The best places to eat, stay, shop and visit in the South West

Watergate Bay Hotel, north Cornwall

We visit the South West’s coolest places to stay and discover how to squeeze every last drop of delight from the experience. Jo Rees does 24 hours at north Cornwall’s contemporary surf destination, Watergate Bay Hotel

Watergate Bay Hotel surfing
Photograph by Russell Inman

It’s a myth you have to be a die‑hard, year‑round surfer to join the tribe at Watergate Bay Hotel. Sure, you’ll find a few salty‑haired twentysomethings warming up with a post‑surf coffee, but the hotel hosts a greater number of affluent millennials who’ve escaped the city, young kids in tow, to grab some waves between a family lunch at The Beach Hut and taking their littlies to the pool. And you’ll find tonnes of still‑got‑it couples (like us) enjoying a blast of sea air and salt‑water therapy.

Twenty‑four hours at this beachside hotel doesn’t sound like much when you factor in its three restaurants, coffee cabin and street‑food hut, pool, cardio room, treatments, sauna, hot tub and watersports centre, but we were up for the challenge.

Watergate Bay Hotel loft

Staying in one of the hotel’s beach lofts was a good start. Seven boho‑chic suites have been created in the building that once housed Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall and hang right over the sands. It felt like a home from home: our king‑size bed exactly where we’d once sipped a cocktail at the restaurant’s marble bar; our freestanding tub where we’d previously scoffed lunch at a window table.

The lofts are designed in an effortlessly casual style, a vibe extended to the shared pantry where loft guests can help themselves to snacks all day – and, at breakfast, warm croissants, Da Bara Bakery cinnamon buns (yass!), fruit and yogurt.

Although the room rate includes cooked breakfasts in The Living Space dining room in the main hotel, we were happy to reward our early morning gym and yoga sessions by chilling in our seascape lounge, watching dawn patrollers haul their boards to the water while we sipped Origin coffee and inadvertently showered ourselves in cinnamon sugar.

Watergate Bay Hotel Wavehunters surfing

Of course, it would be remiss to visit this surf spot and not get in the water. Happily, guests don’t have to take their own board and wetsuit or sort hire: the beach loft’s host does all that – and will even arrange lessons for beginners. There’s also an outdoor shower and board rack exclusively for loft dwellers, so everything’s easy peasy.

Even in winter – or when the surf’s scary‑feet‑high – guests can find aquatic pleasures at Watergate. A half‑glazed indoor pool provides the sensation of swimming outside, while the alfresco hot tub is always toasty below neck level – however chilly the weather. There’s even a sea‑facing finnish sauna.

After a stomp across the sand, we hit The Beach Hut for contemporary Cornish cuisine with a dash of Indian flair (care of a group of chefs from the Indian sub‑continent). We stuffed ourselves with pimped salads, focaccia and truffly parmesan fries, then let the masseuses in the Swim Club do their sorcery with our knots.

Zacry's on the sea wall restaurant at Watergate Bay Hotel
Photograph by Kate Whitaker

Thoroughly unwound, we hit the newest attraction at Watergate Bay Hotel: Zacry’s on the sea wall. The restaurant, which opened at the end of 2023, is the brainchild of exec chef Neil Haydock and housed in the building that was once home to Emily Scott’s restaurant.

Neil has captured the essence of modern Cornwall in his contemporary treatment of seasonal local ingredients. The cooking has all the hallmarks of fine dining: some dishes so complicated they take two and a half days to make, yet their lightness (many are plant‑based), modern presentation, and the buzzy casual‑restaurant vibe in which they’re served moves this into different territory.

The signature dish is a crapaudine beetroot with toasted buckwheat and pickled walnut emulsion whose sweet and smoky umami notes reveal the humble root to have been a supermodel in dowdy dress.

The other standout dish was a dessert of caramelised white chocolate feuilletine. When the diners next to us shared with the maître d’ that it was the best dessert they’d ever eaten, they laid a gauntlet. Indeed, the unembellished presentation of this cream‑coloured puck could lead the uninitiated to plump for a more zhuzhed‑up dessert, but that would be a mistake. Fair to say we’re still talking about how good it was.

Watergate Bay Hotel
Photograph by Holly Donnelly

Need to know

Must pack: swimsuit

If you do one thing: dinner at Zacry’s on the sea wall

Insider tip: there are great out-of-season rates on family rooms

Enjoyed our review of Watergate Bay Hotel in Cornwall? Check out more reviews from across the county.

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