Chilled English winter vibes at Cornwall's Watergate Bay Hotel

A stay at Cornwall’s oceanside Watergate Bay Hotel takes the humble British beach break to another level, discovers Carolynne Dear.

The golden sands of Watergate Bay, Cornwall.


There have been many downsides to the pandemic. But perhaps an upside has been the rare opportunity for some mother-daughter bonding.


As a family we might not have taken a holiday since the summer of 2019, but Hong Kong’s draconian 21-day quarantine has meant I’ve spent much longer than usual dropping my daughter off at university in Britain.


So much so that I found myself still in situ for the midterm university ‘reading’ week (a tertiary education variation on the British school half-term break).


We quickly decided any reading would best be accomplished on a hotel mini-break. Hopefully with some spa-time and cocktails thrown in for good measure.


Time alone with my first-born is a treat. She led a busy life in Hong Kong, with the odd dinner with her parents thrown in when she wasn’t partying on a Lantau beach or drinking cocktails on the roof of IFC or throwing herself around a Kowloon rugby pitch or a Mong Kok netball court.


Now things have slowed as she navigates the unknowns of English living, new friendship groups and a mysterious social scene (what’s a ‘Spoons’, mum? A Weatherspoons pub, I hazard). I’m making the most of this fleeting window of opportunity until she is once again engulfed by life.


When it comes to staycation breaks, Britain is a veritable chocolate box of opportunity. We were looking for something suitably luxe but not too formal. A beach was important (Tilly was born within the sound of Bondi swells, after all), as was good food and a spa treatment or two.


Watergate Bay Hotel fitted the bill perfectly, particularly as it was in Cornwall, an area Tilly had never visited before. It turns out that a lockdown summer and social media has raised England’s most westerly county to previously unheard of levels of desirability. “Is that the place that looks a bit like Thailand?” she asks.


I concede that while not quite Phuket, Cornwall certainly has its Instagram moments. As it is, we arrive on a windswept winter’s day, surf crashing onto the two-mile stretch of golden sand that is Watergate Bay.


A surfer contemplates the chilly winter waters at Watergate Bay.


It might be chic, but Watergate Bay Hotel is a ‘working’ surf hotel. Stylishly kitted out with hardwood floors, rugs, shabby chic couches and open fires, there’s also a huge blackboard in reception reminding all of its true raison d’etre - the day’s tide times, water temperatures, swell stats and surf lesson availability are all meticulously listed. Watergate Bay Hotel is aesthetically pleasing but rugged enough to feel warmly welcoming, whether you’ve been hanging ten or walking the blustery cliff paths. Even on a weekday in winter, reception is buzzing as guests come and go, many with dogs in tow. Muddy boots and sandy shoes line the wall by the entrance door.


Every opportunity has been made to embrace the stunning ocean views. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows line the Living Space, the casual dining area to which we make a bee-line for a late lunch having checked in.


There’s more formal dining at Zacrys, which also serves as the breakfast space - although periwinkle blue skies and sunshine on our second morning meant we opted to carry our eggs and coffee through to the oceanside terrace that leads off the Living Space. “I’m getting Sydney vibes,” said Tilly as we watched a hotel guest plunge bravely into the breakers.


Downstairs is the Swim Club, a cosy spa with an ocean-view lounge and roaring fire, bar, outdoor hot tub, fitness centre, treatment rooms and a fabulous 25m pool. Splash your way towards the picture windows and dazzling beach views at the far end - an English winter sunset has never looked sweeter.


We enjoyed a massage at the Swim Club and were very impressed with the spa’s product range, Land & Water, which is produced exclusively for Watergate Bay. All products are available in the boutique in reception.


Nautical stripes in the guest rooms at Watergate Bay Hotel.


Our rooms were cosily and attractively kitted out with warming rugs, wicker lamps, thick throws and comfy cushions in burnt oranges, nautical blues and fresh whites. The bathroom was filled with the beautiful Land & Water products. Partial ocean-views and an outdoor terrace made for a perfect surfer-watching spot as day turned to dusk and wetsuit-ed bodies made their way back up the beach to the hotel.


I would be very tempted to head back as a family in warmer weather. The hotel’s newly opened beach lofts with floor to ceiling windows, private direct beach access, generous living space and concierge are the last word in beach holiday luxury. Add-ons include freestanding window baths, hanging chairs and fireside seating.


Children are warmly welcomed at Watergate Bay, with family pool times (equally there are adult-only swim times), a Kid’s Zone with games and craft activities, The XA Club for older children with ping-pong, table football and games consoles, children’s menus in the restaurants (youngsters will love the cook-your-own-waffles stand at breakfast) and a water sports school, Extreme Academy, down on the beach. Not forgetting, of course, the enormous stretch of sand - Watergate Bay beach is true Enid Blyton territory, with plenty of rock pools for exploring and surf to splash in.


We spent our second day walking the coastal path to neighbouring Porth Beach and then drove north to Padstow for lunch and a spot of gift shopping in the pretty fishing town before hitting the A30 back home, refreshed and ready to finish off that reading.


Watergate Bay is open year-round, bookings can be made online.


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