Some hotels you come to in order to be someone else; others you stay at simply to be yourself, to sprawl about in them, hang damp wetsuits everywhere and leave sandy footprints all over the place. Watergate Bay is the latter. Everyone loves it. Celebrities, our next-door neighbours… Now we are going to try it – and I am worried.
Watergate Bay bills itself as a “ski resort on the beach” but my husband is emphatically not a “resort” person, being incapable of maintaining poolside stillness for more than an hour before pulling out an OS map. What’s more, the only time we tried skiing together, he hurled his poles before hissing: “Sliding is not a sport”. For me, ski resorts seem to exist merely to highlight the gulf between me and the fit, beautiful, skiing people.
The prices at Watergate Bay attract gleaming orthodontistry and shiny hair, too. Plus, if you’ve skied your way through winter, you are primed to spend summer making surfing look irritatingly simple, which – sitting right next to two miles of pristine wave – is the point here.
And yet, despite its exclusivity, Watergate Bay is perplexingly… inclusive. To begin with, the section of beach owned by the hotel is open to surfers and sundry day trippers – something that sounds batty given the Covid-induced Cornish crush of summer. But actually, it’s inspired. All snootiness is swept away by the jolly, seaside atmosphere. No one is more surprised than the grey-faced, sluggish family who arrive on the Monday with no surfing skills to find themselves, five days later, bronzed, invigorated and (the nine-year-old aside) still abysmal at surfing, but hooked. The husband has hurled nothing, and wanted to leave not once. He doesn’t want to leave now.
This is partly because of the hotel’s layout, glass-fronted and exposed to the Atlantic. But just as the beach itself has distinct zones – the bucket-and-spade area, the huge waves specked by pro surfers, the deserted north end carved into caves and rock pools – the hotel has enough distinct atmospheres to keep you content for a week.
We book lessons at the Extreme Academy on the beach, where watersports are taught by truly expert teachers, then trail damp footprints into the hotel where the pool juts glassily into the ocean so our splashing and spluttering merge into the expert balletics of kitesurfers. Then we bleach our bones on the sun decks overlooking the busy beach, before beginning again with sandcastles.
The variety makes Covid’s killjoy curbs on spontaneity bearable. Meals and swims must be booked well in advance, so there’s no strolling in when the stomach summons. This would be infuriating on a holiday involving impromptu day trips.
But why leave the hotel when you can switch between the Living Space (a casual restaurant and bar that would usually have surfers strolling through, and feels just faintly sparse and sanitised under the new “guests only” regime) and the darker, plusher Zacry’s restaurant, or the new Watchful Mary bar perched above the sand to which a sourdough pizza joint has been added (for socially distanced dining on the beach). A few shoe-free footsteps away is the Beach Shack, for surf-dude fish burgers. Should you want sophistication, the floor above is hosting local chef Emily Scott, whose seasonal seafood menu is sublime and adds another layer of subtlety.
Scott vacates this month. After that, well… owner Will Ashworth shows me plans on his laptop for seven, super-swish “beach loft” suites, signed off the night before. A couple of them are designed for families. These, it is hoped, should be ready in February.
Our own room – a family suite classed as “Better” in a triptych of sizes deemed Good, Better and Best – has some ocean views but others of the car park, no Netflix or movie service on the TV, and dunkable coffee bags where a Nespresso machine might have been. Next time, I might choose one of the four family suites (50, 51, 52 and 53) – the first to have been refurbished in a programme that will eventually see a warmer, more luxuriant style rolled out.
But we wake to the sight of waves from our bed. The children fall asleep listening to it from their separate bunk room. We watch the sun drop into the sea every evening, the kids hopping through rose-hued rock pools.
And that’s the real luxury here. There’s something about living in the constant, close-up presence of the sea that chills out the Covid-convulsed mind. I’d happily swap a foreign beach holiday for this, especially as BA has just started flying between Heathrow and Newquay. On our last night, we went to a drive-in movie on the cliff above the hotel. Point Break was screened as the sky darkened into the sea. As Bodhi says: “It’s a source, man.”
A Standard Family Suite, sleeping four with space for a cot, costs from £310 per night with breakfast.