What is it?
A ski resort at the beach – in concept, but not looks. Like a winter ski break, everything you need is in one compact area – dreamy scenery, a clutch of restaurants and cafes, fun outdoor activities and even a surfboard storage room and après-surf bar.
Behind the scenes
The Hotel and Extreme Academy is the baby of posh surfer-dude Will Ashworth and his brother, extreme-sport junkie Henry, who come from Cornish hotel royalty. The boys’ grandmother and great-uncle started a hotel in Cornwall in 1920, and many of their children and grandchildren followed suit, opening their own all over the county. The grey stone-built hotel sits just above the beach and dates to 1904, although an incongruous modern extension was added in the 1970s.
Décor is more New England beach-house than ski-resort chalet chic, with soft-hued Osborne and Little wallpapers, bold Designers Guild striped and floral fabrics, light oak floors and seaside scenes on pastel-painted wood. A couple of surfboards hang on the walls near reception, and it’s perfectly acceptable to traipse up the carpeted stairs in your dripping wetsuit, although many guests are here for the food and scenery rather than the watersports. Our sunny room, number three, had stripy furnishings in oatmeal, teal and aqua, huge windows with sea (over car park) views, a smallish bathroom with L’Occitane toiletries and a sun terrace. With the recent renovation of the attached Coach House, the hotel now has 69 rooms, mostly doubles, but some sleep up to six people.
Foodies flock to Fifteen, adjacent to the hotel. Sister to Jamie Oliver’s London restaurant, it’s extremely popular, so booking ahead is essential. In the evening, the only option is a six-course tasting menu at £55. After a marvellous pineapple and black pepper margarita, the meal was mostly a hit (an intense beetroot and red-onion chutney amuse bouche and a perfectly pitched buffalo mozzarella, braised radicchio and blood orange salad), with the occasional miss (a globe artichoke with the main course was tough as old boots). Downstairs from Fifteen is The Beach Hut, a laid-back affair with the best cheese fondue this side of Switzerland and good, honest burgers. The buzzy Living Space, set within the hotel and with uninterrupted sea views, is the place for a sandwich, après-surf beer or pre-dinner G&T. Other dining options include the misnamed Brasserie (neither food nor décor are French), which serves international fare, and a couple of nearby pubs and cafes.
Who goes there?
Lively couples in their 20s to 50s filled the place on our visit, some with well-behaved young children in tow (there’s a hidden but fun-filled kids area with qualified childminders). Groups of friends, such as Prince William and pals, come here for the hotel’s sociable atmosphere and watersports.
What’s there to do?
Skip the hotel’s tired indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and head downstairs to Watergate Bay’s two-mile sandy beach, hidden caves, cliffside walks and Extreme Academy. The water here has strong currents, so isn’t ideal for a paddle, but is just right for watersports, from easy two-person bodyboarding to advanced kite surfing.
When the weather turned rotten, we played table tennis in the games room, sipped cognacs in the traditional billiards room and had massages in the therapy room.
Doubles from £90, B&B.
The Hotel & Extreme Academy, Watergate Bay, Cornwall; 01637 860543, www.watergatebay.co.uk
The views of Watergate Bay, learning to surf at the Extreme Academy and the convivial, buzzy atmosphere in the Living Space and Beach Hut.
We don’t like
The Brasserie, which needs a rethink of its hodgepodge food-style and décor, and too-high prices. A new chef, formerly next door at Fifteen, has just started, so changes are afoot. The pool and hot-tub area is also in need of an update, expected to take place in 2012.