With its sandy beach, fantastic restaurants, array of outdoor activities and stunning places to stay, this Cornish coastal gem is a little piece of heaven. Words: Alex Fisher
One of a number of stunning surfing beaches just north of Newquay, this beautiful bay offers a surprising array of events, contemporary restaurants and sporting activities. As well as hosting the English National Surfing Championships and GWR’s Polo on the Beach, the bay is also home to Jamie Oliver’s brainchild, Fifteen, and stylish restaurant Zacry’s. In addition, the Extreme Academy, which sits on the beachfront, offers most coastal sports, so you can literally ditch your car on arrival, and not get back in it until home time.
The limited development of holiday accommodation in the ‘village’ ensures that there is always a quiet space on the vast expanse of sandy beach, even in high season. And in the evenings guests gather on balconies and terraces to watch the sunset fill the bay with a golden glow. If you’re lucky, you’ll see dolphins dancing in the surf, like I did the first time I visited.
Serving contemporary cuisine in a stylish brasserie setting, the menu ranges from crispy rock shrimp and charred octopus, to meaty dishes such as Cornish venison with juniper sauce. If you are staying in the hotel you can drop the children off to watch a film in the Kids’ Zone next door before you eat for no extra cost. (Open for dinner from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. Children under eight are welcome for reservations between 6.30-7.30pm only. To book call 01637 861231).
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
The weekend activities start with a surf lesson at the Extreme Academy. My son joins the kids’ group. Full kit is provided, including a proper winter suit for colder weather, along with boots, gloves and surf hood. Children learn quickly, and in minutes he is catching a wave and sailing to the shore.
Adults who want to tune up their skills can benefit from private one-to-one lessons. Teacher Nick Bartelot is not just a surf instructor, but also a trained sports psychologist. As part of his adult lessons, Nick covers technique analysis and areas for ongoing improvement as well as advice on sports visualisation techniques. (One-to-one lessons are £95 for a half day. Kids need to be eight years or over to join the group beginners’ lesson, which is £35 for two-and-a-half hours (extremeacademy.co.uk).
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If you stroll around the corner from the Extreme Academy you will find The Beach Hut. This relaxed family-friendly restaurant gets busy, even in low season, so it is wise to book. Here you can feast on Cornish crab soup and smoked mackerel paté, followed by Thai mussels (for those who haven’t been surfing all morning) or classic Cornish beef burgers and fries (for those who have). Kids can eat great fish and chips for £7 and the friendly staff are welcoming and accommodate impatient small children with a smile (the-beach-hut.co.uk).
TIME TO RELAX
Watergate Bay Hotel owner Will Ashworth doesn’t like to call his treatment rooms a spa, they are too sporty for this; he prefers to call the pool area the Swim Club. However, while children play in the stunning infinity pool, with its floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to sea, it is possible to sneak off into the child-free relaxation zone, where you can have a pedicure, manicure, massage or facial. I tried a ‘Drench’, which involved a facial cleanse, exfoliation and mask, followed by a head and shoulder massage… and a little snooze – which isn’t mentioned as part of the treatment, but easily obtained (the 60min facial is £60. To book a treatment, call Swim Club on 01637 861237 or email [email protected]).
TRACTION KITE LESSON
Kite-flying has never been my forte, but Josh Coombes, from the Extreme Academy, assures me that picking up the skills are not hard. We start with the basics, and the smallest kite. He begins with a safety talk. As well as checking the broad expanse of flat sand that is our playground for large stones or holes, he warns me that ‘if anything goes wrong’ I should drop the bar that operates the kite. ‘What could go wrong?’ I ask. Well, when the wind is stronger than it is today, and the kite a little bigger, I could be lifted into the air unexpectedly and drift toward the sea, alternatively the kite could dive on to someone below. So, drop the bar and the kite falls back down to earth. Got that.
Josh demonstrates – making it look incredibly easy to get the kite to dive to the ground and soar back up to the sky. He hands the bar to me, first showing me how to strap the safety lead on to my wrist. Instantly the kite plummets to the sand. Hmm. Second time around it’s up for a couple of figure of eights, third time and I’m rolling. He’s right: it’s not so hard. But then he’s a good teacher.
Under close supervision, my son has a go, picking it up far quicker than I did… as usual. It’s not windy enough to pull the buggy along the sand, so we save that experience for next time (a three-hour one-to-one lesson is £110, extremeacademy.co.uk).
BITE TO EAT
The sun is shining and we head to the Watergate Bay Hotel to dine on their decked terrace, which looks out across the beach. The Living Space is the hotel’s informal dining area, serving hearty, rustic dishes from 11.30am to 10pm. Inside, dogs and sandy-footed children play under tables, while parents and grandparents chat over coffee or cold prosseco. We try their crab cakes with seasonal salad while I remember the first time I ate lunch here last year, when a pod of dolphins graced us with their presence and spent hours leaping between surfers in the bay, as we watched in amazement.
A LITTLE PIECE OF HEAVEN
The sun is still shining, but the beach is virtually deserted. In amongst the expanse of sand, there are numerous rockpools, and we scramble around looking for crabs and starfish. Hours pass. Freckles have appeared across our noses and our bucket contains: one empty crab shell – claw missing, three prawns and a small fish, currently unidentified. Everyone is grinning. As the owner of Watergate Bay, Will Ashworth, says: ‘The north beach is a little bit of heaven.’
If you’re searching for fun for the whole family, and you’re not wanting to leave behind your beloved pooch, try out these dog-friendly hotels in Cornwall.
NEED TO KNOW
The Village, Beach Retreats
These new eco-apartments have great sea views and stylish interiors. They range from two to four bedrooms and sleep up to 10. Prices start from £779 a week (beachretreats.co.uk).
The Watergate Bay Hotel
This relaxed beachfront hotel has all you need for a great break. Child and dog-friendly, it offers fantastic food in two restaurants, a kids’ club and an infinity pool. Prices start from £160 for B&B in a standard room at low season and rise to £420 for a sea-view suite in the summer (watergatebay.co.uk).
HOW TO GET THERE
St Mawgan (Newquay) Airport is only two miles away, has daily links with a number of regional airports around the UK, including London (six flights a day), Leeds/Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Teesside and Dublin.
First Great Western run a sleeper service from London Paddington (which stops at Bodmin) to Newquay. Western Grey Hound offer a Newquay – Padstow return bus service (556) which stops at Watergate Bay. There are also connecting services from Bodmin Parkway railway station and Truro city centre.