Self-catering in St Mawes: The luxury Cornish retreat with private jetty, grand piano and in-room spa treatments

Emma Henderson
Penolva's drawing room with a mini grand-piano in the corner: St Mawes Retreats

If St Mawes is known for one thing, it's luxury accommodation. The sleepy fishing village on Cornwall's Roseland Peninsula has been drawing tourists to its unspoiled coastline for over 100 years, staying in top notch hotels like the Idle Rocks (a posh destination since 1913) and Olga Polizzi's Hotel Tresanton, which single-handedly made St Mawes chic, as well as moneyed, when it opened in 1998. More recently, the village has seen an influx of super-luxury self-catering accommodation. Which is where Penolva comes in.

The sixth waterside property from St Mawes Retreats, Penolva has it all: grand piano in the drawing room, a "snug", tropical garden with private access to the water and an impressive concierge service. And – here's the kicker – if you have a big enough group, a week’s stay in this palatial house works out as no more costly than one of the pokiest hotel rooms nearby.

​Penolva starts from £4500 per week, which sounds obscene, but it sleeps eight, working out at just over £80 a night per person. Compare that to the Idle Rocks, where rooms for two start from £240 a night, and you're on a roll. Even in summer, where Penolva costs a whopping £6950 per week, you'd be hard pressed to find a better deal in the hotels than £124 per head, per night. And you certainly don't get your own grand piano at the Idle Rocks.

Penolva takes its name from the Cornish for “lookout on the headland”, and it does just that. Sitting elevated on the St Mawes inlet, every room gazes across the Fal River towards St Anthony’s lighthouse. There's no box room to allocate, but this is somewhere where size doesn't necessarily matter, because the biggest rooms don't necessarily have the best view. It’s worth rising early to watch the fishing boats as they bob across your eyeline, soft hills in the background. The location is so essential to the house that even the two free-standing bath tubs are positioned to make the most of the sprawling views across the water.

The house has two free-standing baths, both overlooking the bay (St Mawes Retreats)

But there's more to Penolva's location than pretty views. Adventurous guests armed with wetsuits (or even braver ones without) can take a dip from the house's private jetty, following in the footsteps of the Royal family who used it to disembark the Royal Yacht Britannia on visits in the 1960s.

For those less into water sports, in-house entertainment includes fancy dress outfits for smaller guests, an outdoor table tennis table and an abundance of classic board games for those who choose to keep the sofa warm. Feel like a massage? There's no need to leave the house: therapists are on call to deliver an endless list of in-room spa treatments.


St Mawes may be well known, but it's still a tiny village on an unspoiled part of Cornwall’s Roseland Peninsula, an hour's drive from Newquay Airport or 40 minutes from Truro, the nearest train station. What's now a retreat for well-heeled tourists used to be a fishing village – although there's still a small fishing fleet, its heritage is now mainly confined to the names of harbourside cottages. It’s fairly sleepy, especially in winter, but that’s part of its beauty. There’s no congestion, very little traffic and the air is heavy with the smell of the salty sea.

The view of the house from the bottom of the terraced garden

A few steps from the house is the village's landmark: St Mawes Castle, the most decadently decorated of Henry VIII’s fortresses. From here, you can take a 15-minute walk through the village and across the headlands to the lighthouse. Alternatively, hop on a wooden ferry in the harbour – a 20-minute journey gets you to lively Falmouth, the heart of Cornwall's sailing community, where you can explore another of Henry VIII’s forts, Pendennis Castle, and Glendurgan Gardens.

Outside the house, there are a handful of rather good hotel restaurants – Hotel Tresanton serves up an excellent Sunday roast that's cooked on the barbeque in the summer, and the Idle Rocks was rated as the number one place for Sunday lunch in 2015 by The Times. Nine miles away is The Nare Hotel, perched above Carne beach, with gorgeous views over the sea.


The house was built in 1960, by Dick Wilkins – a personal friend of the Queen Mother – and despite not appearing much from the exterior, the interior has recently been renovated, giving the scenery outside a run for its money. It’s a mix of old and new, from country chic furniture to bright modern artwork on almost every wall.

Idyllic views from the dining room (St Mawes Retreats)

Each of the four large bedrooms can be set up as doubles or twins and has its own elegant take on nautical decor, an en suite bathroom and, refreshingly, no television (there's only one on property, in the Snug).

Downstairs, a modern, spherical chandelier hangs over an extensive dining room table and Perspex chairs. The upwardly mobile will love the Aga in the kitchen.

If you're lucky enough to be in Cornwall when the sun shines – as it's been known to, occasionally – there’s a large barbecue outside for alfresco dining in the extensive terraced garden. But if you’d prefer to keep cooking to a minimum, arrange a private chef to prepare, serve and even clear your meal.

There's only one TV at Penolva, so you're expected to make your own fun (St Mawes Retreats)


The writer stayed as a guest of St Mawes Retreats. Rates for Penolva start from £4,500 a week in low season and £6,950 in summer.

Wifi: Free
Parking: Free
Pets: Not allowed
Access: No disabled access from first floor to ground floor

Rooms: ****
Service: ***
Value: ****

Getting there

The writer was a guest of Flybe, which flies from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham to Newquay from £30 one way. Alternatively, Great Western Railway runs from London Paddington to Truro, 40 minutes away.

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