Words by Lowenna Merritt
Mediterranean charm meets Cornish style to create a stylish stay for all seasons.
A cluster of rustic whitewashed houses overlook Tavern Beach in St Mawes, a pretty and bustling fishing village. This is the site of Hotel Tresanton, bought in 1998 and restored by Olga Polizzi into a haven of relaxation. Being one of the first ‘designer hotels’, it is thought to have wide influence with its quirky and understated seaside look. It is even said to have kick-started the revival of tourism in Cornwall, which to this day remains a strong trend as sun-seekers flock every year to experience what the Cornish coast has to offer. And Hotel Tresanton encapsulates this, offering sun-soaked terrace dining, uninterrupted sea views, perfectly serene interior design and a homely, welcoming feel. If the Cornish experience can be bought, it’s with a stay at this hotel.
Putting an artistic twist on the luxury hotel experience, each of the 30 rooms has a different ambience, featuring an array of Cornish-made abstract art and stylish interiors. The hotel also boasts a large restaurant with a mosaic floor, a Mediterranean-style Beach Club, and even its own personal yacht, Pinuccia. Clearly, Tresanton knows how to make the hotel experience ‘cool’, creating a serene yet exciting atmosphere throughout the building. Everybody is made to feel welcome, including children and dogs, encapsulating the laid-back vibe of the hotel and confirming the idea that luxury has no limitations.
Stepping inside, creativity and authenticity are what stand out. The special natural light of west Cornwall made it a centre for modern and abstract British artists from the 1940s to the 1960s and Hotel Tresanton makes the most of this creative boom, its rooms displaying an array of wonderful abstract Cornish artwork. “I always think art gives a sense of place,” Olga Polizzi describes, and this is clear as each piece makes every room feel special. A treasure trove of artistic wonders, rooms feature stunning local paintings, drawings and even sculptures, ranging in style and theme, from real fossils to statues of cherubs. Described by Olga as eclectic, all of the rooms harbour unique trinkets which bring them to life.
Designed by Olga herself, each room has a carefully orchestrated design and colour scheme, featuring subtle hues of yellows, blues and greens to amplify the dazzling blue of the sea and sky beyond the windows and to maintain a modern and energised style throughout the hotel. Beautiful patterns harmonise across plush furniture, with a blend of old and new making for a unique aesthetic which remains both classically luxurious and daringly modern. A classically Cornish twist runs throughout all of the design, with understated seaside colours and nautical features woven into the décor. Room options include a range of small to extra-large, some with private balconies and terraces, and all with beautiful views and plush furnishings. Family suites are also available, creating a perfectly safe environment for children. Bunk beds are set above the views of the small beach below, ideal for family activities such as a day of crabbing or sandcastle building.
Creativity and fun are clearly at the heart of Hotel Tresanton and this extends to its activities – during the school holidays, the hotel arranges a children’s club with art and craft activities in the playroom or games on the beach. Tavern Beach is perfect for exploring rock pools, paddling and swimming. Situated a short but steep walk up the hill from St Mawes waterfront is also a Georgian chapel, bought and lovingly renovated by Olga Polizzi to host a programme of cultural events. In November, Hotel Tresanton even holds its own music festival, transforming the hotel into its own little community.
Within the main building of the hotel lies a comfortable sitting room with a log fire which burns all winter, with ample space to relax. The hotel also hosts its own rooms for private functions and parties, including use of the outdoor decking. The general theme is Mediterranean-meets-England, making the best of the Cornish sunshine with lavish outdoor seating and south facing designs to maximise natural light. The restaurant is the heart of the hotel, with the original décor remaining for 22 years. This art deco room is both traditional and unique. A mosaic tiled floor holds tables all positioned towards the Pelargonium-filled terrace and the dazzling views of St Mawes’ shoreline, and the sun drenches through the large windows. It is not only the views that are a delight, but the food too. Loyal chef Paul Wadham works with the abundance of local Cornish produce, such as freshly-caught fish and organic vegetables, to create simple yet flavourful dishes. Lunch may include a crab and dandelion salad, mackerel freshly line-caught from the bay, a wild garlic soup, or for dessert homemade ice cream and sorbet. For the added community touch that is so important to Tresanton, they host a renowned Sunday barbeque, served on the main terrace throughout July and August. This is a delight for both guests and locals, bringing the village together for a celebration of all things food and summer.
Offering something unique and special is the idea behind all of Tresanton’s features, and this includes their very own yacht, available to take guests on breathtaking tours around Falmouth Bay or up the Helford River from May to the end of September. Pinuccia is a magnificent 8-metre classic yacht and was built in 1939 to race for Italy in the European Cup. To Tresanton, she is the most beloved boat in St Mawes and this addition to the hotel experience goes above and beyond to wow guests with the wonders Cornwall has to offer on the water. To make things even more special, Olga has recently purchased the garden at the front of the hotel, and this is being adapted to become the hotel’s very own natural haven, allowing guests space to explore and enjoy the Cornish greenery, situated just metres above the beach. Aptly called ‘the Beach Club’, it adds an exotic spin on the Cornish holiday experience. Situated across the road from the hotel, the Mediterranean-inspired decking area gives guests space to sunbathe on one of the many loungers under the blue and white striped parasols or enjoy a drink on the upper terrace.
Designed specifically to make the best of and enhance its natural Cornish surroundings, Hotel Tresanton’s location means outdoor activities are plentiful. The town of St Mawes showcases the quaint and picturesque atmosphere of a proper Cornish fishing village and is perfect for a relaxed summer stroll or a spot of boat watching. For those feeling more adventurous, passing St Mawes castle leads you on a 2.5 mile walk to the 14th century church of St Just-in-Roseland, which John Betjeman called “the most beautiful churchyard on earth”. A regular ferry during the summer months will take you to the other side of the harbour where there are longer walks past the lighthouse, and there are miles and miles of coastal footpaths to hike.
Hotel Tresanton is one of three as part of the Polizzi Collection, all owned by Olga. Across the south of England you can find the Hotel Endsleigh in Tavistock, Devon, and The Star in Alfriston, East Sussex, Olga’s most recent acquisition with her daughter Alex, which is due to reopen following extensive refurbishment in spring 2021. The most striking thing about these exquisite hotels is personality. Olga’s personal touch and artistic influence shine through, making for a unique and genuine experience that guests will want to return to for years to come. Hotel Tresanton, in particular, has the essence of Cornwall infused into every aspect of it, and this is what truly makes it glow.