Like many modern families, our loved ones are spread around the UK, making it hard to enjoy much quality time together. We were determined to rectify this (and ensure no one had to do any cleaning beforehand) by booking a long weekend away. Cornwall had been the location of many a happy childhood holiday but we'd not been back for years, certainly not since my nephew Leo, 10, had arrived on the scene, and we decided it was time to introduce him to the county's many delights.
Of course, part of its charm is its remote location in the south west, and my memory was of long dull car journeys that seemed to last an entire day. But time can play tricks on you and the reality wasn't nearly so bad. While half our party took a leisurely three-and-a-half hour drive from South Wales, stopping off for lunch en route, the London contingent opted to travel by train from Paddington to Redruth. The journey takes four-and-a-half hours on the fastest route (up to an hour more on slower services) but it went surprisingly quickly, thanks to the free WiFi offered by First Great Western and the magical scenery, especially around Dawlish and Saltash. These are views you simply cannot get from the road.
From Redruth, it was an easy 15-minute taxi ride to our destination. If you want to explore all Cornwall has to offer, a car is essential, but there is plenty at Gwel an Mor and within walking and cycling distance to keep you entertained without.
Gwel an Mor sits high on the hillside above Portreath, a fishing village built around a cove. The resort traditionally offered guests two-storey wooden lodges of varying sizes for a comfortable self-catering break. However, we were here to try out the new luxury Residences, a mix of chic two and three-bedroom single storey eco-lodges, finished to an incredibly high spec and all complete with sun deck and hot tub. The low-rise style and natural wood and stone material used are all designed to be sympathetic to the landscape, while remaining utterly five-star. They also sit in their own area at the edge of the site, with wildflower beds and other landscaping that will, over time, create a woodland feel.
Arriving at our lodge, you could feel the tension of city life ebb away, so breathing taking was the view across to the sea (no wonder they call the place Gwel an Mor - Cornish for "view of the sea"). It’s one you get to enjoy from the sun deck that runs all along the front of the lodge, or by sliding back the floor-to-ceiling glass doors in the open-plan living area, should the weather allow. Stepping inside, we wondered if we might be the first guests to stay, the place was so clean and spotless. Each lodge is decorated differently (ours had a red, black, grey and white colour scheme throughout) but all have a slick, modern feel, with wood-burning stove, kitchen with all the mod cons, underfloor heating and air conditioning, even a flatscreen TV at the end of the bath. With bath and pool towels provided, along with a lovely selection of toiletries, you don’t have to worry about bringing a car full (although naturally Mum did!).
Absolutely! Gwel an Mor is designed with families at the forefront, from babies through to teens. All the baby kit you need can be supplied free of charge, from travel cots and the linen to go with them, potties, feeding equipment, bed guards, buggies, nightlights and sterilisers. The layout of our Residence lodge is perfect if you have tiny tots, with no nasty stairs and a safe decked area for playing. The cover on the hot tub was also incredibly secure.
Swimming nappies can be bought at reception, buckets and spades borrowed for those essential sandcastle and rock pooling sessions down on the beach, and the restaurant is utterly welcoming for little ones (more of that later). There are also endless activities to keep all ages busy…
Things to do
Getting outdoors is essential here, whether you make the short stroll down to the beach (stopping by reception to borrow buckets and spades), go for a woodland walk amid the bluebells or cycle. We tried all three, helped by the handy guides prepared by Gwel an Mor’s staff. Our favourites were the gentle climb up to Portreath’s old lighthouse and exploring the tracks at Tehidy Country Park on our hire bikes. This pretty park is accessible without the need to ride on the main road and easy for young riders (although the older cyclists found it a little tiring…). A huge range of bikes are available for hire from the resort, for ages four and upwards, as well as tagalongs, trail gators and trailers for the younger ones. They all come with helmets and are delivered to your lodge, ready adjusted to your height.
Back at the resort, there’s a heated indoor pool, sauna and steam room, and gym, along with croquet and petanque areas for some group games. Should the weather turn, DVDs can be borrowed from reception, while our lodge was equipped with board games, books and TV. And naturally a hot tub is appropriate, whatever time of day and whatever the weather…
For mums and dads feeling a little sore from the cycling, the Wellbeing Spa offers a wide range of treatments. I indulged in the LaStone Therapy, a massage combining both hot and cold stones, which was wonderfully relaxing and perfect for sore muscles, focusing on the legs and feet, arms and back. Afterwards, my husband told me I looked like I’d just emerged from a coma! My mum, a spa newbie, opted for the treatment of the month, a full body massage followed by head massage and hot towels. Our lovely therapist put her fully at ease although it sounded like they spent much of the time chatting rather than quietly taking in the soothing music (if you know my mum, you’d understand…)
For us, however, the special draw of Gwel an Mor is its animal centre, Feadon Farm, a haven for British wildlife run by amiable and entertaining zoologist Gary Zammit, a fountain of fascinating knowledge who clearly lives for his job and is quite the double act with resident rescue rook Rodney.
We signed up for Meet the Animals, a two-hour introduction to the residents that was billed as perfect for younger children but left the adults utterly charmed too. After feeding the pygmy goats, chickens and ducks (each named after members of staff), we got up close with reindeers Nadelik and Lowen, held grass snakes, toads and ferrets, and learned quite a staggering amount about nature. But the highlights had to be holding barn owl Sly and eagle owl Chunks, and hand-feeding the stunning rescue foxes Copper, Todd and Meadow. My 10-year-old nephew Leo even got a kiss from them - an experience he won’t forget in a hurry!
What we ate
With a better-equipped (and significantly chicer) kitchen than the one we have at home, cooking hearty fry-ups and big family dinners was so easy, especially with a dishwasher to take the pain of cleaning up. There is a small Costcutter in Portreath for basics, but you’ll need to drive to Redruth for a proper shop or arrange a supermarket delivery online. Don’t bother picking up rosemary and thyme though – guests are welcome to pick up what they need from the resort’s herb garden.
If you don’t think a holiday should involve cooking, the resort restaurant, The Terrace, is open from 10am daily, offering lunch, snacks and evening meals with a seafood and Mediterranean focus (as result of having a Spanish-born, French-trained chef based in Cornwall!), as well as takeaways if you’d rather dine at your lodge. The decor is simple but embraces the coast, with white walls and green and blue fabrics, and a porch area with views of the water. It’s also incredibly relaxed and perfect for family meals - indeed, almost every table had at least one diner in a highchair, and Leo was satisfactorily distracted by the box of books, puzzle bags and crayons, and quiz cards laid on to keep little ones entertained.
The children’s menu is simple but has unprocessed options like grilled fish or chicken, handmade burgers and local sausages, and we were pleased to see a choice of new potatoes, mash and veg instead of just the standard fries. Little ones can also pick a small portion of the adult choices if they prefer.
And why wouldn’t they? The mix of grills, pastas and salads on the menu were incredibly inviting but almost all eyes were on the daily fish board, with my mum bagging the last of the lemon sole, much to her delight. My house special of Cornish hake Galician style with chorizo was hearty and tasty, while the batter on the classic fish and chips declared perfect by my husband. Our starters should also get a mention – two sharing platters, one filled with Spanish meats, olives and cheese, the other piled with fresh salmon, potted crab and juicy prawns. Despite the portions, we all managed to squeeze in dessert – good old Eton mess and prosecco and summer berries jelly were hits, as was the cheese board.
We loved it so much, we returned the following lunchtime for the obligatory Cornish cream tea, where we noticed some beautiful illustrations of the Feadon Farm animals by Gwel an Mor’s first artist in residence Claire Scully. We’d had such a lovely stay, we promptly invested in one of an eagle owl as a memento of our Cornish adventure.
A week’s stay at The Residence from £650 for a two-bedroom lodge, £749 for three-bedroom. Short breaks (3 night weekend or 4 nights midweek) from £505 or £575. Standard pine lodges also available. Full tariffs and promotions available at www.gwelanmor.com
Bike hire starts at £36 for three days for children’s bikes, £45 for adult ones.
Feadon Farm activities cost £12 for adults, £7 for children. Find out more at www.feadonfarmwildlife.co.uk
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