Need a dose of sea and serious calm? Head to Chapel House, a light-filled sanctuary in pretty Penzance that feels more stylish home from home than stuffy hotel. This lovely place to stay is the perfect base for hunting out my favourite places to eat, surf and explore along the Cornish coast. And you’ll have an excellent bath.
An Admiral once lived in Chapel House, and while it’s not the kind of place to keep a ghost, there’s still an echo of the sea here. A venerable red brick building on the edge of the town where Penzance meets the water, Chapel House was the Penzance Arts Club in a previous incarnation but has now been lovingly restored by owner Susan Stuart. She’s got a seriously good eye for understated, luxurious charm, creating a space which feels welcoming, spacious and deeply relaxing.
This is a house for spreading cramped office-bound limbs and filling lungs with salty air. Huge windows look out on Penzance harbour, ever changing with tide, weather and the flow of fishing boats. Walls are painted in cool blues and greys. Bursts of colour come from seasonal flowers and modern paintings from the Newlyn School of Art. I defy you not to chill out here.
Part of Chapel House’s appeal is that it isn’t at all stuffy – you come and go as you please and can pick to while away a rainy afternoon reading a book in the enormous living room, complete with piano and two fireplaces, or down in the cosy kitchen where Susan is usually at work at the enormous island, surrounded by tasty things to eat. Breakfast is served downstairs and is a feast of eggs with avocado and bacon, freshly made smoothies, pastries, fruit and Greek yoghurt. Guests spread out around the table with the morning’s papers and the atmosphere feels more like a gang of mates in a ski chalet than a morning at a B&B. Susan’s on hand to give you advice on where to head off exploring, and there’s even a boot-room full of posh wellies and waxed jackets to borrow if the weather looks dodgy.
You’re guaranteed to sleep well in CH’s six unique bedrooms, cocooned in an enormous cloud-like bed in sight of the sea. The largest boasts both a stove and a huge bath – If there’s anything more blissful than soaking in an enormous tub with a glass of wine whilst a fire crackles away across the room I have yet to imagine it.
Upstairs the house’s attic has been transformed into three more modern rooms, all clean lines, wooden beams and nautical colours. Light is everywhere, one bedroom even has a huge skylight above the bath which you can slide completely open on a sunny day for a view of the sky and the church as you bathe. Very Bond girl.
I’m always happy on the Cornish coast, and a place to stay as chilled out and chic as Chapel House is the perfect place to enjoy this wild wonder on the edge of our island. If hotels and B&Bs which stand on ceremony aren’t your thing, come here – it’s more like a stay in a friend’s townhouse. If your friend happened to have a very keen eye for a nice bit of design and not mind spoiling you silly.
Stay at Chapel House from £150 B&B per night.
WHERE TO EAT
There’s no pomp and circumstance to The Shore, because owner and chef Bruce Rennie is more interested in serving beautifully prepared local fish in a relaxed and friendly setting. Once an old buttery, the restaurant is now all cool cream walls and the occasional sea shell and was full of happy hungry people sheltering from the rain when we visited.
Bruce sources fish straight off the fishing boats in nearby Newlyn – the fishermen even let him know via Twitter what the catch is. The result is wonderful, simple seafood served in delicate sauces with seasonal vegetables and other ethically sourced ingredients. We chowed down on monkfish with tender cauliflower and juicy clams in a bouillabaisse sauce which I wanted to lick off the plate, followed by red mullet served with a rich risotto nero. Puddings don’t disappoint either – try the light and lovely pineapple semifreddo coated in sweet coconut. We said hello to the charming Bruce after dinner, and he waxed lyrical about Cornish life and the bounty from its seas before nipping back to the kitchen – after cooking up a feast he then does all the washing up. Hero.
THE CORNISH HEN
Go hungry to this sweet little deli, which groans under the weight of exotic treats and Cornish favourites. Pick up an armload of posh edibles to take home (I love the home-made chutneys and beautifully wrapped Italian cookies) and then draw up a stool at the counter and take your pick from pies, salads and doorstep slices of cake with a freshly made brew. Don’t leave without one of the deli’s insanely good scotch eggs to fuel the rest of your Penzance adventures.
BEN TUNNICLIFFE AT THE TOLCARNE INN
Michelin-starred Ben Tunnicliffe couldn’t find anywhere in Newlyn serving up the amazing array of fish the local boats bring in each day, so he set up his own kitchen at the cosy Tolcarne Inn. Ben put in years working at The Scarlet, another of my favourite places in Cornwall to eat, but this venture is entirely his own, and a passion shines through in his search for affordable quality. The small daily menu chalked up on the board groans with tempting ingredients – we started with the cracked crab claws, a gloriously messy treat, and followed them up with a beautifully flaky ray wing and a rich and buttery sticky toffee pudding. Perfect for a relaxed bite after a sea swim.
WHERE TO EXPLORE
The joy of Penzance is that it isn’t a perfect, pickled Cornish village – it’s a busy working town with plenty to discover. Stroll along Chapel Street and dip in and out of independent shops, stop at the Cornish Hen for cake and pop into the Exchange Gallery to see the latest carefully curated exhibition.
The harbour is perfect for a windswept walk – you can follow the sea along to Newlyn or sit and watch the Scillionian ferry head out to the Isles of Scilly. Soon to reopen is one of the jewels in Penzance’s crown – an Art Deco lido right on the harbour. A wonderful time to visit is Mazey Day when the whole town celebrates midsummer with dancing, fireworks and merriment and the streets are full of girls with flowers in their hair.
ST MICHAEL’S MOUNT
From pretty Marazion you can gaze out at fairytale St Michael’s Mount, one of Cornwall’s best known treasures. At low tide you can walk across the cobbled causeway, at high tide a boat will deposit you on the little tidal island where the proud castle has been home to the St Aubyn family since 1650.
If you ask me it wouldn’t be a Cornish weekend without a surf session, and Chapel House is the perfect base for a spot of ocean therapy if you’ve got a car you can chuck a few boards into. Glorious Godrevy beach’s miles of sand and sea around the corner from St Ives is a great place to catch a wave under the eye of the lonely lighthouse, and the Gwythian Academy of Surfing next door offer courses and board hire. Come home to the house for a hot shower and a cup of coffee – Susan plans to have outdoor showers for washing sand off your kit in the courtyard of Chapel House.
Magical Mousehole is a charmer of a place for a weekend wander. A quick drive or cycle from Penzance, this beautiful, higgledy-piggledy fishing village is a maze of cottages, little lost alleyways and a peaceful harbour where red and yellow boats tug gently on their moorings. I love to take a stroll around the narrow streets, pop into the Old Coastguard for a game of jenga with coffee and cake and then have lunch in the village deli by the sea.
Mousehole is rich in stories, such of a tale of how fish-studded stargazey pie came to be made after fisherman Tom Bawcock saved the village from going hungry – it’s still eaten at the annual village feast on Tom Bawcock’s Eve. Sadder is the history of the Solomon Browne, a lifeboat lost off the coast in 1981 with all hands, many volunteer crew from Mousehole. The village is also home to the nicest stray cat I’ve ever met – please give him a cuddle if you run into him.