Carbis Bay Estate review - breathtaking luxury in Cornwall

·6-min read
The C Bay Spa (Carbis Bay)
The C Bay Spa (Carbis Bay)

I saw the top of his head first, a shiny black mass poking out of the sea. Then a smiling face emerged. It was a serene seal, enjoying a morning dip in the Atlantic Ocean. There are lots of seals in this part of Cornwall but it is rare to encounter one so friendly up close - and a sign that Carbis Bay is nearly back to its usual peaceful self.

The tiny village, just around the corner from more showy and touristy St Ives, was cast into the global spotlight when it was chosen for the G7 summit in June. There’s still a large G7 sign on the coastal path and staff at restaurants and hotels still talking in shell shocked tones about how busy it was. The G7 lot were onto something. This is one of the most beautiful spots in England and Carbis Bay Hotel and Estate is the best place to enjoy it from, with its restaurants, spa, pool and thoughtfully designed accommodation.

Where is it?

If you want to maximise time on the beach, this is the hotel for you. It is right on Carbis Bay beach, with uninterrupted sea views. On a clear day you can spot Godrevy Lighthouse, which inspired Carbis Bay Hotel guest Virginia Woolf’s novel To The Lighthouse.

This part of Cornwall is breath-taking, with sweeping sea views and rare plants. It almost has a microclimate, often catching the sun when the rest of the country is rainy. Carbis Bay is both a destination in itself and a good base for exploring its busier neighbours. St Ives and Hayle are excellent areas for surfing and a 25-minute walk or 10-minute car, train or bus ride away.

The light and spirit of this area has inspired artists and St Ives has the Tate gallery, worth a trip for the building alone, and Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures displayed in her garden. Choose from staying in a lodge right on the beach with your own hot tub, a cottage in the valley behind the beach or a room or suite in the main house, which dates back to 1894.

One of the beach lodges (Carbis Bay Estate)
One of the beach lodges (Carbis Bay Estate)

Style

The main house is grand, with gilt mirrors and chandeliers, while the lodges, which we stayed in have more of a Big Little Lies, relaxed California cool feel. It’s modernist chic tempered with some cosier touches and was overseen by the hotel’s co-owner Jose Baker. The open-plan living room and kitchen space at beach level has a huge, marbled central pillar and sleek leather-topped coffee table but is lit by warm, shaded floor lamps, and the Bang & Olufsen TV is framed by floor-to-ceiling stacks of logs, despite the fire running on eco-friendly ethanol.

Up the feature spiral staircase, the bedrooms have en suite bathrooms by Perrin & Rowe - aim for the master bedroom, which has a roll-top bath in addition to the same spacious rain shower as the other rooms. Out at the top there’s a Villeroy & Boch hot tub. With a clear sky at night and the glow of St Ives tucked away behind a sweep of coast, you can lie back and take in the stars.

Which room/lodge?

We were in Lodge 4, where the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, stayed during the G7 summit in June. It comfortably accommodates six, but if you’re after something bigger, there’s also the Superior Lodge (still six people, but with a top-floor master bedroom) and the Deluxe Lodge, which sleeps eight.

One of the beach lodges (Carbis Bay Estate)
One of the beach lodges (Carbis Bay Estate)

Food and drink

With all its fresh seafood and local produce, Cornwall is a culinary hotspot. Carbis Bay’s latest jewel in the crown is Ugly Butterfly, a new restaurant from Adam Handling (known for The Frog in London, which appeared on The Great British Menu). He cooked for the G7 leaders and his zero-waste ethos chimes perfectly with the spirit of this place. “Why waste?” is emblazoned on a pink neon sign in the bar.

In the spacious restaurant, all tables have a spectacular sea view and trying not to waste means that the cooking is creative and dramatic. We had the eight-course tasting menu with the “all about the sturgeon” supplement, which uses parts of the fish usually discarded when caviar is made. Highlights include bread with chicken butter, inspired by Handling’s sister’s love of a Sunday roast, and monkfish cooked with pickled lobster.

We took advice on wine from general manager George, who is an expert - The Frog won best wine list in 2019 and George prides himself on sourcing rare bottles.

Ugly Butterfly (Ugly Butterfly)
Ugly Butterfly (Ugly Butterfly)

The hotel also has a beachside restaurant called Walter’s which serves Cornish fish and beef right by the sea. Breakfast is restorative, delivered to your room in a generous hamper – you can get a cooked breakfast to order and there are also pastries, fruit and fresh orange juice.

Further afield there is plenty to choose from. Porthmeor and Porthimister restaurants, both on beaches, are worth a visit, serving fresh local food with a clever twist. Away from the sea, St Elia and Little Palais, both in St Ives, are new wine bars with delicious small plates and a great atmosphere.

Facilities

The sea is on your doorstep, but there is also an infinity pool at the C Bay Spa. It is a soothing place to be, with a sauna and outdoor hydrotherapy pool, complete with a bar. There’s a gym downstairs and treatments are available. The Head in the Clouds massage melted away all my London tension, using Aromatherapy Associates oils. It’s a neck and back massage, finishing off with a head massage.

Oysters at Ugly Butterfly (Ugly Butterfly)
Oysters at Ugly Butterfly (Ugly Butterfly)

Best for...

The spacious lodges are ideal for a holiday with friends. There will be no arguing over who gets which room as they all have ample room and en suites. Two bedrooms have balconies looking out onto the sea, and what the third lacks in views it makes up for with acres of space, illuminated by a skylight. There are huge tables inside and out for long meals.

How to get there

The train from Paddington to Carbis Bay takes just over five hours, changing at the charming little station of St Erth for the final 10 minutes of the journey, or you can drive, which takes around six hours on a good day. If you are really pressed for time, it takes 50 minutes to fly from Gatwick or Stansted to Newquay Airport and the hotel can arrange transfers or even a chartered helicopter to the beach.

When should I go?

Summer is your best bet for sea swims but the advantage of going off season is you are more likely to have the place to yourself (and if you are tempted to go in the sea you can warm up in the hot tub afterwards). It does get busy around during school holidays and it can be harder to get tables in restaurants or space on the beach, so if you can, try and get go off-season.

New Year’s Eve is a big deal in St Ives, with fireworks and people dressed up and partying on the beach. Carbis Bay Hotel has plans for a Christmas market too. But there is plenty to enjoy here year-round with walks, art, food, wine and spectacular scenery.

From £280, carbisbayhotel.co.uk

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