We all love wild nights out but sometimes we just crave a quiet break. In the first of a new series of articles, Sally Shalam travels around the UK by car, with the help of leading car hire company Hertz, to find great spots to explore and relax…
Some boutique B&Bs deliver such comfort that tearing yourself from their confines takes effort. Handsome Chapel House in Penzance is just that kind. Pristine acreage of pale-painted floors enhance Georgian proportions. Rooftop and harbour views are framed by lofty sash windows, and the balance of antique and mid-century modern furnishings is spot on. It feels a very grown-up place to stay indeed.
In season, owner Susan Stuart lays on convivial ‘kitchen suppers’ around a long table in the moodily dark basement dining room, a contrast to the light-flooded upper floors, and since non-residents can also book, an opportunity is presented to rub shoulders with whichever local inhabitants turn up, and glean valuable touring tips in this far-flung corner of Cornwall.
There is no likelihood of missing Land’s End, the splendour of Penzance’s Art Deco Jubilee Pool or St Michael’s Mount — best viewed from the terrace at the Godolphin Arms in Marazion over a sundowner (followed by dinner at Ben’s Cornish Kitchen across the road). The inside tip, though, was to drive to Cape Cornwall.
The cape is the wild, wild west of the county. Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the English Channel. Here, the wind whipped and the sea crashed and hurled itself against a rocky shore. From the sturdy, granite village of St Just (where McFadden’s butchers on the market square dispenses fresh Cornish pasties), a skinny lane led to the headland and a weather-beaten National Trust carpark which, on the blustery day I’d set off, provided a perfect vantage point from which to munch contentedly, watching the blue waves swell, below. If the turning to the headland is missed, the road from St Just traces the coastline, across moorland, eventually reaching The Gurnard’s Head. No longer a Cornish secret, this lonely inn sports garish orange exterior paintwork, a fanfare for the confident cuisine offered within. It’s a welcome port after traversing Poldark country, Cornwall’s Tin Coast. Copper and tin were extracted for more than 2,000 years and now the stark ruins of engine houses, chimneys, and no fewer than three National Trust sites (including a restored beam engine at the Levant mine) stand testament to an industrial past in this World Heritage Site.
Considerably more manicured but equally memorable was my next port of call, Tremenheere Sculpture Garden. Despite leaden skies, its grassy hillsides, woodland walk and exotic planting provided an alluring backdrop to large-scale modern sculptures. Michael Chaikin’s perspex constructions which flutter and whirl like tropical birds are new installations this year and Penny Saunders’ Restless Temple is so extraordinary it is virtually a destination in its own right. Columns of tensioned steel, clad in cedar, conjure up an ancient ‘temple’. By feat of engineering, they are controlled by pendulums, and the columns sway from side to side so gently that at first you question whether you’ve just witnessed a ‘building’ move.
Art is as integral a part of this region as the granite which defines the landscape. In Penzance, Penlee House, set in lush gardens, is an elegant gallery and museum housing room upon room of glorious work by the Newlyn School of 19th-century artists who settled here and formed a colony. Newlyn itself, a working fishing port, is abuzz with tiny shops and cafes (snap up edible souvenirs, Cornish Gouda from the deli and crab from W. Harvey & Sons), a stylish filmhouse in a former fish merchants, and the Newlyn School of Art, in which a modern-day colony of artists works in studios and tutors a multitude of weekend and short courses.
Perhaps it is no surprise that hip hotel group, Artist Residence, has its westernmost outpost down here, too. Just moments from Chapel House, here is an altogether different bolthole. You might find work by Peter Blake or Tracey Emin in your bedroom and new rooms have just been added, including a loft suite called The Lookout. Downstairs, good food and wines are served in the low-lit, laid-back reclamation chic of the bar and Cornish Barn restaurant. Penzance might be the end of the rail line but it is also very much a gateway.
Getting there: Pick up your Hertz car from Hertz Newquay International Airport: Newquay International Airport, Carloggas, St Mawgan, Newquay, Cornwall TR8 4RQ. Tel: 01637 860869
Or pick up your car from your local Hertz location. See hertz.co.uk for details.
A Mercedes S350 from Hertz Prestige Collection would make this short break all the more pleasurable.
For more short breaks by car in the UK see hertz.co.uk/inspiredbritishbreaks.