Travel notes: St Mawes

My affinity with the Cornish fishing village of St Mawes began many years ago. My mother’s best friend lived there; we would stay with her and so it naturally became our bucket-and-spade holiday destination when I was just a little girl. I fell in love with it slowly. I was too young to appreciate it for all that I do now. Today, I believe I admire St Mawes for all that it is – a place of rugged beauty, the bold, the brave, the bountiful.

When I started my own family, I returned to the same house that I stayed in as a child with our three tiny babies. Over the years we have explored what feels like every inch of the area – the shore, the sand and the sea. My husband is an avid sailor and St Mawes has such an incredible sailing ground. The Falmouth estuary feels sheltered and safe with a wide-stretching bay to welcome you. Close by is the magical Helford river, a remote voyage that makes me feel as though I am part of a Daphne du Maurier’s romantic novel. St Anthony-in-Menage on the Lizard peninsula is not too far away by boat either. Not over-populated and surrounded by cascading fields and wild flower-abundant lanes. It may not be part of St Mawes but it all feels connected.

While all of this sounds utterly idyllic, St Mawes and indeed Cornwall, are multi-dimensional in terms of their character. Postcard pretty is but one aspect. St Mawes is an ancient fishing village and you can still feel that through the architecture, some of it dating back centuries. The buildings were erected from robust Cornish stone with dense sheets of slate and granite forming roof and floor tiles. Those that line the seafront in particular stand so strong, bracing the elements and showing a side to Cornwall that is quite the reverse of softly-softly. There is a definite sense of strength which is reflective of the hard life lived by fishermen past and present. 

When I am in St Mawes, I feel as though I am cut off from the rest of the world, and in some respects, you almost are, perched near the very end of the country, on the peninsula of the Atlantic. It has its own identity and I recognise that very much through the design too. 

In more recent times, there have been a few notable additions to the landscape in St Mawes which have helped to cement its unique approach to interior design. The first is The Tresanton hotel which opened in 1997 and was designed by Olga Polizzi. It has been styled so tastefully with each room having its own sense of self. There are beautiful coastal oil paintings and no one clear commitment to an era of furniture – antique brown pieces sit alongside Art Deco, mid-century and of course, more typical weather-beaten white coastal chic dressers and chests. Colour is an enormous part of the interior too; nautical striped throws might be in one room whereas another plays host to fun bursts of lime green and orange. There is a definite essence of the more usual seaside motifs, but they are nuanced and instead, the surroundings help to define the interior with views out to St Anthony’s lighthouse and an elevated terrace with a metal safety balustrade that always make me feel as though I am on a ship looking out onto the ever-extending ocean.


Then there are the St Mawes Hotel and The Idle Rocks which are both owned and run by the talented couple, Karen and David Richards (the motor racing entrepreneur and former Chairman of Aston Martin). She has such a good eye for decorating and has made it welcoming and pretty. Much like The Tresanton, it is far more creative with its definition of coastal. Karen has selected rustic finishes throughout with William Yeoward fabrics and contemporary pieces of artwork. The interior embraces dark wood with pieces modern and classic. It is such a mixture and I love that. It makes it feel as though it has evolved over time rather than being a pastiche of what you expect a seaside hotel to be. At The St Mawes Hotel, they have even established a 25-seat luxury cinema with deep leather seats (perhaps a nod to Richard’s racing past). Such a find is really quite unexpected next-door to a sleepy post office and village bakery.

For me, St Mawes is a special place. It holds memories that will always be dear, of my childhood, of my children’s childhood, of exploration and adventures, and of gaining an appreciation for another chapter of design. I adore it for its diversity, from the moors and ponies that roam wild to the picturesque seaside and captivating waters. It will forever be a source of beguiling inspiration to me.

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