showcasing the best of the south west

Escape to the Scarlet

Deep down I'm probably always on the hunt for nirvana I just wasn't expecting to find it on a chill, November night in a windblown corner of North Cornwall.

The Scarlet Hotel, perched on a clifftop overlooking beautiful Mawgan Porth beach, is utterly perfect in an entirely understated way. The three sisters behind it have created a refuge so deeply comfortable and soul-cosseting, a place of such effortless cool and pared down luxury, that I could only wrench myself away two days later with the promise that future birthdays, anniversaries, whatever excuse I can come up with, will be 'a trip to the Scarlet, please.' I was here to try out a new break which combines tea-tasting and a private tour of the Tregothnan Estate with two days of indulgence at the Scarlet including a ridiculously lavish high tea (more of which later). The first thing to hit you arriving at the Scarlet is the sharp tang of sea air (it was dark so the view would have to wait til morning) and the roar of waves crashing beneath the hotel. It's instantly relaxing. There's no reception here just a beautiful lobby with deep, comfortable sofas and a blazing fire. A smiling general manager emerged seconds later and barely minutes after that cold glasses of white wine were being pressed into our hands (I think the sisters' idea of heaven is closely matched to mine). The second thing you notice is that there are no children - and as a mother to three I think I can say this - it's one of the best things about it.  The Scarlet is the brainchild of sisters Debbie Wakefield, Emma Stratton and Rebecca Whittington whose parents ran the nearby family hotel the Bedruthan (now run by their children). All mothers, they wanted to create a hotel where they would want to stay themselves and that meant a retreat from real life, somewhere child-free, with an Ayurvedic spa, incredible food and a spectacular location. Consequently there is an air of quiet indulgence from the moment you first walk in, couples, friends, mothers and daughters, all snatching time to focus on themselves. The rooms are wonderful, as you'd expect, vast beds with mega thread-count linen, pillows made of clouds, staggering views, roll top baths and power showers with handmade Ayurvedic potions to slather yourself in. No mini-bar we're told, (well, of course not, just the word seems way too Alan Partridge for somewhere like this) but fast, efficient room service whenever you want it. This turns out to be true, my nightly pot of Jasmine tea arrives moments after I've rung for it. And if that sounds a bit Downton, that's exactly how it feels.

The hotel is full of enticing nooks and crannies and you need time to experience it all. There's a pretty cool bar, where you'd almost certainly want to sink a martini and where we ate from the Anytime Anywhere menu  on the second night (a brilliant idea, especially on a me-time weekend, as it means you're not tied to restaurant hours).

There's a gorgeous sitting room where we surfed magazines and ate a gargantuan, blow out high tea with dainty smoked salmon, beef and egg sandwiches, macaroons, the cutest miniature cakes, scones and clotted cream, Tregothnan tea and champagne. Outrageous doesn't cover it.

And there's the restaurant, a beautiful, big room with floor to ceiling windows over that extraordinary view of the Atlantic. Food comes courtesy of head chef Tom Hunter who is passionate about local, Cornish produce and inventive cooking. Everything I tried from the pinkest, seared duck breast on lentils to a melting piece of hake and steak with chips cooked in duck fat was absolutely perfect. They also match your food to glasses of wine here, which I love. Wish I'd written down the name of the glass of red which arrived with my steak for it was immense.

In the morning after a swim in the pool with views out to sea and a most delicious breakfast (spicy poached apple and yoghurt, eggs benedict)  we went off to Tregothnan. This estate in South Cornwall has been owned by the Boscawen family since 1335 but it was only in the current millenium that they began to dabble with tea. The soil and climate was found to be perfect and Tregothnan teas are now sold all over the world. The estate is truly breathtaking with 60 acres of formal gardens, views over the River Fal and a tea plantation complete with an authentic tea house in the middle of it (a birthday present from Mr to Mrs Boscawen apparently). It's fascinating to see a modern working estate like this, when we visited there was a barn full of people busy making Chtistmas wreaths to be posted out across the country. Tregothnan's garden director Jonathan Jones showed us how to make the perfect pot of tea (4 minutes brewing) and we tasted different varieties (and more delicious scones, clotted cream and jam).There's every kind of tea to choose from here including health ones like Lemon Verbena and Echinacea but my favourite was the Earl Grey which had just the right amount of bergamot punch and was absolutely nothing like the Twinings variety. For a tea-head like myself this trip was spot on and I left with armfuls of different teas to try. Back at the hotel it was time to hit the Ayurvedic spa and believe me, you need plenty of time for this. The session begins with a therapist assessing your body type - vata, pitta or kapha - and then tailoring a treatment to suit your needs. In my case this was an intensely relaxing massage and afterwards in the relaxation lounge, swinging gently in a hanging pod, blocking out life with some gentle whale music, life was feeling pretty good. The clifftop hot-tub is integral to the spa experience (it comes with your own champagne toting waiter) and must not be missed but book ahead. Not surprisingly couples beat the doors down for this one.

The Scarlet is incredibly green, it's won zillions of eco awards for its sustainable architecture and ethical credentials but like everything else here they don't shout about it. There is a high tech water recycling system and pretty much everything is reused including half finished guest soaps which head to the laundry to become stain removers. The message is crystal clear - saving the planet and indulging yourself needn't be mutually exclusive. I don't think there's a better spot for a weekend break because you get the hit of pure Cornwall with all its raw beauty and laidbackness,  alongside the Scarlet's very contemporary vision of luxury. Leaving is the hardest part, the only thing to do is start fantasising about your next visit. The Scarlet/Tregothnan package is available from 2Feb – 24 June including 2 nights bed and breakfast, a private tour and tasting at Tregothnan and high tea with champagne at the Scarlet from £245 per person.


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