Travel review: Cornwall’s best kept secret is Newquay in autumn

Forget the swimming costume and grab a cosy spot by the fireplace

“I’ll do it if you do it.”

“OK. But you go first.”

I dip my toe into the foamy seawater seeping towards us. It’s so cold I let out a small yelp and skip backwards out of its path. Luckily there’s no one but my bemused boyfriend to see the cowardly performance. In fact, the breathtaking inlet, surrounded by steep cliffs plummeting into the sea, is completely empty bar a few brave surfers bobbing in the distance.

This is Newquay in autumn. Chilly, yes. But also startlingly beautiful with violet skies, rusty windswept forests and cosy traditional pubs. And best of all, we’ve got it all to ourselves.

I’d always dismissed Newquay as simply the stag-and-hen capital of Cornwall.

But gazing back at our lone footprints trailing across the golden sand, the image of hordes of larey revelers couldn’t be further from the truth. We decide to ditch our half-hearted attempt at a splash in the Atlantic Ocean and wander to the iconic Headland Hotel and a spot by the fireplace.

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Perched on a cliff overlooking Fistral Beach, the grand ochre-coloured building cuts a striking figure against the lush hills hugging this dramatic coastline.

Built in 1900, the Headland is Newquay’s historic centrepiece, housing everyone from King George VI to RAF soldiers.

It’s perhaps best recognised however, as the setting of 1990 film The Witches, based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. But its spooky credentials may be more than just fiction with some guests apparently reporting sightings of ghosts from its time as an RAF hospital during the Second World War.

It’s easy to forget about supernatural rumours though when you’re enjoying an afternoon tea of delicate cakes and cucumber sandwiches from a dining room offering uninterrupted views of pink sunsets on the water.

I didn’t think I could get any more relaxed. Until the following day when I headed to Fistral spa on The Esplanade for a two-hour ayurvedi treatment. The Balinese-inspired massage, only available in a handful of ESPA centres across the country, is the ultimate in full-body relaxation and reinvigoration.

Friendly and professional therapist Natalie treated me to a sea salt exfoliation, marine mud mask, oriental head massage and finally a rub down with warmed ayurvedi oils and hot stones. I came out of the session feeling both serene and reenergised.

Nearby Bodhi Caf� was the perfect spot for a post-spa lunch of fresh fish and hearty homemade soups. The bright and airy caf� is built dramatically into the cliff-face, giving a bird’s eye view of surfers lightly hopping across rocks and into the swirling water below.

Wherever you are in Newquay it seems impossible not to catch a glimpse of that fantastic view and even from our hotel, The Carnmarth, we were treated to rolling hills and blue ocean from our balcony.

The comfortable hotel, on Headland Road, offered spacious and modern rooms within walking distance of both Fistral Beach and the atmospheric Red Lion pub on Fort Street.

The five-hour train journey from London Paddington to Newquay was also as lovely as any I’ve taken in the UK, winding it is way past beautiful coastlines and autumnal forests. We travelled first class with First Great Western trains, a comfortable ride changing just once at Par.

If like me you had any preconceptions about Newquay, leave them at home - along with your swimming costume.

Top Tips

STAY at The Carnmarth Hotel:

EAT at Pizza Express Newquay:

RELAX at Fistral Spa:

DINE at the Headland Hotel:

TRAVEL by First Great Western: