So here we are in Cornwall, and miraculously the weather is hot and sunny even though it’s a May Bank Holiday. We’ve come back to a hotel that we last visited a couple of years ago in March, and although it was lovely then (the reason, indeed, why we decided to return) it is just heavenly on a couple of hot days in May.
The Talland Bay Hotel is in tiny Porthallow on the south coast of Cornwall between Looe and Polperro; it has a wonderful position above Talland Bay, with lawns and a pretty garden where one can sit and while away the time while drinking in the view, which is like a fairytale Cornwall from our childhood dreams.
The sea has a Mediterranean hue under this sun, but unlike the Mediterranean no-one has built tower blocks or indeed anything very much on the green, green hills that slope down to the little beach on either side.
As you sit on the hotel’s upper terrace your view of the sea is framed by some discreetly positioned shrubs, a few tall Scots pines…. and an eclectic mix of objects that range from the oddly twee (wire mesh fairy, person-sized, perched on a garden table) to the slightly sinister (Cornish pisky with demonic expression).
There is a jolly old man sitting smiling on a bench with his arms crossed over his paunch, and a glorious row of budgies, also person-sized, forming the back to another bench. It could be awful, but somehow it isn’t. (There is a little bit of awful, but it’s all inside – I’ll come back to that.)
And the large, sprawling, welcoming white building, the main part of which was built in the 16th century, sits comfortingly in the background as if smiling fondly at it all. This is a place that enjoys you being there as much as you enjoy all it has to offer. The staff are without exception smiling, friendly and simply there for you whenever you need something; there seem to be more staff since our last visit, but the hotel was sold in September 2015 and there have been some changes.
One of the changes is that the food, very good before, is now excellent. We realised this as we were presented with our ‘amuse-bouche’ on the first night at dinner; a beautiful deep green pool of hot asparagus and pea soup had a tiny melting triangle of Cornish brie, and we knew that we were going to enjoy our food.
The starters were too large, but delicious; Julia had grilled Cornish sardine on salad and I had glazed hake with marinated raisins and a tiny portion of mussel tagine.
We then followed that with John Dory, all the fish beautifully cooked and with subtle but clear flavours, and accompanied by lightly charred shaved vegetables. We finished with a creamy pannacotta with raspberry sorbet, and toasted marshmallow with strawberries, cream and tiny swirls of meringue.
To drink, we had a half carafe of Sardinian Vermentino followed by a half carafe of a South African Shiraz; the Vermentino was smooth, lightly fruity and very nice, but served at the wrong temperature (not cooled down), and the red was all right. They have some Cornish Knightor wine on the wine list, made from the Madeleine Angevine grape, which intrigued us, but the £39 price tag was way above our league.
So we rolled off to sleep happily, and slept soundly – I love holidays.
Then, oh bliss, breakfast the next morning was out on the gorgeous terrace, in full sun and enjoying the amazing view. Smoked haddock with a poached egg, or creamy scrambled egg with smoked salmon, plus fresh wholemeal toast and proper coffee – it was a perfect breakfast.
The hotel rooms are very well decorated in a traditional way, with comfortable beds and enough room to swing a cat – or a dog, the hotel being ‘dog-friendly’ (the swinging of the latter probably the preferred option of the former). The bathroom in our room looked new, with a huge bath, a separate shower with one of those enormous tropical rain shower heads… and a large bright yellow rubber duck in a sou’wester, an odd feature perhaps but it made me laugh out loud.
This has become the right moment to talk about the hotel’s extravagant mixture of décor and artwork; to say it is eclectic is accurate but doesn’t convey the mix of surprise, admiration and occasionally dislike that one feels at every turn. Most of it works well, with me at least – I like places that strive to be original. I loved the wire mesh seahorse sculpture in the dining room, and the art deco style sconces everywhere, for example; most of the pictures, whether of animals or seaside scenes, are lovely. However the collection of nick nacks high up on the panelling in the dining room was so disparate as to remind me of a charity shop, the large picture of a white tree on a turquoise background apparently all made of mother of pearl would have been more at home in a Thai restaurant, and the Residents’ Lounge, while it must surely have been decorated with tongue firmly in cheek seemed to me to be SUCH an accurate rendition of 1980s night club chic as to pass through irony all the way back to eeeeeeek.
However this is nit-picking, and possibly unkind – after all, not everyone’s taste is the same. The one area that I’m sure everyone must agree on is that the bar needs a serious makeover. One end of it is again 1980s night club chic, complete with matching zebra-striped sofas, while the main route through the hotel cuts through the middle of it, and across on the other side is a very brightly-lit bar with low-backed red plush chairs round tables. This hotel is a lovely place overall, with a warm and welcoming feel – the only place I did not feel this was in the bar. I longed for soft lighting and comfy sofas with high backs, somewhere that I would want to linger with a glass of wine or a cocktail.
I wonder too where hotel guests could relax if the weather was not kind; I’ve described the décor in the “Residents’ Lounge”, but worse than that it is a small room at the back of the hotel with a partial view of the car park and the kitchen entrance. Even in poor weather the view from the front of the hotel is stunning, it’s a shame they couldn’t create a cosy indoor sitting area overlooking their gorgeous gardens and ravishing view.
The main thing, though, is that this hotel is somewhere I would love to return to; it has so many plus points, the few small less-than-ideal details pale into insignificance for me. We had a lovely, relaxing, memorable couple of days here and I would leap at the chance to visit again.
The South West coastal path runs across between the hotel and the sea, so you can walk round to Polperro in one direction or round to Looe in the other direction. If you ever come to this hotel you must do one of these walks – we had done Polperro last time so we went to Looe on this occasion, and the views are stupendous.
Being May, the wildflowers were showing off extravagantly, the sheep were obligingly offering a photogenic splash of white and cream against the greens and blues and it was one of those experiences that you will treasure during the long grey days of the rest of the year.
On the way we passed little Looe Island (also called St George’s Island) where legend states that Jesus came with Joseph of Arimathea to trade cloth for tin – unlikely as it may sound, this gave the monks at Glastonbury the chance to take over the island since it was clearly such a holy place…. it is now a nature reserve, and at certain times of year one can visit.
We rounded the final corner into Looe along the estuary…….
…… and discovered that so many other people had selfishly decided to enjoy this pretty little town in this amazing weather that we wimped out, caught a taxi back to the oasis of the hotel and convinced ourselves that what we really needed was a crab salad. We were right, it was just what we needed.
Roll on our next holiday here. Sigh.