There are some activities that are simply obligatory when you visit Cornwall. Lounging around on the beach. Rockpooling. Dipping at least one toe into the Atlantic. Eating a pasty. Driving around for hours trying to find the last car-parking space in St Ives. Getting lost on a back lane because you ignored all the warnings about not relying on the satnav, and then finding you have to reverse for a mile when you meet an oncoming tractor, which then knocks off your wing-mirror as it trundles past by way of thanks. Ah, Cornwall.
But there’s one way of winding down from the holiday stress, and that’s to book a hotel with a decent spa. There are some absolute beauties to choose from, with treatments ranging from hot stone massages to full-body mud masques. Some benefit from sweeping beach views, while others are hidden away in the deepest Cornish countryside, but all offer an experience you’ll want to return to again and again.
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Best for luxury: Scarlet Hotel
Neighbourhood: Mawgan Porth, near Newquay
If it’s no-holds-barred pampering you’re looking for, it’s hard to top this north-coast wonder, located on an unparalleled cliff top above the beach at Mawgan Porth. Everything about the place feels like a shamelessly decadent spoil – from the lantern-lit, tented treatment rooms, to the infinity pool that seems to reach right out into the blue Atlantic. The design is studious minimalism: sharp lines, soft lighting and plate glass, with cocoon-shaped relaxation pods and swoopy steam-bent chairs to chill in. There’s a hammam for steam baths and rhassoul for mud treatments, and outside, cedar-clad hot tubs where you can soothe your bones with a glass of fizz overlooking the sea, as well as a bracingly cold “wild pool” for masochists. Factor in sleek bedrooms and an excellent sea-view restaurant, and overall, the Scarlet really is a bit of a stunner.
Day spa from £175 per person, two-night spa breaks from £417.50 per person
Best for families: Bedruthan Hotel and Spa
Neighbourhood: Bedruthan Steps, near Newquay
Sister hotel to the Scarlet, the Bedruthan’s focus is on families, so while you check in for treatment at the spa, you can relax in the knowledge that the kids are off for an afternoon of surf lessons, coasteering, screen-printing workshops and other engaging activities. The vibe is more easy-going here: staff are chatty and relaxed, treatment rooms are painted in playful mauves and purples, and there’s an outdoor sensory garden with wooden walkways lined with succulents and sea grasses leading to outdoor showers, cedar hot tubs, a Scandi-style sauna and a fire pit. Bedrooms are fun too, splashed with kitsch dots and swirly Seventies prints. Eating-wise, there’s a smart restaurant and a more chilled cafe to choose from – plus the rock stacks known as the Bedruthan Steps are but a stone’s throw away.
Day spa from £140 per person (£55 Monday to Thursday), one-night spa breaks from £156
Best for surfers: Fistral Beach Hotel and Spa
Neighbourhood: Fistral Beach, near Newquay
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Overlooking Cornwall’s premier surfing beach, this boutique-on-a-budget hotel tilts towards a younger clientele. The spa can’t boast the bells and whistles of fancier places such as the Scarlet or the St Moritz, and the design is definitely a lot less ritzy, but it’s still a pleasant place to unwind. The Vitality Suite includes a steam room, sauna, jacuzzi and a serviceable (if unstarry) indoor pool. The main attraction, however, is the price: half-day packages start at just £65, while full-days start at £95, including a two-course lunch. Bedrooms are plain, with cream-and-taupe colour palettes and simple wooden furniture – skip the economy ones and splash out on a sea view or above. Surf lessons are easily sourced at nearby Fistral or any of the other Newquay beaches.
Day spa from £95 per person, standard rooms from £12
Best for an urban vibe: St Moritz Hotel
Neighbourhood: Trebetherick, near Wadebridge
The location of this strikingly white, Art Deco-inspired hotel, between Rock and Polzeath, has made it a favourite hangout for celebs; this stretch of north Cornwall’s coast has been dubbed Cornwall’s Saint-Tropez thanks to its popularity with Prince Harry, Gordon Ramsay and David Cameron. With its white curves and rendered facade, the building is either exciting or an eyesore, depending on your architectural point of view, but it’s hard not to be seduced by the Cowshed Spa – the only one in the UK not installed in a Soho House hotel. The pamper factor’s cranked up to 11 here: botanical-based products inspired by English gardens, his-and-hers massage tables and a range of six bespoke scents tailored specially for your treatment, although the barrel-vaulted pool is the highlight. The style is “rustic-luxe”, which basically means a blend of bleached wood, stone, ceramic, concrete and chrome, plus bits of modern furniture. If you’re staying, there are four room categories (from Cosy to Suite) plus swish self-catering apartments and villas in the grounds.
Full day spa from £290, rooms from £160
Best for traditionalists: The Nare Hotel
Neighbourhood: Carne Beach, Roseland
The Nare is stubbornly old fashioned, and proud of it. It’s the classic Cornish country house hotel: gilded paintings on the walls, rugs and tartan carpets on the floors, leather armchairs in the guests’ lounge and afternoon tea served on the lawn. It feels like the hotel hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years, and there’s no indication that it intends to do so in the next 50 either. The spa opts for time-honoured treatments rather than the latest fads: no-nonsense massages, pedicures, manicures and facials, administered in treatment rooms best described as homely rather than trendy. There’s also a choice of outdoor and indoor pools. Unsurprisingly, the rooms feel very traditional with antique wardrobes, brocaded curtains, Laura Ashley-style sofas and bath goodies from Crabtree & Evelyn. Of course, there’s a silver-service restaurant, porters to carry your baggage and a brace of heritage yachts for sea jaunts. Jolly old holidays, what?
Day spa from £125, rooms from £389
Best for locals: St Michaels Resort
This long-standing Falmouth hotel seems to have expanded again every time you look: each season seems to bring new wings, a rejigged restaurant or newly refurbished rooms. The new St Michaels Spa is one such recent add-on, and claims to have the largest hydrothermal pool in the southwest. The space is well designed, combining distressed wood, copper and sea-blue tiles into a soothing, vaguely nautical whole. There’s a smorgasbord of massages, scrubs, wraps and rhassoul-mud treatments, as well as an outdoor barrel sauna and hot tub, and a well-equipped sports gym (there seemed to be more locals than tourists making use of the facilities here the last time I visited). Rooms display a similar beachy, New England feel, and the popular beach of Gyllyngvase is right across the road.
Day spa from £89 per person, rooms from £12
Best for a grown-up getaway: Merchant’s Manor
This Falmouth landmark bills itself as a “grown-up getaway”, and it’s certainly a stylish, adult affair. Since taking over the hotel in 2012, the owners have renovated nearly the entire building, sprucing up the rooms and modernising the decor to create an ambience somewhere between gentleman’s residence, country house and trendy hotel-by-the-sea. With its elegant palette of smoke-blues, creams and greys and thoughtful design details – oldschool taps, vintage tiles, reimagined linen cupboards – the Linen Rooms Spa is a seductive space, offering an impressive and bewildering array of treatments. The range of rooms is similarly varied, but all have touches of imagination and wit – a bespoke illustration here, a cheeky print or retro chair there. They’ve also recently added timber-clad “suite retreats” for maximum privacy.
Two-hour spa session from £130, spa breaks from £160 per person
Best for budget: Polurrian on the Lizard
Neighbourhood: near Mullion, The Lizard
For many years this was a rather trad, dull coastal hotel suffused with Edwardian-era fustiness, but the owners have made a concerted effort to modernise things, clearing out the clutter, brightening up the rooms and generally making things more fit for the 21st century. It’s still short on frills, but it’s good value and very popular with families, and sits on a fine stretch of the Lizard coastline. The basic spa doubles as a local’s health club: facilities include a 30m indoor pool, hot tub, gym and tennis court, and with taster massages starting at just £29 and spa days from £55, it’s very reasonably priced.
Spa days from £55 per person, rooms from £11