Short break - Merchants Manor, Falmouth, Cornwall
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 September 2016
Any visit to Cornwall is special, but a stay at Merchants Manor in Falmouth is the icing on the cake, writes Kate Houghton
ith FlyBe taking you from Manchester to Newquay in less than an hour, a weekend in Cornwall never seemed so tempting. We headed off for a cheeky midweek break, sans kids, to soak up a little Cornish warmth.
We stayed at the truly lovely Merchants Manor in Falmouth; a four star AA rated hotel and spa. It was our intention to balance getting into the great outdoors with complete comfort indoors; with a fabulous spa, swimming pool, sauna, gym and astonishingly good restaurant it would be rather too easy to get the balance all wrong.
The hotel is owned and run by Sioned and Nick Parry-Rudlin, who met when studying hospitality in Wales and have remained together through their careers working for some of the UK’s most high-end hotel groups. This training, plus their personal stamp on the hotel’s offering, ensures a slick yet very individual experience. A true empathy with every guest’s desire for a relaxing break means that they are willing and able to arrange even the smallest details to ensure this happens.
The rooms are comfortable, light, bright and prettily done in quirky, modern style and not a thing is missing. From deliciously fragranced, all natural products containing locally made essential oils to the crsip Egyptian cotton sheets and feather filled duvet every need is catered for.
Rastella, the hotel’s restaurant, attracts diners from across the area due to the marvellous food created by Chef Patron Hylton Espey and head Chef Daniel Kerr. Their dishes are all about flavour, which means we were on the receiving end of some very fine food indeed, yet there’s none of the stuffy atmosphere you often associate with food of this calibre – perfectly matching the ethos of the hotel. The team work with local producers, including a butcher, fisherman and forager to source wild food and their menu reflects the very best of what has been available on the quayside and at the markets that day– making it as seasonal and local as can be.
While perusing the menus we sipped on a glass of really very good, dry honey-appled sparkling wine, made in Cornwall and really very yum. We chose Black Ewe Red to accompany our meal, a pinot noir from Trevibban Mill, near Padstow; a richly spiced wine with an initial hit of berry fruits and a lingering smoky finish. These are the first British wines I’ve really enjoyed and were a complete revelation.
Dinner was a delight. We enjoyed a glorious menu featuring homemade soda bread with black garlic butter, slow roast lamb in Moroccan spices, a melt-in-the-mouth Chateaubriand steak (with an incredible, intense sweet and smoky cherry tomato sauce) and a very beautiful, soft and fragrant pistachio cake with Cornish cherries. Each course was seriously, seriously good and we decided to repeat the experience on our second night too – and it didn’t disappoint. Foie gras with smoked apple and fennel, luscious smoky duck and gingerbread with clotted cream ice-cream…heaven on a plate. If you’re a foodie you’ll be very happy indeed when looked after by Hylton and the team.
When asked what we might do other than sit on a beach, Sioned recommended a local small business who run kayak and boat trips along the river and into the various creeks that feed off it, including Frenchman’s Creek, made famous by Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous book and named for the French fishermen who would take shelter in its arms during vicious easterly winds – and, I like to think, the occasional pirate, à la Maurier. Run by husband and wife team Tom and Hetty Wildblood, you can choose to paddle yourself (on a guided tour) or sit comfortably on a small boat and be taken there. Yes, I chose the latter. Hetty is truly lovely; bubbly and happy and filled with enthusiasm for her business, and her knowledge of the river and creeks - from homes owned by the rich and famous to wildlife (kingfishers, dophins, egrets and herons) to local history - made for an excellent 90 minutes of fresh sea air, sunshine and discovery. I have agreed to a kayak adventure next time, but only if she can guarantee me hot sunshine and no falling in.
We had plans for a clifftop walk and a picnic on the beach (hamper supplied by Merchants Manor, of course) but the sun took itself elsewhere, so we used the excuse to visit Falmouth itself and raid the fudge shops. Oh, the joy of a proper Cornish pasty (well, steak and stilton, but close) followed by freshly made fudge! A joy only exceeded by returning to the hotel and settling down to hot tea with warm scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream in the elegant yet comfortable library. I can never remember which way you’re supposed to do it in Cornwall, but regardless, freshly made scones slathered in good things is a British treat to relish.
Merchants Manor spa, The Linen Rooms, is a haven of peace populated by very skilful ladies Alex and Sara, who use Cornish essential oils and massage techniques I had never experienced before to take guests to a whole new level of chilled. I enjoyed a Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage, which uses long and rhythmic strokes to relax the body and soul. My husband chose the Dig Deeper ‘Herculean deep tissue massage’ – a four handed massage that left him smiling serenely and incapable of anything more than drowsing on the bed for a good half hour, not ideal when one is trying to pack.
The whole Merchants Manor experience is so good you’ll want to make it a regular treat. I have big plans for a winter retreat – log fires, cream teas and a Nomad’s Walk massage (look it up, it’s amazing!) Bliss.