Travel Cornwall: Cream teas and secluded creeks
Jemma Crew heads to south Cornwall for a mix of sub-tropical gardens, beaches and good quality Cornish fare.
Daphne du Maurier’s heroine in her 1941 novel Frenchman’s Creek flees the bustle of London for the escape of southern Cornwall
Sipping locally-grown tea, with just the sun and birdsong for company, I can understand why. It’s hard to think of a more peaceful place to detach from the unsettled reality of the last 15 months.
Nestled in a bend of the Helford River, the family-run Budock Vean country house hotel promises a much-needed retreat fuelled by Cornish produce and a healthy dose of fresh air.
We are among the first guests after the four star ‘hotel on the river’ reopened its doors in mid-May, and things inevitably feel different after months of lockdown.
We call reception 10 minutes before arriving as requested, to let them know we are near, and don our face masks before crossing the threshold.
There are hand sanitisers next to the pale pink dianthus on each dining table, dishes are wheeled out on trolleys and the bedrooms are stocked with spare masks and gloves, as well as teas and coffees.
While there is less spontaneity (we cannot pop to the pool whenever we fancy) we pretty much have the entirety of the impressive octagonal pool house to ourselves during our booked session.
We ditch the car after the long drive and settle into the new outdoor hot tub before tucking into a champagne cream tea on the terrace. The southern aspect makes this spot a sun trap, with loungers dotting the sloping lawns.
The food served at the hotel is just as impressive. Along with seafood specialities – I’m told the Newlyn crab sandwich is number one lunch choice – there is an impressive menu of vegan and vegetarian options (the fluffy souffle swimming in creamed spinach is a must).
And diners won’t get bored with 99 wines to choose from and a four-course dinner menu that changes daily – with locally-sourced food making up almost 70% of the offerings.
The dining room underwent a dramatic transformation in February 2020 as part of a major renovation, and the result is an elegant space which pays tribute to the local area and history.
Golden-framed portraits dot a striking deep blue feature wall, with diners seated under the steady gaze of Cornish greats such as Anthony Payne, the seven foot, four inches tall ‘Cornish Giant’.
For less formal dining, guests can head to the hotel bar, conservatory, patio or one of the four lounges.
Thirty of the 56 bedrooms have also been updated, with the remaining rooms, corridors and pool next on the list, and the refurbishment expected to be complete in the winter of 2022-3.
For me, the hotel’s most beautiful feature is its 65 acres of undulating, secluded grounds, taking in a nine-hole golf course, croquet lawn, tennis courts and organic sub-tropical gardens.
The next morning we stroll down the steep path to the hotel’s private foreshore, taking in the giant rhubarb, azaleas and rhododendrons. From here, guests can embark on a 90-minute cruise exploring the Helford River, but it’s an adventure with Koru Kayaking that’s in store today.
We are greeted by Tom, our enthusiastic guide and co-owner, who flits effortlessly between gentle encouragement, explaining the local history, taking photographs and paddling. Kitted out with wetsuit, boots and a buoyancy aid, we settle into the sit-on kayaks and paddle out to the mouth of the river, pausing halfway for a quick dip before drying off on the sun-warmed flat rocks.
We then paddle inland to Frenchman’s Creek, the location which inspired du Maurier’s swashbuckling yarn. It is an eerie, beautiful inlet, with kingfishers nesting in its banks, a shipwreck and overhanging trees.
In just three days, I feel I have only scratched the surface of this captivating part of the world. 80 years on, it’s still the idyllic escape Daphne du Maurier imagined in her books.
*A two-night stay at Budock Vean (budockvean.co.uk), including dinner and breakfast, costs from £155 per person per night until September 25.