Muddy reviews: Fowey Hall, Cornwall
Muddy's Kerry Potter headed to this stunning Cornish corker (and inspo for Toad Hall in The Wind In The Willows) for a weekender with her brood. Here's the brand new Muddy verdict.
When it comes to family holidays, I tend to automatically plump for self-catering options, often via Airbnb. But sometimes this type of trip can feel like simply a case of childcare but in a different postcode. Well, less so now my children are 10 and 8 but there’s still always another meal to plan or a dishwasher to empty, isn’t there? So I was very much up for trying something different, where everything is taken care of by someone else. Might I – gasp! – actually get to read a whole book in peace, something I have a dim memory of enjoying on holidays in a previous century? Let’s head to the south coast of Cornwall and find out.
Fowey Hall’s parent company, Luxury Family Hotels, has five imposing properties in some of England’s prettiest rural and seaside spots. Alongside this handsome Victorian mansion overlooking the Fowey estuary, there’s also New Park Manor, a former hunting lodge in the New Forest; Woolley Grange, a Jacobean manor in the Cotswolds; The Ickworth, an Italianate palace in Suffolk and Moonfleet Manor on the Jurassic coast in Dorset.
As for their philosophy – well, the clue’s in the name. The hotels walk that fine line between being 100 percent child-friendly – need junior’s bottles sterilised and returned to your room? You got it! – and indulgent and stylish enough to make parents feel like they’ve had a break too.
The brand is renowned for catering for very small children but how will my two – who eyerolled in unison at the merest suggestion of the onsite crèche – get on? Spoiler: they bloody loved it.
The staff at Fowey Hall must be accustomed to frazzled families arriving after a killer six-hour Friday night drive. When we rocked up, duly crumpled and grumpy, they smilingly whizzed our suitcases up to our room while directing us to an outdoor table on the terrace, with a sublime view of the estuary and the bay beyond it, which was being nudged by a setting apricot sun.
Cold glasses of rosé soon appeared, the children ran off into the sprawling grounds, whooping at the sight of both a trampoline and zip wire, and my own mood zipped from despondence to delight in a dash.
The late 19th century pile that sits atop the fishing town of Fowey is said to be the inspiration for Toad Hall in The Wind In The Willows (author Kenneth Grahame was a frequent visitor) and is certainly grand in style, with its numerous drawing rooms, lounges and antechambers, stuffed with antique furniture, giant vases of lilies, crystal chandeliers and sumptuous velvet furnishings, within walls lined with wood panelling and book shelves.
But that’s where the formality ends. The service is unfailingly friendly and helpful, and the staff are extremely patient with children (give those people a medal pronto). There’s no hotel bar so no natural gathering point within communal areas, which I first found discombobulating. But plonk yourself down wherever you like, inside or out, and within moments a staff member will pop up to offer you a drink, something to eat, advice on things to do and see or just to chat with the kids. Very, very relaxing.
The décor around Fowey Hall is country house chintz – acres of dark wood antique furniture, gilt framed paintings and floral-patterned soft furnishings, and a very ‘lived in’ feel that I love. You feel at home enough to let your kids slob out on the sofas, or play on all fours on the carpets.
There are 36 rooms, of which 12 are family ones, with a dizzying array of options including suites, interconnected rooms, sofa beds, bunk beds and cots, so you’re going to find something that suits your family set-up.
Rather than wading through them online, I’d suggest calling up the reservations team and talking through what’d work best for your family – my tip is to request a room in the extension as they’re bigger, brighter, lighter and more modern, with views out to the estuary.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The restaurant consists of two segregated dining rooms designed to keep everyone happy – the garden room for young families and the grander, more adult dining room. There are no strict age limits about who can eat where – my children would’ve been fine in the “adult” room but as the weather was so glorious we chose to dine on the terrace both evenings.
This set-up was a doozy – we got to leisurely drink in that sunset view, along with lashings of the delicious local Bodmin white wine, Camel Valley, while the children could bounce, zip, run around and play football between courses. If you have younger children, you might prefer afternoon tea or high tea from 5pm. The children’s menu covers all bases – fish dishes, meat, veggie choices, picky bits – and come in two sizes so suit all ages, and the chef will even purée his creations to keep your little emperor happy.
As for the main menu, there’s a short selection of well executed, classic British dishes, with more of a classic fine dining feel than I was expecting. We stuck in the main to seafood – when in Rome after all – and stand out dishes included seafood pasta and a posh spin on the prawn cocktail with lobster and Cornish crab.
The breakfast is excellent – a good quality buffet groaning with cereals, pastries, bread, yogurts, fruit and so on, plus silver heated platters of scrambled eggs and bacon. Give those a miss though and ask for a cooked-to-order version. My fry up was pitch perfect, while the kids tackled giant plates of Belgian waffles with fruit compote and crème fraiche.
Is the Pope Catholic? Every family booking includes two hours of free – yes, FREE – childcare per day in the Ofsted-registered crèche, Four Bears Den, and during school holidays there’s evening activities such as toasting marshmallows and games on the lawn.
There’s plenty to do for the too-cool-for-creche kids too – the hotel is clearly working hard at keeping older children entertained too, so beyond the indoor table tennis (under chandeliers and with a gong so you can announce the scores in style), a Wii, table football and a den with a big screen for movie viewing, there’s the vast garden with all its delights, plus you can borrow buckets, spades and fishing nets to take to the beach. Teens can head down into the town to get fish and chips and hang out by the harbour.
There’s a 12m indoor pool in the separate spa building, which is geared up for kids with lots of floats and diving sticks. There are adult-only swims first thing and last thing but otherwise it’s a free for all. It opens out onto a sun deck showcasing that view and it was here I finally found my safe space, the one child-free place in the complex – a hot tub in which under 16s are not allowed. Result! As my husband and I lazed in here, warming our cockles (not a euphemism) and watching the boats bobbing in the distance, the children stood a few metres away, whinging that it wasn’t fair. Ha!
Although Luxury Family Hotels’ emphasis has historically been on catering for small children, Fowey Hall would definitely work if you have kids with a mix of ages and/or a mixed generational group – I could imagine coming back with my parents plus my brothers and their families for an extended family jaunt. There’s something for everyone here.
OUT & ABOUT
We fell in love with Fowey – we were supposed to come home after breakfast on the Monday but couldn’t bear to leave so eked out another day on the diddy beach at Readymoney Cove, a 10 minute walk from the hotel, past Dawn French’s beautiful clifftop mansion. We swam through the crystal clear waters to the pontoon, body boarded, messed about in rockpools and gawped at an enormo cruise ship rolling into the estuary.
The town itself is charming, with its steep lanes winding down to the harbour. It reminded me of a less hectic St Ives. Give the chains like Seasalt a miss and spend your holiday pounds in the cute indies like vintage lamp emporium, Any Old Lights, the numerous fudge shops (we tried afternoon tea fudge) and Bookends Of Fowey, where I bought a copy of Rebecca by local gal Daphne du Maurier.
We also had a nose at Daph’s waterfront house on a fantastic boat trip from the harbour. Great value at £24 for all four of us, it was a 45-minute tour around the estuary and out towards the bay, with our salty sea captain providing a witty commentary along the way. It was the perfect way to get the lay of the land – and, er, the sea.
We also ate fish & chips and Cornish ice cream in the shady church gardens and sniffed out two excellent hipster gastro hotspots. Pinxto on Esplanade served up simple but exquisite tapas, while the brand new Fitzroy on Fore Street, run by the guys behind Westerns Laundry, Primeur and Jolene in East London, was properly exciting, both in terms of its imaginative sharing plates (I’m still dreaming about the fried monkfish with tarragon mayo) and super-cool Shaker-style décor.
We didn’t feel the need to venture further afield but here you’re just eight miles from the Eden Project and a 20 minute drive from Charlestown where Poldark scenes are filmed. (No sign of Aidan Turner doing topless scything, sadly.)
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Families, obviously. Those who want to go away with small children without packing everything but the kitchen sink. Mixed age and/or generational groups. People like me who fancy a change from self-catering holidays (I got to read all of Rebecca, by the way).
Not for: Those on a weekend away without the kids – I mean, you’d have to be some kind of masochist to book a family hotel in that scenario, right?
The damage: It’s good value, with a family room from £159 B&B, for a room large enough to accommodate two adults and one child. A bedroom plus a separate sleeping room for the child(ren) rates starts from £199. Dinner isn’t cheap, with starters ranging from £8-£13 and some main courses nudging £30. The children’s menu is around £7 for a small portion up to around £9 for a large one. Go for a deal that includes dinner if you can.
Fowey Hall Hotel, Hanson Drive, Fowey, Cornwall, PL23 1ET; Tel: 0844 482 2152.