As good as the Caribbean

In search of a top-notch seaside staycation with his family, Richard Mulligan heads to Carbis Bay and finds Cornish charms galore

Carbis Bay Beach in St Ives, Cornwall
Carbis Bay Beach in St Ives, Cornwall

There it is, that shimmering light, that jewel stretching down from the cliff-top to the glorious sandy beach below.

The resplendent Carbis Bay Hotel, the base for our week-long family holiday in Cornwall – and it’s just come into view from our boat.

That introduction may seem a little over the top for a hotel, but the Carbis Bay Hotel is rather special. Unlike the fool’s gold so prevalent in this part of the world - a remnant of the region’s famous mining industry - this is the real thing.

We’re out on a Hawaiian canoe, discovering the hidden coves of this beautiful area, just a mile or so from St Ives.

Our guide is Ocean Sports Centre owner Glenn, a man with genuine insight and passion for the region’s craggy coastline and varied marine life - some of which we’ve spotted through the glass viewing panels on the base of our canoe today.

Glenn’s also wowed the kids with talk of pirates, ancient shipwrecks and treasure islands and, as we gently paddle back to Carbis Bay beach, the only Blue Flag beach to be privately owned by a hotel in the UK, I think there cannot be a more glorious destination in the country.

After reaching the sand, we disembark then say our goodbyes to Glenn - whose beachfront-based company also offers activities like kayaking and stand-up paddle board lessons. A two-minute climb up the hill takes us up to the hotel, which boasts fantastic views of the beach and brilliant blue sea beyond.

Lucky visitors have been enjoying this view since the hotel was built in 1894 by celebrated architect Silvanus Trevail. While Trevail committed suicide in a train lavatory in 1903, the hotel enjoyed a glorious start to the 20th century and was the inspiration for former guest Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To The Lighthouse, her ode to the nearby Godrevy Lighthouse.

The hotel suffered in the post-War period, largely due to lack of investment, but began a magnificent revival when it was taken over in the early 1980s. While others in the area faltered and closed down, the Carbis Bay Hotel has gone from strength to strength.

Years of continuous development have created a fabulous fusion of old and new. Wonderfully spacious marble interiors in the main reception areas and luxurious furniture and intricate timberwork in the charming conservatory are a nod to antiquity, while the heated outdoor swimming pool and brand new terrace with breathtaking views of the shore are signs that the owners’ continuing efforts to keep standards up are working.

A £6-7m development plan for the next decade includes ideas for new leisure facilities that will make the resort a destination for all seasons, not just summer.

Beyond the charming French windows, a balcony provides our own private outdoor area.

Apartments are ideal for young families like mine, with two children - Isabel, five, and two-year-old Charlie - going to bed early and waking up at the crack of dawn to make the most of the DVD player.

Each apartment also has its own parking space and, while a little seclusion is nice, it’s just a hop, skip and jump to the main hotel.

There’s also a kids’ club, a joy for parents and kids alike - Isabel and Charlie have a great time painting, getting mucky and dancing for an hour while me and my wife, Lynne, enjoy a cold drink on the sun-kissed terrace.

Another treat is dining at the hotel’s Sands Restaurant, which offers the kind of seafood one would hope to find in this part of the world - mussels, cod, pollock and bream, as well as Cornish sirloin steak, lamb and guinea fowl breast.

The hotel hosts around 150 weddings a year, with couples from all over the UK and as far away as Australia choosing to exchange vows here.

While beach lovers may simply fancy a week down on the Carbis Bay sands, those after a bit more action are just around the corner from St Ives. It’s an easy drive, a pleasant journey by train and an even better walk by coastal path.

Fish and chips, cream teas, ice cream, quaint art and winding streets have helped make St Ives one of Cornwall’s most popular resorts, but you also can’t miss the opportunity to hit the open water for a journey to Seal Island with St Ives Boats, based just outside the town’s lifeboat station.

Viewing the rugged coastline as the boat smashes over waves for 6km, before finally reaching Western Carracks, where dozens of seals play in the water or simply bask in the sun on the rocks, makes for a brilliant, memorable holiday experience.

Flambards theme park, a short drive away, is also great for a family day out. It houses a host of rides that are, with very few exceptions, suitable for children of all ages.

After a few hours of being fired along steel tracks, families can spend a bit of time inside the fun ‘Hands On Science’ dome. Plus there are some really interesting exhibitions to be seen, including an authentic Victorian street and ‘Britain in the Blitz’ section.

No trip to Cornwall would be complete without a day at the Eden Project, which has become one of the UK’s most celebrated attractions since it opened in 2001.

Visitors can learn about our place within the environment and find out more about the plants and trees that provide our food, fuel, materials and medicines.

The attraction is famous for two vast domes - the Rainforest biome and Mediterranean biome - with acres and acres of gardens and The Core, an interactive learning zone that’s bound to wow the kids. There are fun outdoor activities too, w den-building from recycled materials a pretty good way to spend an hour.

I’m not sure what Trevail would make of our ramshackle effort, but I’m a huge fan of his work.

Almost 125 years after he cut his finest gem on Cornwall’s coast, the Carbis Bay Hotel remains a masterpiece and the owners’ bold plans for the coming years guarantee a golden future.