‘Sorry, sir, your car still isn’t ready.’ These are not the words you want to hear the morning you plan to take the lady away for a weekend of fine loving. Unless, like me, you have Germanic blood coupled with a Tourette’s-like argumentative disorder: I tend to see these things as opportunities rather than problems. I go red, the garage guy goes apologetic, and 23 minutes later a Porsche Boxter appears. For, as that PJ O’Rourke manqué Jeremy Clarkson will tell you, silly cars are the key to bearable weekending sans PlayStation 2.
Our weekend is to be spent at Hotel Tresanton, the place that began Cornwall’s transformation from a two-week bucket-and-spade destination to chic mini-break hotspot. 300 miles of sinuous open road from London and the boutique-hotel reputation gears one (well, me) up to find it annoying before arrival. Did I mention that I argue for sport?
But first impressions impress. A Greek-style passage and stone staircase lead to a raised sun deck that is set into the cliff face and dotted with old steamer chairs that recall The Talented Mr Ripley. Sadly, I do not resemble Jude, nor my girlfriend Gwyneth. Nonetheless, hazy visions of sun-drenched cocktails help me unwind, and any residual rant evaporates in the face of the hotel’s fantastic old porter – a man well worth tipping – who proves a fountain of local knowledge. Realisations that there is no need to talk a) so fast, or b) so much rubbish follow as I slip into gear for the weekend.
The hotel is situated on Cornwall’s often overlooked southern coast, between picturesque St Mawes and the rolling fields spliced with public footpaths leading to Falmouth. A former yachting club, Hotel Tresanton was built from a cluster of old houses in the Fifties, hence its higgledy-piggledy levels and port-town setting. St Mawes and Tresanton have been a preserve of the sailing set for years, but it is only since the 1999 reopening, after an extensive refurbishment to bring it up to the standard expected by owner Olga Polizzi and her chi-chi A-list clientele that it has achieved its Halkin-on-sea tag.
The decor is posh, eclectic and relaxed. It’s also eco-friendly; ash floors, fired-earth tiles, organic paint and local granite work surfaces feature throughout. The laid-back drawing room probably best illustrates Polizzi’s grab-bag taste, combining slouchy sofas (ideal for reading, and Tresanton’s wicked afternoon teas) with Greek busts, Chinese chequers, a huge log fire, and French windows leading to a sprawling sundeck.
There are 29 rooms in the hotel. Ours was cosy yellow with crisp Egyptian cotton bedlinen, a tasteful seaside feel and log pillows great for lazy daytime reads in bad weather or intriguing evening pursuits. A magnificent harbour view makes me momentarily forget what hit me when I first entered the room… namely, it was small. (My argue-mentor John McEnroe’s voice starts ringing through my head. ‘£250? You cannot be serious!’) I twitch for an argument.
The girlfriend finds my argumentative disorder an embarrassment; as a release mechanism, I have learnt to ‘sneak argue’ – she doesn’t get annoyed, I get my fix. I say something like ‘I need to get my cigarettes from the car’, then trail off, following the vein pulsing like an anaconda in my forehead, and return 20 minutes later, happy, but unpopular among hotel staff. After this particular episode, I can vouch that Tresanton’s staff are more than polite – calming and motherly, even – and that there are bigger rooms, only you have to know what you are asking for. Hell, even Tony Blair was recently knocked back owing to a full house. At least I get a room. Z-list paranoia disperses.
The bar, situated on the lower floor, is Tresanton’s greatest asset (in no small part because I am an aspiring alcoholic): cute mini armchairs, chocolate and tan pepper Amtico flooring, clotted-cream walls and clever lighting that could make even Dot Cotton look unravaged, nay, sexy. Candles at night light an enchanting trail to the buzzy conservatory restaurant whose Mod Med food is definitely worth sampling. Local pubs are also worth a look. We skipped the more expensive places; a cursory glance at the menus showed that most followed Tresanton’s lead rather too faithfully. (We started to wonder whether there are underground tunnels from Olga Polizzi’s kitchen.)
As weather was good the following day, we opted to try the Padstow-Bodmin camel trail. Driving there in the PS2 substitute, we found a brisk walk along the path was exertion enough to give us a glow without making us wheeze. Back at the Tresanton for a farewell drink, I fall into a weird half sleep in my girlfriend’s arms listening to the sea and dreaming of Grand Theft Auto. Forget eastern mysticism: when my girlfriend, the game and guest-house blurred together, I knew true happiness.