Cornwall: There's a touch of movie magic to this hotel in England's sunny southwest
The Poldark Effect
Newquay's Headland Hotel offers unpretentious luxury, breath-taking sea views and a truly decadent afternoon tea.
Set the mood
It’s an imposing scene: the dramatic red-brick Headland Hotel looms over Fistral Beach as the waves crash against the magnificent cliffs below.
On an overcast day, it’s reminiscent of the striking first shot of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, the movie version of which was filmed here.
Inside, traditional décor and a sweeping staircase greet you in the reception area, suggesting the dark drama of that most eerie fairy tale.
Despite the sinister profile, however, it only takes a taste of the excellent cream tea or a ramble along the gorgeous sandy beach to forsake that first impression.
Cream first or jam?
The question plagues our afternoon tea, until the waitress enlightens us on the feud between neighbouring Devon and Cornwall over how best to enjoy a scone: Cornish tradition insists on clotted cream first, while Devon demands strawberry jam.
Either way, it’s the perfect dose of luxury after a day exploring the coastline. Treat yourself to the hotel’s famous selection of freshly-baked scones, cakes, and finger-sandwiches with a pot of specialty tea or coffee at €43 for two, or €66 with an added glass of champagne.
If you’re seeking a full day of indulgence, the spa offers a range of luxurious treatments including deep tissue massages, facials and body scrubs, or pay a visit to the leisure centre with its Cornish salt steam room, jacuzzi and pool.
The Headland is located near a number of bracing coastal walks, and right above the beautiful, sandy Fistral Beach. One of Britain’s most popular surfing beaches, it’s equally lovely for a gentle stroll, particularly on a sunny day.
If that all sounds like far too much work, and you don't fancy a splurge at the spa, you can enjoy an in-room spa experience with the wallet-friendly bath butler service.
For €31, you can arrive back to a warm bath and pamper yourself with a selection of exfoliating scrubs, bath scents and luxurious lotions, topped off with gentle candlelight, rose petals and mood music. Not a bad way to end (or begin) an evening...
As well as providing the spectacular backdrop for The Witches, the Cornish landscape has been celebrated both on screen and in literature, perhaps most notably in Winston Graham’s Poldark novels - not to mention last year’s sumptuous adaptation by the BBC.
In the most iconic TV moment of 2015, Dubliner Aidan Turner set pulses racing as the strapping young mine owner Ross Poldark (pictured above), thrusting his scythe through the tall grasses of the Cornish countryside.
While many of the filming locations are an hour’s drive or more from the hotel, including the Botallack Mine that doubles for Poldark’s Wheal Leisure (nationaltrust.org.uk), others are closer - including the Wheal Coates tin mine in St Agnes.
Standing next to the old engine house and gazing out over the grand sweep of the coastline, you can’t help but fall in love with this rugged, craggy landscape. The mine is set about half-an-hour’s drive from the hotel.
Newquay has gained a reputation as “Britain’s Magaluf”, and the town centre, 10 minutes walk from the hotel, isn’t the most appealing destination for a night out.
The streets are lined with grimy bars, clubs and fast food take-aways, which are at odds with the warm family atmosphere of the hotel.
During the day, however, we spotted some lovely cafes, such as the Jam Jar (facebook.com/Jamjarnewquay, above) offering delicious dairy-free smoothies (€5.60) and homemade gluten-free cakes (from €2.50).
At the hotel, which opened in 1900, my sense was of an uneasy tension between the traditional and modern interiors. Styles shift uncomfortably between the dark wood panelling, chandeliers and crackling log fires in the lobby and lounge areas, to the enormous Lego model of the hotel on the first floor, to the dated and somewhat garish furnishings of the bedrooms.
Best room to book? Whatever your choice, go a sea view room, from €195, where you can gaze out the window at the sprawling ocean.
The Headland is a dog-friendly hotel (as are the luxury self-catering cottages), and you can bring your four-legged friend along for €25 per dog, per night.
Between the sandy beaches and picturesque coastal paths, there are plenty of walking options, and the hotel offers dog bowls, blankets, food and canine treats to boot.
Get me there
Aer Lingus Regional (aerlingus.com) flies direct from Dublin to Newquay.
The Headland (headlandhotel.co.uk) provides four-star accommodation, with hotel rooms from €119, and self-catering cottages from €81.
Read more:10 great reasons to visit Cornwall Cornwall: Eat, surf and play in England's sunny southwest