The Outlook is Extremely Bright in Falmouth
Merchants Manor – “The house on the hill” – the last word in Cornish luxury
Review by Lara Protheroe
As you cross the threshold of this hundred-year-old seaside country house, you feel that you know what to expect: spacious, classically decorated rooms with lashings of old world luxury and an expectation of sherry before dinner. However, we were ushered via the atmospheric bar area through to the rear of the house and on up an external flight of broad wooden stairs. You start to wonder where you are going and then are suddenly flanked by a wall of black ironwork and glass. This is the Lookout, one of two self-contained apartments that have been painstakingly created as luxury additions to Merchants Manor’s already impressive set-up.
Turning, you find yourself looking through this wall of iron-framed panes right onto Kevin McCloud’s Scandinavian wet dream. Step through the door and you are stepping straight into the pages of one of those drool-worthy interiors magazines that you buy “for inspiration” but that secretly just make you feel just a tiny bit pathetic; like you could never quite achieve that level of awesome. The bespoke black one-piece concrete worktop and sink, the floating glass walls in the shower rooms (yes that’s rooms plural, there are two of them), the framed embroidery by local Falmouth artists… I could (and will) go on: this place has really been thought through and curated to be the absolute last word in low-key luxuriant seaside retreat.
Arriving to find a huge earthenware jug full of daffodils, a mason jar of homemade Garibaldi biscuits, a bottle of prosecco and a handmade Cornish Easter egg on the solid wooden dining table of this jaw-droppingly stylish apartment, you begin to suspect that your stay may be a good one. Open the fridge and see homemade jam, local butter topped with crushed sea salt and a jug of fresh milk and on the slab counter top above an exquisite ‘Lady Killigrew’ sourdough loaf, baked by the hotel chef and lovingly wrapped in old fashioned paper and tied up with string, and the deal is pretty much sealed. I mean, this welcome is on a par with what my own mother provides for me, and this is a woman with spare red carpets in case her favourite one is at the cleaners when you turn up unannounced. A little card from the owners – Sioned and Nick – told us to kick off our shoes and relax because we had arrived. And who were we to disobey?
The walls throughout the apartment and the floor in the master bedroom are clad in bare wood – thick, chunky and raw – it is profoundly earthy; comforting and comfortable. Black and white geometric tiles grace the kitchen floor and run the length of the corridor to the master bedroom, each room having individually programmable under floor heating. The windows are floor to ceiling in every room, with doors from the living room and the two bedrooms out onto the expansive private deck with sea views and a most inviting hot tub.
The kitchen is long and sleek running the length of the dining and sofa/tv area. The smooth black worktop is an aesthetic delight, and the hob, extractor, and oven – also black – vanish into the wooden black units. A brass tap and brass shelf look refined, picked out beautifully in contrast to the raw and blackened wood. The Lookout is fully loaded with fridge, washer/dryer, oven, iron – the works. One grocery run and you could be completely self-sufficient for weeks.
The two bedrooms -a super king and a double – are cosy and inviting, and each has its own bathroom. The colour scheme is turquoise, navy and blue with orange elements and is fresh and tasteful, seasidey but without a touch of twee. The artwork throughout the apartment is created by students from the highly acclaimed Falmouth University and the embroidered pieces were a favourite of mine. Striped curtains in blues and oranges have both an excellent black-out lining and modesty layer. I crave pure darkness to sleep, so an effective black-out can mean the difference between a deeply restful holiday and a progressively exhausting one.
Blue tweed buttoned headboards are a rather country house addition to such a slickly modern theme, but work nonetheless. The creation of this space has clearly been a labour of love and each detail has been considered. One bedroom was home to a blue upcycled wardrobe and the other to a metal locker type wardrobe.
The bathrooms are striking and fun. Small, irregular black and white metro tiles are laid out in a herringbone pattern, their smooth edges and ceramic imperfections like throat lozenges. Glass dividers create a water barrier whilst maintain the sense of space. The windows – cleverly – are frosted aside from the panes that allow a sea view from beneath the rain showers. I could go on endlessly about the reclaimed First Great Western brass loo roll holders, the porthole mirror, the blissful mattresses, the space, light and atmosphere but you get the picture: this is a place that you will want to spend time.
On a city break you need a base from which to endlessly explore – a place to store your luggage whilst you are out and about and lay your head at the end of it all. On a resort holiday you want a decent shower and a mirror in which to examine your sunburn. When staying in a British seaside town you don’t expect to be sunbathing all day or losing yourself in endless churches, museums and galleries. Instead, you will have a sortie to the beach here, a jaunt into town there. Your accommodation – to which you pop back in between the above activities; where you can eat, potter about and relax in peace and privacy – can suddenly become a defining factor in the success of your stay.
The Lookout really is a home from home. That’s assuming that home in the first place is an impossibly stylish Scandi-lux cabin with hot tub and sea views, of course! Seriously though, despite its style and effortless cool, it really is a very liveable place, with a kitchen in which you can actually cook, and a living area in which you can actually sprawl and relax, rather than sitting awkwardly on the edge of a chair, worrying that you may have inadvertently moved a cushion.
The hotel restaurant, Rastella, and adjacent bar are in the heart of the main manor house and one is immediately transported to a bygone era of genteel country house luxury, but without any hint of pretension. There is a touch of the Bertie Woosters/Miss Marples about it all, and one can well imagine that some high-class hijinks and an improbable murder mystery might simply be par for the course during the course of one’s soiree. The bar area is low-lit and atmospheric, with plenty of fine decorative touches. The restaurant has a formal but unstuffy air, with guests conversing with one another in hushed tones in that wonderfully British way, wishing to avoid at all cost any possible risk of disturbing fellow diners.
Rastella has two AA rosettes and at the helm is Hylton Espey, its passionate South African chef. Locally sourced ingredients, combined and presented with flair, make for a superb experience. The evening menu is simple but varied. A Bits and Bobs section on the beautifully illustrated menu card informs the reader that “Game may contain shot, fish may contain bones, soup may contain vegetables, fruit may contain pips, pasta may contain wheat and chocolate will contain calories.” The other half was in raptures over Newlyn – mackerel pate with pickled apple and cucumber – whilst my highlight was Rosalind – a rabbit consommé with smoked rabbit and wild garlic.
Breakfast can be taken in the upper section of the dining room, which is flooded with morning light. The cooked breakfast is excellent, with local hog’s pudding featured alongside the traditional line-up. The quality of the meat and produce is first rate and the ‘make your own’ Bloody Mary station an inspired addition.
The majority of our dealings with the hotel staff came in the form of Ben and Will: smartly presented, well-spoken and bright young gents, polite and full of personality. They served as waiters and looker-afters, catering to our every need not only culinary but also practical. They served us with good humour (but without over-familiarity – a fine balance to strike) in the restaurant; but also gladly arranged for us to have fine food from Rastella brought to the Lookout with no fuss at all.
There is a big emphasis on wellness and relaxation at Merchants Manor, and the hotel has an indoor swimming pool, steam room, Technogym and spa, all of which are bang up to date despite their location within the confines of this historic edifice. I was delighted to retreat to the Linen Rooms Spa, where Jane set to work on an area of tension that she identified straight away (and had been bothering me for weeks), and I left feeling like I had a new set of hips.
Falmouth is an established favourite of mine, with the broad harbour, smart quaysides, quirky shops and variety of cafes and eateries; not to mention the delightful Gyllyngvase Beach (a few minutes’ walk from Merchants Manor), the Maritime Museum and proximity to a wide range of other Cornish delights.
Merchants Manor is set on the hill a few minutes out of town, but all the delights of Falmouth are within easy reach and the Manor itself feels like a secluded retreat. And if you stay in the Lookout, you may just find that you don’t want to go out at all…
Enquiries: Merchant’s Manor, 1 Western Terrance, Falmouth TR11 4QJ / 01326 312734 / https://merchantsmanor.com