In the fifties and sixties, August in South Cornwall was one of the places to be in the UK. Before the mass exodus abroad to get as sunbaked as possible, bright young things would roar out of London westwards in their MGBs to St Mawes, to holiday cottages with stunning views of sparkling creeks where their boats were moored.
The main hotels in St Mawes in the sixties were owned by an American business man called Harley Mosley who, when on honeymoon with his Polish wife in 1943, saw the potential of the setting and bought two hotels overlooking the harbour. There was little competition: the Tresanton was the only other hotel of any note in this idyllic spot. Every winter Mosley would travel abroad to recruit staff for the following summer. The young Austrian and German waiters who used to hang around on the front on their breaks seemed very glamorous to us English youth, many of whom had not been abroad, so St Mawes with its benign climate and palm trees was the nearest to being sur le continent that many of us were going to get.
With the growth of cheap package holidays abroad in the eighties Cornish resorts like St Mawes declined, and the hotels there became shabby and neglected. However, the beautiful views and coastline remained and in 1998 Olga Polizzi, of the Forte dynasty, re-opened the Tresanton as a modern boutique hotel to match Rick Stein’s development of Padstow on the North Coast. And now the smart cars are in St Mawes once again. But what if you don’t want a trendy hotel for your holiday? They can take some living up to, and Cornwall is perhaps the sort of place where you just don’t want to make that competitive effort.
The Nare Hotel, just along the coast from St Mawes, has been in the same family for many years. The grandmother of the present owner, Toby Ashworth, was a dog lover and dogs are very welcome; so welcome that they get special meals prepared from the kitchen. The Nare is not trendy, and it’s not old fashioned. It’s not anything you can put your finger on really, except that the staff are exceptional, and there are lots of them. There’s a bit of formality in the offering: an all-inclusive dinner in the dining room for residents in the evening, with all the old-fashioned aplomb of hors-d’oeuvres and sweet trolleys, but otherwise there’s just a spectacular view of the sea over a deserted beach, and no obligation to do anything except relax.
This comfortable place gets many returning guests, and also some famous ones (Anna Massey, Noel Edmunds, Charlotte Church), which doesn’t faze them in the least, as long as the smooth running of the hotel is not affected. Tony Blair with family and entourage were refused accommodation one year because of the disruption it would cause.
This is not a cheap hotel but if you’re on your own a single room without a sea view it’s a bargain. And there are plenty of opportunities to look at the sea while sitting on the large terraces, eating fresh crab cakes at lunchtime, lounging by the heated pool or enjoying a private view from the hot tub. For the more energetic, there’s a gym and lots of coastal walks. In fact everything for guests’ comfort and entertainment is thought of, and this is the key to this place. On my first night, Toby Ashworth singled me out as a new guest. “If there’s anything we’re not doing right for you, please let us know”, he insisted. This permeates through the staff, and nothing is too much trouble. Another example of true hospitality.