The Idle Rocks review: lazy days in Cornwall
This hotel in St Mawes offers a haven of peace and tranquility
The poet Zofia Ilinska was 17 when Soviet tanks rolled into Poland in 1939. The family fled to Britain, but even in her new adopted home, there was still violence and sadness. She lost her first husband to the war, and later, her beloved son was killed in a car accident.
She married again, to Harley Moseley, an American diplomat, and they decided to honeymoon in St Mawes, a small, sleepy fishing village on the south coast of Cornwall, on the Roseland Peninsula. They quickly fell in love with their new home, and bought the village’s two hotels – one of them The Idle Rocks. Inspired, she wrote a collection of poems in 1972, Idle Rocks, dedicated to the comings and goings of a seaside hotel. A hotel, she writes, is “a house for entertaining voyagers: migratory beings, wayfarers, wanderers…”.
St Mawes is a captivating, charming corner of Cornwall; it’s easy to see how it has become a sanctuary for those seeking refuge over the past century or so. It feels far removed from a frantically-paced and febrile world. Reaching the village is best done via hotel transfer from Truro (about a 45-minute drive) or from Falmouth via ferry, just down the coast. Of course, it has also long been known as a hidden gem with a touch of glamour. From the 1940s it was promoted as “a kind of British edition of St Tropez on the French Riviera”, attracting artists like Max Ernst and Man Ray. With its tiny flickering harbour lights, calm waters and dazzling, dramatic skies, it’s easy to see how it came to be an inviting haven for so many over the years.
Why come here
Ideally perched on the water is the gorgeous present-day The Idle Rocks hotel, now owned since 2013 by Karen Richards, who has also expertly designed the hotel, and her husband David Richards. Expect luxurious homely, family vibes and a warm welcome from the moment you enter. Local St Eval candles flicker throughout the hotel and a cosy fire beckons in the lobby. The overall feel is fresh, sophisticated and light, with decorative and playful nods to the Cornish coast. There are elegant pieces of driftwood in the bathrooms and paintings by local artist David Pearce with their colourful fishing boats, but the hotel avoids any clichéd seaside clutter. In 2016, The Idle Rocks became part of the world renowned collection of hotels, Relais & Châteaux.
My grand seaview room, one of just 19, looked out over the water. It is a real gem, with a cosy snug for curling up under a sheepskin blanket and watching the twinkling village lights, before diving into the sumptuous bed sheets and drifting off to the sound of the lapping waves. It had a spacious bathroom with a walk-in shower and big bottles of Aromatherapy Associates toiletries; the hotel has stopped using small plastic miniatures in an effort to be more sustainable. All the rooms are kitted out with a full range of creature comforts including Nespresso coffee machines and Roberts radios.
What to eat
The family feel extends to the hotel’s inimitable, fabulous executive head chef, Cornishman Dorian Janmaat, who is engaged to marketing and events manager, Chloe. Janmaat, who cut his teeth at Raymond Blanc’s two-Michelin starred hotel and restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, is doing wonderful wizardry in the kitchen. His seven-course tasting menu is one of the highlights of staying at this hotel and the incredible flavour combinations will genuinely knock you for six. Even his pretzel bread, beautifully baked into a reef knot and accompanied with miso butter, is an unforgettable taste revelation. Venison loin with plump, sweet blackberries, cavalo nero, celeriac and red wine essence is a marvel, and Cornish monkfish with tempura cauliflower and yuzu butter is stylish and surprising.
Cornish produce dots the menu, with local seaweed, caviar, fish, clotted cream, tea and wine from nearby Cornish estates all featuring, and Janmaat’s commitment to sustainable and seasonal food ensures that the menu is a triumphant Cornish celebration (the hotel will happily arrange visits to nearby Tregothnan Tea and Trevibban wines, which the hotel stocks.)
Breakfasts are also a fairly stunning affair, with big, bright, breezy seaside views to gaze out over with coffee and the morning papers, and thoughtful touches such as glazed, sweet pink grapefruits, Cornish cheeses and perfect pastries. Order hearty full Cornish breakfasts, delicate Cornish kippers with capers and grilled tomatoes, or smoked salmon and avocado from the kitchen if you’re looking for something more robust.
What to do
The village itself is charming and peaceful, with a few solitary dog walkers on the beach in the winter months, brave souls heading out for open-water swimming and lively activity from the village’s rowing club. There are small pubs, shops and tempting bakeries, and The St Mawes Hotel, sister to The Idle Rocks and just a stone’s throw away, offers more traditional food and also has a small cinema with frequent showings. I am assured that in the summer months, the water gleams and sparkles with tropical fluorescence, and yet still manages not to attract the maddening crowds, but November has its own solitudinous charm.
St Mawes also boasts its own Tudor castle, although quite small, but with an illustrious history. Venture further afield to The Hidden Hut at Portscatho for excellent homemade soups and sweet treats on Sundays and more lazy seaside ambling. For all tired voyagers, wanderers, wayfarers, The Idle Rocks and St Mawes continue to offer a haven of peace and tranquility.
Rooms at The Idle Rocks are priced between £150-£475 per night; idlerocks.com
About Visit Cornwall
For more information on tourism in Cornwall see the Visit Cornwall website. The tourist board for Cornwall provides information about the county’s destinations and attractions.