Words by Lucy Studley
A hand-picked portfolio of properties, curated by local experts, makes for a specialist holiday letting agency that remains proudly independent.
Ask anyone what their earliest memories are, and there’s a good chance the answer will feature holidays with the extended family. There’s something about multigenerational breaks that sticks in the mind, and the heart, like nothing else; precious time cherished by all age groups, albeit in their different ways. Whether your family are inclined to go away together for a few weeks, or a few days, you’ll come home with shared memories (and probably some amusing anecdotes too!) to be banked and re-lived many times over.
For one holiday agency, these milestone breaks have become something of a specialism. The Cottage Boutique was founded by Claire Gilbert 15 years ago and is now one of the few independent letting agencies left in the St Ives area. While other agencies have become absorbed into national competitors, Claire and her agile team remain very much ‘on the ground’, with a busy office in the heart of the area they love to call home – St Ives and Carbis Bay. “I love this part of the world. It’s where I grew up and where I’ve chosen to raise a family,” says Claire. “I want to help visitors make their own amazing memories here, in a way that keeps our corner of the world special for years to come.”
For Claire, being an independent specialist agency allows her to support fellow local businesses through recommendations, a hamper service and a ‘Boutique Butler’ guide to help visitors discover hidden gems and niche experiences. Plans are also afoot to assist local charities and community projects by encouraging guests to make a small donation each time they book – a donation which would be matched by The Cottage Boutique and used to help fund social and environmental initiatives.
From humble beginnings, Claire now has over 60 properties on her books and puts this success down to the energetic, hands-on approach of her dedicated team and their intimate knowledge of the area. She explains: “We’re a home-grown team with plenty of personality, so owners and guests get a more personal level of service. Many guests return to our properties year after year, asking us for recommendations for new properties to try and tapping into our local knowledge for things to do and see in west Cornwall.”
And for families, west Cornwall is a holiday destination like no other. “Now that we’re all able to travel again, like most other people I’ve been looking at holidays abroad,” admits Claire. “For me, the full package has to be extremely tempting to get me booking flights, hire cars and more, especially when you’re official ‘holiday secretary’ for a large group with varying needs. I haven’t been successfully tempted yet!” With four young daughters, Claire and her partner Adam are aficionados of family breaks. “For me, it always starts with finding the perfect property, and that generally has to be on the larger side when you factor in the six of us plus other family members too. That in itself can be a challenge when you’re looking for a high-end property with character, so I’ve searched diligently for the best such properties in west Cornwall to offer to our guests.”
Claire has made it her mission to bring larger properties into her portfolio, providing the kind of holiday settings her own family gravitates to. The Cottage Boutique now has a wide range of destinations to choose, from modern apartments to former fishermen’s cottages, luxury townhouses to country farmhouses. “The one thing that unites them is that they all have unique appeal,” Claire explains, adding “I’d book any one of them for my own family at the drop of a hat!”
Claire has some useful tips when it comes to multigenerational breaks. “I’ll say what everyone is thinking, which is that extended families – and indeed large groups of friends – need space! Holidays work better when you have different corners to retreat to, so play and relaxation don’t always collide in the same contested area. A garden of any size can be a godsend, so that small children can run off steam and grandparents can have a restorative doze.”
Two of The Cottage Boutique properties go a step further than a large garden, opening out onto glorious countryside. Corva Farmhouse and The Holding House are on the rural edges of St Ives and Carbis Bay and combine spacious surroundings with easy access to the restaurants, boutiques and beaches of the coast. “Some families will always want to be beachside, and I totally get that,” says Claire. “Especially if you don’t live near the sea, it’s a wonderful holiday novelty. But personally, I like to wander off into the countryside with the kids and explore with a flask and a packet of biscuits, or maybe even head off for a morning run before everyone else gets up.”
Both these large rural holiday properties boast three distinct living areas a piece, so there’s plenty of space for board games, catch-ups over a glass of wine, or a dive into Netflix if it all gets a bit too much. However, another option is to look for a holiday base which combines several autonomous properties, giving even more independence. The Courtyard is unique, in that it offers groups of up to 24 a luxurious base in a central St Ives location. Made up of four separate properties which can also be booked individually, the 11 bedrooms are spread over a large house with two wings, and two stand-alone apartments, all within a private gated courtyard. “We have families who book The Courtyard year after year as it meets their needs so perfectly,” says Claire. “Each property has been individually designed to create bright, inspiring spaces which invite families to relax and enjoy time together. All the delights of St Ives are right on the doorstep, but The Courtyard is a little private haven.”
Originally the town’s police station, guests now enjoy king-sized beds, palatial living rooms and luxurious bathrooms in Sergeant’s Retreat, Inspector’s Watch and The Briefing Room, with upcycled furniture and local artwork adding individuality. The décor throughout all four properties is whimsical and, although the fixtures and fittings are top spec, there’s a homely feel. “Young children especially love these properties,” says Claire. “I imagine they sink into bed very happy and exhausted after days rock pooling or making sandcastles on the beach!”
For those not requiring quite so much space, Sea Thrift and Thimble Cottage offer another option for a combined family bolthole. Understated style is the theme here, with exposed brick walls, wood floors and natural textures throughout. “This is my go-to recommendation for families with teenagers,” says Claire. “Sea Thrift has four bedrooms, all the mod-cons and contemporary style, plus it’s in a great location for enjoying town by day and night. Thimble Cottage is a little self-contained hideaway for anyone in the party looking for some peace and quiet!”
As The Cottage Boutique portfolio reminds us, there’s a reason that the British seaside is the backdrop to countless children’s storybooks and family photo albums. It’s because simple pleasures are the best, and that’s what the Cornish coast has in bucket-loads!”