.  Ours was a two-bedroom apartment on three floors, the ground level a small entrance hall with access to a neat patio.  On the first floor were two decent-sized bedrooms. The twin room had a large en-suite marble bathroom with bath and separate shower.  A second, smaller bathroom lay opposite the double bedroom.  The shower here is very small, so don’t drop the soap.  A public footpath runs from the railway station at the top of the hill down the side of the apartments.  The path can be clearly seen from both bedroom windows.  This means pedestrians can see into both bedrooms.  Enough said.

The kitchen and living/dining area are on the second floor, under the eaves (tall folk beware).  The kitchen is really well-equipped, making self-catering really easy.  I was impressed with the extra little touches:  milk in the fridge, tea and coffee tray, a hamper with some goodies.  Unfortunately, the living area was not arranged with cosy evenings in mind.  I found the sofa and armchair uncomfortable.  Both were too far from the central coffee table.  The dining room table was wedged into an alcove.  My skinny menfolk had to breathe in every time they sat down to a meal, for fear of getting a table corner in delicate parts of their anatomy.

The apartment was very clean throughout, the décor was lovely, and the furnishings all of good quality.  Sadly, the poor house has been the victim of abuse from a procession of ‘it’s-not-our-house-so-we-don’t-care’ type of visitors.  We found loose taps and loo seats, numerous stains of unknown origin, grubby cushions, decoration enhancement by felt-tip pen, and all the inner glass was smeared with small fingerprints.  Now, my hubby rarely cleans anything at home, unless I employ some pretty full-on feminine charms.  So I was very surprised when he phoned reception to tell them the smears on the windows were spoiling his sea view.  They were cleaned next morning.

The second floor has a little roof terrace, protected by a glass barrier.  Room service is also available.  Should you require a cleaning service the hotel charges £20 per day, although a hoover and other housekeeping aids can be found in the hall cupboard.  As with other areas of Cornwall, there is no mobile phone signal to be found in the house, so a land line has been installed.  Although you will see and hear the occasional train, they don’t run between 10pm and 7am. The train runs along the coast between St. Ives and Penzance.

All-in-all, the apartment was lovely, and better than many other three-star accommodations I’ve stayed in.  Some areas could do with a little TLC, but I understand the difficulties in maintaining a high standard of accommodation in the face of adversity (by which I mean other people’s messy habits).

Having a beach on our doorstep was a real luxury.  A long stretch of clean golden sand leads into the turquoise sea.  Which, by the way, is freezing.  Wetsuits can be purchased at the Tesco nearby. I was content to dip my toes in now and then, before returning to my new favourite pastime:  watching the many fit young men half-dressed in wetsuits running down to the sea with their surfboards and kayaks, while Hubbie – bless him – made sandcastles with Son.  The hotel runs a shop and café on the beach-front, which sells essentials such as buckets, spades, snacks and coffee.

Turning to the serious business of food, we shopped at Tesco, which is a short drive along the St. Ives Road.  There is also a Marks and Spencer at the Hale Retail Park, about five minutes’ drive away.  We enjoyed two meals at Casa Romano, on St. Ives Road.  The menu is small, but the food is freshly-prepared and very tasty.  They offer a ‘bambino’ pizza, which was just the right size for my hungry lad. The staff was lovely, too.

The picturesque town of St. Ives is about 1.5 miles along the coast. Here you will find a Tate Gallery, leisure centre, harbour, shops and restaurants.  I recommend a stop at Madeleine’s Tea Room on the corner of Life Boat Hill, where you will find it difficult to choose from the mouth-watering selection of cakes.  We opted for a Cornish cream tea and were served with a basket of warm scones, and copious amounts of strawberry jam and clotted cream. If, like us, you eat too many goodies you can return to the hotel via the shady coastal footpath, which offers glimpses into the well-manicured gardens of the posh houses of Carbis Bay.

A short note about driving:  The ‘B’ roads in Cornwall are frequently one-lane roads lined with pretty hedgerows.  The scenery can be magnificent, but be aware that farm vehicles and buses also use these roads.  Boy racing is not recommended.  In many of the places we visited the roads were narrow and the pavements non-existent.  This seemed hazardous to both pedestrians and drivers alike, as pedestrians strolled all over the road.

A few things to do nearby:

Gardens: Hubbie and Son are both gardening freaks, so a visit to a few of Cornwall’s many gardens was inevitable.  My favourite was the Lost Gardens of Heligan.  At 200 acres, it was hard on the legs but breath-taking.  As well as formal gardens there is a woodland walk by a river (where we saw an adder basking in a tree).  The wildlife observation hut allowed us to see many different kinds of birds and wildlife.  Trebah Garden is also beautiful, with a walk through giant Gunnera and a small beach right at the bottom of the garden where you can sit with a Cornish ice cream or coffee.  The Eden Project was fairly impressive, but expensive.  We bought our tickets online using Avios points.  This attraction got seriously busy by lunchtime, a bit like the first day of a Next sale.  My advice is to go really early.

Land’s End:  Opinionated Son insisted we visit this (somewhat gimmicky) landmark.  We went there on the one day we went out without waterproofs, so naturally it started raining as soon as we got there.  We had to pay £5 to get into the car park.  Rather than being just a signpost which says something like ‘The End is Here’, Land’s End has a big Visitor’s Centre with craft displays and shops selling the usual touristy items.  There’s a nice walk along the cliffs and an observation shed manned by an enthusiastic member of the RSPB (yes, you will be asked to join).  We saw two basking sharks out at sea.  That was worth the £5 entrance fee for me.  Due to the rain we decided to shelter in the cinema and bought tickets for the short 4D movie.  Although clever and enjoyable, at one point we were sprayed with water.  Given that I already had rainwater dripping down the back of my neck, I was less than amused.

Minack Theatre:  This is a world-famous open-air theatre reminiscent of ancient Greece.  It has a spectacular location on the side of a cliff overlooking the sea.  It’s a real feat of engineering, offering amazing views.  We saw a pod of porpoises , so keep your eyes open.

Mousehole (pronounced ‘Mowzel’):  Hubbie’s sole reason for visiting this small fishing village was that it was ‘pretty’.  Since I was sitting in the car in rain-soaked clothes I was less enthusiastic. My mood darkened further when we went to park the car at the harbour car park and were directed to park on the harbour wall.  This was a very scary experience, as we had to park at an angle to the outer wall, and a very flimsy-looking handrail was all that protected us from a dive into the harbour.  As Hubbie attempted a fifty-point turn between other parked vehicles because he wanted to reverse into the ‘space’, I closed my eyes and started praying.  Luckily, the public loos were nearby.  Mousehole is indeed quite pretty, with lots of little lanes and original buildings.  We had a pasty and another cream tea at Jessie’s Tea Room, but when I asked to use the facilities I was directed to the public loos again.

In conclusion, then, the Carbis Bay Hotel is definitely worth its three stars.  Its elegant charm is reminiscent of a time when ladies wore hats and gloves and took afternoon tea.  (In fact, when we lunched in the Conservatory, we saw two elderly ladies sitting by the fireplace quaffing brandy but, hey ho, times have changed.)  The hotel has a wide appeal, suitable for families and couples. The apartment we stayed in was clean, welcoming and well-equipped.  The location was great, the perfect base for exploring Cornwall. We could easily have stayed for another week and not run out of things to do.  There is truly something for everyone here.

We found the people of Cornwall to be friendly, helpful and courteous.  Even the teenagers were polite.  I will definitely be returning, as I didn’t get to visit Gnome World or the Museum of Lawnmowers.

The Carbis Bay Hotel, Carbis Bay, St Ives, Cornwall, TR26 2NP.  Website


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