The Idle Rocks

St. Mawes, Cornwall, United Kingdom Book from £150

A wave-lapped terrace, chilled music, cheery staff and 20 chic bedrooms: Cornwall’s new hotspot for a cool, moneyed, youthful crowd
When Aston Martin supremo David Richards and his hands-on wife Karen took over this prime seafront hotel in idyllic St. Mawes, they didn’t hold back. Out went the fusty English-hotel décor; in came a bright, nautically themed look with hints of St. Tropez and Scandinavia. Chilled music, cheerful Chino-clad staff and colourful Cornish artworks are set against white walls, sea-grass carpets and the azure waters of the Fal estuary. A long sea-facing ground floor segues seamlessly from snug fireside cosy to laidback lounge to moodily lit bar and white-napery dining room. French doors lead to the hotel’s trump card: a gorgeous terrace lapped by the tides. Upstairs are 16 chic bedrooms – all bar three face the water, the remainder the village – with artful seashells and disguised flatscreens, free-standing tubs or monsoon showers; plus 4 more cottagey, tranquil harbour-facing rooms in an annex alongside.

We arrived on a flawless, magnolia-strewn April day – the kind when Cornwall seems the most beautiful slice of land on earth – just 2 days after it re-opened. Already the terrace was buzzing with the happy chatter of beautiful people who know they’re in one of the southwest’s plum seats. The vibe is more cocktails than cream tea, more eggs Royal than full English breakfast, but this is the kind of place you can get both, whenever.

Highs

  • The setting: right on the azure waters of the Fal estuary, with bobbing boats and passing kayaks, plus a small beach at low tide
  • The youthful vibe: chilled music on the terrace, cocktails at sunset, your first name chalked on the door, and an adventurous 20-something chef
  • We loved the room décor: chic but not overly fancy, with gorgeous bold fabrics, cleverly concealed technology, pretty seashells and sticks of rock for a maritime touch
  • Despite only having been open for 36 hours when we stayed, we found the young staff friendly to a fault, and ably led by the calm Tim House (ex-Cowley Manor)
  • St. Mawes itself: a stylish fishing village with a busy little harbour, several beaches, plus a 15th-century castle and leafy Lamorran gardens; families love it here as much as anybody

Lows

  • At this price you might hope for more facilities – gardens, pool, spa – but the narrow sea-frontage does not allow space for that (however, a spa is planned at their sister hotel on the harbour)
  • Seaward rooms get hubbub from the terrace until late, while village-side rooms overlook the lane
  • Some bedrooms, though impeccably equipped and decorated, are on the small side
  • Allowing non-residents onto the terrace could make it a little crowded
  • There were a few teething problems when we stayed – an underseasoned dish, an overheated bedroom – but I’ve no doubt that these will be addressed by the time you read this

Best time to go

If you can possibly come in June or September, grab the chance; April-May and October can be glorious too. Midsummer is obviously best for swimming, sailing and beachcombing, but St. Mawes can get quite crowded and prices rise steeply. Don't rule out winter either: the sea views can be inspiring in mixed weather, and sunny days feel like a godsend.

Our top tips

  • Food here is quite pricey, so look out for free dinner deals and half-board rates in the off-season
  • Pick up a picnic from the deli opposite the harbour, and drive or walk 2 miles to St. Just in Roseland to bask in the idyllic, magnolia-filled gardens of its church, set above a secluded inlet and justly (ho-ho) hailed by Sir John Betjeman as the most beautiful in England
  • Great for...

    Beach
    Family
    Great Outdoors
    Honeymoon
    Wedding
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Boutique Hotel
    • 20
    • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
    • All ages welcome
    • Open all year
    • Pool
    • Spa Treatments
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Concierge Service
    • Bicycles Available
    Room:

    Rooms

    Karen has invested heavily in the bedrooms, and revealed an eye for design too. The look is understated nautical chic with tasteful pastel colours (dove greys, sky blues) offset by bright raspberry throws or bold bedheads. Salvaged glass bottles, giant sea urchin shells in a jar, hand-painted dressers and fresh tulips lend artistry. We liked the vintage Roberts radio and the flatscreen TV/browser cleverly disguised as a white-framed mirror.

    Half of the 20 rooms look straight onto the harbour, with windowfuls of glorious blue sea. Some (Seaview) have balconettes, a few (Grand Seaview) are more like suites, with small sitting or dressing areas. Many of these have free-standing tubs in underfloor-heated bathrooms, with a separate wetroom too. All Village and most Harbour Rooms come with a shower only, but it’s a real deluge, with Aromatherapy Associates smellies to pep you up.

    We saw all the rooms and #15 was our favourite: up on the 2nd floor, it feels as if you’re in your own tower, with fittingly grand sea views, plus an open tub and small trunk room. But you don’t need to go top of the range. The village-side Hideaway (#16) offers great value for floorspace, with a walk-through dressing room to boot. Harbour Room #2 stood out for its generous bathroom (tub and shower) and twin seaward windows; and L-shaped #12 for its cosily divided sleeping and sitting areas. None are huge, but even the smallest (#10) is adequate for a weekend away without too much luggage.

    Mattresses are exquisitely comfy, pillows plentiful and goosedown duvets (almost overly) warm. All Seaview Rooms can be set up with kingsize or twin beds; the rest are kingsize only, apart from the attic twin which connects with a Harbour Room to make a lovely family suite.

    Sea-facing guests should be prepared for some noise from the terrace until 11ish, while village-side rooms may hear passing cars. If you’re after more tranquility, request one of the 3 rooms in the separate annex next door: lower ceilings and smaller windows make them darker and more cottagey, but Seaview #20 feels rather cosy and special, while Grand Seaview #17 sleeps up to 4 in an open-plan living-sleeping space, using 2 fold-out armchair beds.

    Features include:

    • Bathrobes
    • Central heating
    • Coffee tea making
    • Cots Available
    • Fan
    • Hairdryer
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Phone
    • Safe box
    • Satellite tv
    • Terrace
    • Toiletries
    • WiFi
    • Wifi internet

    Eating

    After evening cocktails on the terrace, we were led inside to a linen-clad, sea-facing table, in an atmosphere of fine-dining calm (younger children eat earlier). The menu has plenty of seafood, most of it local, some of it with a twist; plus a few rarities (sea lettuce, birch syrup) foraged by the young-but-unfazed chef, Mark. Over 2 nights, we tucked into a light and delicious foam of mussel soup, a smoky lemon sole buried in capers and flash-cooked in a Josper grill, and razor clams with aioli. There are also meatier options, such as rack of lamb with petit pois, steamed wild garlic, pancetta and shallots in a white wine jus (very tasty, quite rare); while a vegetarian neighbour raved about the butternut squash soup. Desserts, such as the citrusy St. Clements tart and the white-choc cheesecake with zesty raspberry ice cream, filled the gaps nicely.

    There is room (and appetite) for improvement - my Thai-style squid on beansprouts and coconut shavings could have done with more spices and lime juice; our son’s mackerel burger with grilled peppers and doorstep chips felt somehow no more than the sum of its parts - but overall the food here is a light, tasty, upscale alternative to most local pubs and restaurants.

    Breakfast is a combination of buffet - we loved the yog-strawberry-granola in small kilner jars - and fresh cooked menu items, which include porridge, kippers, thick pancakes with syrup, and eggs cooked to perfection (orangey yolks oozing out over spinach, creamy bearnaise and white muffins).

    If you want to head out for a change of scene, try the Tresanton's restaurant just along the road, The Driftwood (9km) for Michelin-starred cuisine, or quirky Melinsey Mill (12km) for home-fired pizzas, light lunches and cream teas.

    Features include:

    • Bar
    • Children meals
    • Coffee tea making
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Restaurant
    • Restaurants nearby
    • Room service
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

    • St. Mawes is a glorious Cornish harbour village, with 3 small tidal beaches (one next to the hotel), kayaks and sailing boats for hire, and an intriguing circular castle from the 16th century, with salvaged cannons and fortified sea walls
    • Strolling around the harbour, you'll find a few cafés, galleries and boutiques, including the gorgeous Onda; but the best place to hang out is always The Idle Rocks' own seafront terrace
    • A seasonal foot ferry takes you to the rugged headland and lighthouse of St. Anthony, with great coastal hikes; or follow the estuary path from town to St. Just in Roseland, whose churchyard John Betjeman rated "the most beautiful on earth"
    • Another little ferry plies to and fro (all year) to the bustling naval town of Falmouth, with its entertaining Maritime Museum, Stein fish'n'chips, and a mirror image Henry-VIII castle on its own headland
    • Garden lovers can walk to Lamorran Gardens in town (April-Sept); or drive to the magical Lost Gardens of Heligan near Mevagissey, or the world-famous Eden Project with its rampant jungles housed in giant bubble domes (both open all year)
    • There are several beautiful sandy beaches a short drive or cycle ride away, including Porthcurnick (with its Hidden Hut beach café) and Carne
    • If you have other plans, from stand-up paddle boarding to going fishing with a local boat, the hotel's concierge service will oblige

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Boat trips
    • Cycling
    • Fishing
    • Hiking
    • Historical sites
    • Kayaking
    • Kitesurfing
    • Museums / galleries
    • Private guided tours
    • Sailing
    • Shopping / markets
    • Stand-up paddle boarding
    • Surfing

    Kids

    Kids of all ages are welcome. There are 3 family-friendly bedrooms (see below), and most rooms can fit a cot. DVD players can supplied on request; we had a great hand-picked selection of titles awaiting you in the room (how the devil did they know that our son loved The Wizard of Oz?). Staff are accommodating, but in all honesty the vibe is aimed more at young or young-at-heart adults.

    Family friendly accommodation:

    For older children, we liked the pair of adjacent attic-level rooms: a kid-friendly village-side twin (#11) with pillarbox-red gingham bedclothes and life rings on the wall, and an adjacent harbour-facing double (#12) with a small sitting area. A more independent option is #17 in the cottage next door – its 2 armchairs extend into single beds – or it can link with double room #18 if you want more space and 2 bathrooms (this combo is classified as a Grand Seaview Family Room). Alternatively, Seaview Room #1 has an add-on bunk room, sharing a lovely tub-and-shower bathroom, but be aware that noise seeps in from the reception area

    Babysitting:

    Available with 5 days advance notice

    Baby listening:

    iPad video monitors are available so parents can eat downstairs while the kids are sleeping

    Baby equipment:

    • High chairs
    • Baby cots and bedding

    Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

    Children's meals:

    Separate high tea for children in the sea-facing restaurant served from 5.30 to 7pm. Menu choices include pasta with tomato choice, chicken burgers and fish goujons. Bottles can be warmed up at any time

    Kids Activities on site:

    • Younger ones will enjoy the first-floor play room with games and books (Brio traintrack, play stove etc), which has its own separate loo with baby changing facilities
    • Large flatscreen TV for CBeebies sessions
    • Craft materials
    • DVD selection

    Kids Activities nearby:

    • St Mawes' Beach for rock pooling and paddling
    • Buckets and spades, crab lines and nets to borrow
    • Rent kayaks and paddle-boards to explore the coastline and creeks
    • Tennis courts
    • Country walks
    • Fishing trips
    • Boat trips

    Families Should Know:

    The beach is rocky and there's no pool

    Distances:

    • Airport: 45 minutes (Newquay)
    • Shops: 2 minutes
    • Hospital: 30-40 minutes
    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    10/
    Rooms
    8/
    Food
    10/
    Service
    10/
    Value
    10/
    Overall

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