Words by Hannah Tapping
A sub-tropical paradise hides a sophisticated hotel at its heart.
The magic of Meudon lies not only in its modern-day makeover that has turned this historic hotel into an elegant coastal bolthole, but also in its history, heritage and horticulture. Its venerable history began in the 1800s when the manor house and gardens were owned by the Foxes; a local Quaker family, who also owned the nearby gardens of Trebah and Glendurgan as well as other properties around Falmouth. Their passion for plants saw them gather many unusual species from around the world, bringing them back to Meudon to create a stunning ‘hanging garden’ – regarded as one of the finest in the country.
Head Gardener, Ashley Gray
The garden has been under the care of Head Gardener Ashley Gray for the last two years, whose career has taken him from nurseryman on Jersey to working at the beautiful Chateau Villandry – a high-art French renaissance garden renowned for its potager and due to its location in the Loire Valley, home to an array of sub-tropical plants. “We have an abundance of flowers in the garden through June and July,” says Ashley, “our deciduous borders and huge collection of hydrangeas are coming back into full flower after their spring prune, giving full colour to the garden.”
“In July our large collection of Agapanthus starts to come into bloom as do our Cannas, and down at the Victorian trout ponds, the Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera Manicata) are looking at their best. Giving a prehistoric flavour, you can easily imagine a dinosaur was watching you! Lastly, the restaurant terraces look incredible at this time of year, showing a complete explosion of colour from our herbaceous perennial borders.”
The terraces and pathways offer a differing landscape at every turn
Much of the planting at Meudon has a history behind it, not least of which is its collection of 12ft tree ferns (Dickson Antaractica). Ashley explains: “Most of our largest trees originally came to us on packet ships from Australia. The trees were cut down and put into the ship’s holds to be used as ballast. Once they had sailed into the Carrick Roads and the shelter of Falmouth Harbour the trees were thrown overboard. As they washed up on shore they would start to regrow and local families brought them into their gardens.”
Other species of note are the Magnolia Cambellii; a sight to behold in early spring as they grow to 30ft high and are smothered in rich pink blooms, definitely one of the garden’s show stoppers. “For me, our Rhododendron Protistum Giganteum is the diamond in Meudon’s gardens. The Protistum is threatened in the wild and can take up to 60 years to flower and because of this there are only four flowering specimens in the country. We are especially privileged to have one of these amazing plants in our garden. The crown produces foot-long flowers in early spring and grows huge 15 inch leaves – you cannot fail to miss its beauty and splendour,” adds Ashley
“I’ve been asked the question many times as to what plants thrive most at the Meudon and the answer is, all of them – we have such an amazing micro-climate, coupled with Cornwall’s rich soil, that most plants I put in turn into triffids overnight! The hydrangeas here, for example, only stop flowering as I have to prune them to maintain their size.” The gardens at Meudon have a unique beauty that everyone can enjoy and as long as it is in the care of Ashley he will be ensuring that it remains as beautiful as it always has been.
It’s not just the gardens that attract visitors to Meudon, its very location offers an almost secret retreat away from the world. You approach along a quiet country lane from Mawnan Smith, every turn taking you deeper into this rural idyll… the hotel even has access to its own private beach, Bream Cove. The hotel has recently come under new ownership and the beginning of the year heralded a sensitive and imaginative refurbishment. In celebration of the hotel’s heritage, design influences come from the 1960s, incorporating colour, geometric patterns and smooth curves and edges.
Post-modernist design meets contemporary chic
Its 29 bedrooms, all with incredible vistas either across the gardens, terraces or out to sea, are located in a separate wing to the main reception rooms. They invoke the style and elegance of post-modernist design, offering those who stay a hint of nostalgic splendour. The hotel itself exudes sophistication; the lounge area welcomes visitors year-round, with an open fireplace for warming up next to when visiting in the shoulder seasons – on reflection, perhaps these are the best times to experience Meudon’s gardens and wider Cornwall, when the madding crowds have receded and the Duchy’s heart beats to the tune of a more tranquil drum.
Walkies at bream Cove
Meudon’s aspirational Cornish setting is integral to the food and drink being served by Executive Head Chef Darren Kerley and his team. The hotel’s newly designed and freshly stocked ‘Freddie’s Bar’ offers unique Cornish cocktails. Imagine, you could be sampling a local, all-natural, clean gin flavoured with rose. Tincture, Penzance is a distillery that is very particular about the quality of ingredients used and ensures that their product is as sustainable as possible, to the extent that they sell their gin in a recyclable refill pouch. When you pour the gin over ice it goes a beautiful pink colour and is delightful with tonic on the terrace. Rosemullion Distillery is situated just half a mile away from the hotel so being near neighbours it makes sense for Meudon to serve both their gin and rum. This is a true artisanal product; rainwater is harvested for the distillation process and the Seafarers Gin is flavoured with seaweed collected from a nearby beach.
Head Chef Darren Kerley, lets the ingredients speak for themselves
The bountiful fresh fish and seafood, locally farmed meats and seasonal game and fresh herbs grown in the Meudon garden are underpinned by a nod to nouvelle cuisine, further reflecting the hotel’s heritage. Darren explains: “My cooking style is always to let the ingredients be the star. I am a believer in simple fresh and seasonal, gastronomy. I’m currently serving a scallop ceviche with chili, grapefruit and coriander and a John Dory with sauce vierge, asparagus, rouille and white crab meat, both of which use incredible local ingredients from the seafood larder we have on our doorstep. We regularly have Porthilly oysters, native lobsters, gurnard and hake sourced from Cornwall Fish Direct, whose fishing boats land the catch from Cornish waters before delivering it daily, direct to Meudon’s kitchen door. Local butcher James Kittow provides fantastic quality Cornish meat for the restaurant – think Ruby Red beef and Terras duck – served alongside Soul Farm’s incredible vegetables which are grown on a four-acre, no-dig market farm nearby. We keep food miles as low as possible at Meudon.”
Meudon is a place you will never want to leave. Reminiscent of a time when long summers seemed endless and weekend house parties were de rigeur; when people still dressed for dinner and took drinks on the lawn. What the new owners have done really well is offer a contemporary place to stay with all the facilities one could wish for, whilst maintaining a sense of history, a sense of grandeur and the utter beauty of the natural surroundings...and of course, there is no need to leave during your stay if you don’t want to. There are the gardens to stroll through and the private Bream Cove for a dip if the mood takes. Here you can truly immerse yourself in luxury, beauty and a place of pure magic.