After careful, lengthy analysis, while visiting this luxury B&B set low on a hill a comfortable 15-minute walk from St Mawes, I came to the conclusion that the best way to get a feel for a new destination is to spend as much time as possible in its pubs. War correspondents have a term for this reporting – they call it covering the story ‘from mahogany ridge’ – I honestly believe it gives a great 360 on a place, wherever you are in the world.
‘Are you planning on seeing any sunlight while we’re here?’
Hmm, that’s the voice of my significant other. Mrs Smith’s idea of a weekend away involves bracing walks, art galleries and leading me around posh shops while she looks at stuff she has absolutely no intention of buying.
Two very different, but I would argue, equally valid, approaches to travel. My plan was to enjoy a quiet pint at Victory Inn, a handsome, traditional pub tucked away down a sidestreet in St Mawes. Mrs Smith’s was to stroll purposefully around this picturesque Cornish fishing village, hunting for souvenirs.
Like many women, Mrs Smith will buy gifts for no reason. She’ll pop into one of those stores selling mini parsley-growing kits and coffeetable books with titles like ‘1001 awesome chairs’. She’ll find something, maybe a decorated box that could not hold anything larger than a molecule, and she’ll buy it. A thoughtful card will usually be added to this purchase, despite the fact she doesn’t even have a recipient in mind. If you’re looking for one of the major differences in the mindset of men and women, file this trait as Exhibit A.
Thankfully, there was one thing we could agree on: the standard of our accommodation for the weekend. Nearwater feels more like a boutique hotel than a seaside guesthouse. From the crunch of the gravel drive as you come through its gates to the beautifully kept gardens and airy Cape Cod-esque interior design, this bijou bolthole is a host of unexpected treats.
Nearwater was a labour of love for owners Tim and Amelia, and one that saw them transform a large but nondescript Seventies house into the light-filled space. Tim is a former engineer and nautical type who’ll take you out on his 19’ Cornish Shrimper (Puffin) if the weather is fine. Amelia, meanwhile, seemed keen for us to enjoy an early evening swim at the closest beach, three minutes walk away. It’s rare that someone mistakes me for the sort of gung-ho type that will cheerfully plunge into the icy British sea at a moment’s notice; I warmed to our hostess for her inadvertently flattering suggestion.
Mrs Smith and I have a rigid Standard Operating Procedure when it comes to first entering a hotel room. Shoes off, jump on bed, establish comfiness (very high), check out bathroom (clean, modern, fluffy towels, White Company goodies), sip complimentary drinks (local cider), lolling about, flicking through TV channels and reading the hotel’s welcome pack (great food recommendations + no spelling mistakes = winner).
The walk to St Mawes is a sheer delight. The area is sheltered from winds, the result being that the whole place is covered with subtropical plants. A summer visit is like an episode of Gardener’s World on steroids. It sits on the tip of Roseland Peninsula, a section of south Cornwall bounded in the west by the Fal estuary and the Percuil River. Part of the charm is its compact nature. Dinner that evening was at the Watch House, a cute restaurant a mere 30-second stroll from the pub and one that tops the list of Nearwater’s excellent eating recommendations.
Having arrived on the weekend of the town’s regatta and, as such, were lucky to get a table. The place was filled with tousle-haired types in deck shoes and Jack Wills tops. While I didn't join them in discussing the finer points of maritime life, as we tucked into super-fresh locally sourced fish that evening, I gave silent thanks to those seafarers who risked life and limb to bring me such as delicious dinner.
Seagulls wheeling above the bay woke us the next morning. Like Proust’s madeleines, it’s something that provides an immediate sense-memory association, and one which always reminds me of happy family holidays. Breakfast is leisurely, taken communally at a big dining table. Home-made granola provides the lip-smacking opening, followed by the choice of a full English, or a daily changing special, all cooked by Tim. Mrs Smith took the special, a chili omelette which, despite my misgivings, was actually a perfectly judged mixed of eggy goodness with just a hint of heat. Over breakfast, I glanced at the local paper, its headline proclaiming unbridled joy that Brad Pitt was in Falmouth for a few weeks, filming a new war movie. For my lady, that was reason enough to take the half boat ride there.
After the old-world beauty of St Mawes, Falmouth was a little too Anytown for us. Charming enough in parts, sure, but Brad should really have jumped in his helicopter and pootled across the river. With his current grizzled bearded look, he could easily prop himself up at the bar of the Victory Inn and pretend he’s a Cornish fisherman.
Falmouth does have one place that’s worth travelling for: Rick Stein’s fish and chips. Although better known for his Padstow-based empire, the TV chef has opened a cracking restaurant in the revamped dock area. You can’t book, but a short wait rewards you with beautifully cooked chips served with fish in gossamer-thin batter, tempura-like in texture, and mushy peas. You can buy the batter in the deli next door – ‘brand synergy’ of which I wholeheartedly approve.
Back at Nearwater, it was time for us to check out and do the ‘big reveal’. All Smith reviews are anonymous and, I must confess, it’s often fun to watch the reactions of hotel owners when you inform them of your secret mission. It’s testament to Tim’s confidence in his operation that there was no flicker in his genial demeanor at this surprise news; no sudden offers of a glass of champagne or a free lunch. Nearwater is a flawless, fantastic experience that needs no PR fluffing.