If you see a faded sign by the side of the road that says
'15 miles to the love shack', love shack, yeah, yeah
I'm headin' down the Atlantic* highway
Lookin' for the love getaway, heading for the love getaway
I got me a car, it's as big as a whale
And we're headin' on down to the love shack
I got me a Chrysler, it seats about 20
So hurry up and bring your jukebox money
The love shack is a little old place
Where we can get together
Love shack, baby
(A love shack, baby)
Love shack, baby, love shack
Love shack, baby, love shack…
Confessions of a Travelphile
I have a confession to make.
Food is not my first love.
I'm not about to get all soppy and talk about husband, family or friends - let's take the fact I love them as a given. No, I'm talking about a hobby, an interest, a passion that I am even more obsessed about than food. I can see the petition to cast me out of the food blogger community taking form as I continue. But it's true.
My heart belongs to another.
Don't get me wrong, I really love food.
But I really, really love travel.
And what I really, really, really love is food and travel combined.
A fabulous trip – be it a UK "staycation", a jaunt within Europe or a long haul adventure to an exotic destination – is a wonderful thing.
And it's not just the trips themselves that I so adore, oh no! I love planning the trip, I love anticipating the trip, I love being on the trip and I love reminiscing about the trip when it's all over.
In fact, I take (frankly ridiculous) pleasure from researching and planning and arranging trips.
From narrowing down where to go and crafting an itinerary to investigating every hotel and guest house before making my choice to researching the best places to eat… the more I have to do, the happier I am!
I once spent the better part of 18 months planning a single trip. Yes, the trip was 9 weeks long but the time I took to put it together would be considered disproportionate by most people I know. I spent hours and hours deciding and tweaking the itinerary; then hours and hours investigating accommodation in each of the 20 places we visited and even more hours contacting all those on my shortlist to negotiate low-season discounts and then making reservations and sorting out overseas payments. I read up about culture, history, politics, attractions and, of course, food. I arranged to meet up with online friends from that country. And my packing list was a thing of epic beauty.
When it comes to travel I am obsessive, detail-orientated and fussy.
So inviting me to review a hotel and restaurant is a risky prospect.
I've travelled extensively, ever since I was a child and I have stayed in some truly breath-taking hotels as well as some shithole dives and a whole range in between.
I know what I like. I know what I don't like. And I'm very hard to please.
The Scarlet's Promise
When I read the descriptions on the Scarlet Hotel's website, I really didn't know whether to believe them. I've certainly come across similar claims before and been hugely disappointed.
Created by three sisters who dreamt of a hotel that would remind them, and others, why they cherish their husbands and friends, The Scarlet promises a luxurious, eco-friendly, relaxed, adult-only environment that reflects nature by blurring the boundaries between indoors and out. Guests are invited to make themselves at home in cosy, private areas and light, airy public spaces. They are urged to enjoy the delicious food, the Ayurvedic inspired spa and a visionary interior adorned with quirky Cornish art and, in doing so, to recharge their batteries and find time for themselves and for each other.
You can see why we figured we were on our way to a Love Shack for what we hoped would be an indulgent, relaxing and romantic weekend!
The good news is that the Scarlet delivers on everything it promises and more.
How? Read on…
It had rained most of the long, long journey but we arrived, singing, at our destination in the village of Mawgan Porth, situated on Cornwall's beautiful Atlantic coast, just a few miles from brasher (and far less charming) Newquay.
Purpose built to be modern and environmentally friendly, as well as to make best use of it's stunning cliff top location, The Scarlet is a striking edifice of sweeping curves and geometrically straight lines, of warm natural woods, sleek metal and clean, white walls. It's 37 rooms are cleverly scattered on different levels and these are further clustered in what feel like small, private wings.
The whole hotel "looks" down towards the beautiful beach below (by look, I mean that all windows face in that direction) and it's a quick, if steep, walk down the cliff onto the sands.
There are lots of large expanses of glass that bring the outside in as well as smaller windows that frame the pretty views.
I find the interior design as appealing as the architecture. Colours, choice of furnishings and finishing touches are bold and quirky. The many, many pieces of local art that can be found all around the hotel are fascinating; I particularly like the glass and cord hanging sculpture in the lobby, the giant clay man in the restaurant entrance, a ceramic plate in one of the corridors and a papier-mâché leaping man covered in mathematical equations. It's one of the little pleasures of exploring the hotel to stumble upon and stop and gaze at such varied artwork.
There are a number of lovely shared areas in which to relax including the bar, various lounges and a fabulous library with books, games and a pool table. And in the summer, you can enjoy the terrace and garden areas too.
Bedrooms are also well designed, though simpler and less quirky than the public spaces. All have views out to the sea and all are spacious, even the smallest "Just Right" category. Our room was a "Generous" with a touch more space again. The double bed faced out towards the balcony and the beautiful view. From the balcony we could see the attractive lower levels of the hotel and one of the internal courtyards, as well as the beach below. Inside, we had a small desk (with free internet included) and a couple of small chairs and coffee table. Behind the headboard was an open plan bathroom space with sink and bathtub and attractive, environmentally-friendly toiletries. And by the door to our room was the entrance to the spacious wet room bathroom with toilet and monsoon shower. Even the storage was well thought out, with generously sized deep drawers and a wardrobe.
Design-wise, I particularly liked the wooden tree motif out in the corridor and its cut out surround, glued over a pretty piece of wallpaper onto the bedroom wall. And the wooden-framed mirror, secured to the wall but giving the appearance of a free-standing object of art propped against it. The white felt bedside lamps were lovely too.
Oh and I must mention the lighting system, which we really appreciated. Panels by the door and both bedsides offer a range of pre-programmed lighting schemes ranging from all lights on through options focusing on the main bedroom area to others giving light in the bathroom to all lights off. They are easy to understand and select and I was particularly appreciative of a night mode which kept one small nightlight on in the bathroom so I could find my way during the night.
During our stay, I asked to look at one of the "Just Right" rooms and found it just as charming. Located on the coastal garden level, I loved it's outlook onto the grass and across the beach. The main difference was that the shower and toilet were within the open plan bathroom, with only a frosted glass pane and door for privacy.
Dining at The Scarlet
The Scarlet's restaurant is in the very capable hands of Ben Tunnicliffe, formerly of The Abbey in Penzance, where he earned a Michelin star for his cooking.
Ben gives a frank, informative and sometimes amusing account of his cooking career on the hotel's website. He also reveals his food philosophy which boils down to making people happy, by focusing on "flavour first and foremost, simplicity second and aesthetics last", whilst sourcing locally and seasonally as far as possible. This isn't just lip service – Ben is proud of the relationships he's built with suppliers, some of whom he's used for many years. And he won't compromise on seasonality just to give guests what they might expect. No orange juice for breakfast in winter (when European oranges are not available) – instead a delicious local apple juice.
We ate in the restaurant on both evenings of our stay.
I'll soon be posting a full review of our two meals in the restaurant as well as a video interview with Ben.
In the meantime, a short summary:
The restaurant space is, like all of the hotel, designed to look out to sea. On a winter evening, it's far too dark to see the beautiful view, but I would be glued to the window during the summer, I'm sure.
Aesthetically, with the exception of that view (which we were certainly able to enjoy during breakfast), the dining room doesn't excite me as much as the rest of the hotel's spaces and the bedrooms. I like the funky felt lamp shades but they are the only design aspect that stood out.
The quality of the ingredients is very evident and most of the dishes we had were great. A few didn't work quite as well, for us, though most we liked a lot.
We were also very well looked after by Chloe and Johnny.
Starting with a selection of interesting and delicious home made breads, our two meals included spinach velouté with egg yolk ravioli; seared scallop, confit pork, hogs pudding, chorizo, caper and raisin; salmon - mi-cuit, rillette & fishcake, apple & beetroot; potted crab, brown crab mayo & crispy egg; loin and slow braised shoulder of Boccadon farm veal, wild mushrooms, sherry lentils, onions, raisins and thyme; breast of Cornish duck, Jerusalem artichokes, pressed confit leg, sprout top choucroute, date & lemon; a fantastic cheese selection; honeycomb parfait, banana compote, roasted pistachio brittle; lemon tart, satsuma sorbet, crème fraiche…
Over all, we very much enjoyed our dinners in the hotel's restaurant. I think, for the price, it would have been nice to have one or two tiny tasters in between the three courses, as one often encounters in London restaurants at a similar price point. But given the quality of the ingredients and the cooking, the prices are certainly reasonable.
We also took breakfast in the dining room both mornings. The views, even in the rain, were mesmerising.
The Scarlet breakfast is an indulgent affair and the choices on offer change every day. Always, one starts with freshly ground coffee or Tregothnan Estate tea and, at this time of year, fresh Cornish apple juice. With this comes toast and home-made jam. The next course offers choices such as a croissant or pain au chocolat, home made granola or muesli, other cereals, fresh fruit or beauties such as dried fruit compote poached in an Earl Grey and lemon syrup or lemon & thyme poached pear in crème fraiche. I don't know how many guests manage to eat all this but the third course is one of a selection of hot dishes such as grilled kippers, a full cooked breakfast and variations of eggs Benedict (I loved my eggs, spinach and Hollandaise over a large Portobello mushroom instead of muffin).
Manned by a friendly and professional team, the spa includes a bright and welcoming swimming pool and steam room, a (chemical-free) outdoor pool (filtered by reeds and designed to look very much like a clear, natural pool), a relaxation room and various treatment rooms.
Most of the treatments are built into what the Scarlet refer to as "journeys", of which there are ten different ones. All take you through an individual consultation with an Ayurvedic therapist, a bathing ritual, a meditation and relaxation session and then one of a range of different massages. You can finish off by chilling out in one of the hanging cocoons in the relaxation room.
Whilst these journeys sound heavenly, they require 3-4 hours and are priced at £175, so would take up a good chunk of your day. Unfortunately, as the spa is also open to non-residents, you have very little chance of taking one of the long journeys unless you have booked in advance of your visit.
Also on offer are a few shorter treatments that are referred to as "beyond journeys". Very popular amongst these are the two beautiful red hot tubs, perched outside with views down to the beach. Wood-fired, they can be hired out in 30 minute slots or combined with a detox seaweed bath, which lasts 45 minutes.
We had a hot tub reserved for the evening we arrived but torrential rains and howling winds put paid to that. The spa staff kindly organised for us to switch to a rasul experience instead. The treatment is inspired by rhassoul, a mineral-rich clay found in Morocco's Atlas mountains, which is said to be beneficial to the skin, hair and scalp. Its name in turn derives from an Arabic phrase meaning "to become washed". Although The Scarlet suggests the treatment can be enjoyed by partners or friends, we thought it a little intimate to share with any but the closest of mates!
In a specially designed room, you first scrub your partner with a skin-tingling exfoliant before sluicing it off with showers at both sides of the room. Next comes the mud, which you slather liberally over each other before sitting and enjoying hot steam, which is turned on automatically after a pre-programmed time interval. After another interval has passed, a huge central monsoon shower activates and you wash off the mud as best you can. The space includes a small dressing area where you can store robes and towels and dry and dress after the treatment.
On paper this would not have been a treatment I would naturally have gravitated towards but it was fantastic and we both really enjoyed it. How energising and fun to engage actively with each other to apply and wash off the two goos, rather than be quietly attended by a stranger. The exfoliant and mud products were very lovely, so much so that we bought ourselves a large pot of each to bring home. (If only we had the space for our own rasul room at home too!)
My only criticism of the spa facilities would be how cold it was in the huge relaxation room. Whilst 2 or 3 tiny felt blankets were left for guest use, the room was really rather cold – far too cold for any proper relaxation.
Activities at The Scarlet
Our weekend visit didn't coincide with any of the special activities on offer (though daily yoga sessions were available), but if you time your visit better, you can book surf lessons, kayaking, deep sea fishing, horse riding, tree climbing or attend an sustainability and eco course, a jewellery workshop or an arts and natural crafts workshop. I believe cookery courses are also available on occasion.
Out and About in the Area
In the immediate vicinity is the beach and some beautiful cliff top walks. The hotel even has a friendly dog, Jasper, that guests can take for a walk!
Further afield you might like to visit sites of natural beauty such as Carnewas & Bedruthan Steps and Watergate Bay, popular towns such as Paidstow and gardeners' delights, The Lost Gardens of Heligan and The Eden Project, both near St Austell.
I've already mentioned how much I appreciate the inclusion of internet fees in the room rate.We didn't use it much at all, but it was nice being able to dive onto the net to check out a couple of tourist sites without having to pay an extra £10 or more for the priviledge.
Another of the (many) touches I like is The Scarlet's policy on coffee and tea facilities. Instead of providing them in each room (with a fridge for milk and the excessive packaging used for individual tea bags, coffee and sugar), they invite guests to simply ask for tea and coffee on the house, twice a day. Some guests choose to have their freshly made filter coffee and tea delivered to their rooms. We preferred to take ours in the bar, where friendly bar manager, Pete, quickly learned our order and preferences by heart.
Oh, and if it isn't perhaps obvious yet, The Scarlet is an adults only hotel. I like kids, I genuinely do. But just a handful of parents who don't understand that not everyone wants their peace and quiet shattered by their unruly offspring can really take the romance and relaxation out of a break like this.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to mention again the staff. Not only were they well-trained and good at their jobs, they were also, every single one that we met, friendly, helpful, warm and genuinely committed to ensuring all guests were having the best possible experience.
The Bottom Line
Just Right rooms are available from £190 per night (including breakfast) in low season up to £245 in mid season and £285 during peak times. Indulgent rooms range from £320 to £415 per night.
We drove from London (stopping a night in Cheltenham to visit family on the way down and Bristol to visit friends on the way back). It's a long drive!
If you're short of time, you can fly direct in an hour from London Gatwick to Newquay airport which is just a 5 minute drive from The Scarlet.
Alternatively, Newquay is readily accessible by train, coach and bus and travelling by foot, bike, rail or coach will earn you a discount on your stay as a reward for reducing CO2 emissions.
The hotel have also installed an electric car charging facility on site, which is free to residents.
When Can I Go Back?
As you can tell, we absolutely loved our stay at The Scarlet. I genuinely felt uplifted, energised and relaxed by our visit and cannot wait to return again. And again. And again!
I mentioned above how much I love to travel and have done since I was a child. Of the many thousands of hotels I've stayed in, The Scarlet really does stand out. The three sisters have not only succeeded but surpassed themselves in achieving all their aims for this very special place.
*We did realise on getting home that the Love Shack lyrics mention the Atlanta Highway rather than the Atlantic, but the song is now indelibly linked, in our hearts, with the Scarlet, so I decided to stick with it!
Kavey & Pete stayed as guests of The Scarlet.