Let’s be honest, there are very few family friendly hotels out there that parents actually enjoy. For starters they have paint jobs the colour of Smarties, you’re overrun with kids (often not even your own), you return home a stone heavier thanks to all the white carbs and there’s often very little in it for the adults.
Watergate Bay Hotel, Cornwall’s only boutique hotel for families, is one of the few that gets it right. Much has been written about this beach-chic bolthole but where it really impresses is with its all-age appeal. At Watergate you can come away with family, the grandchildren and the dog and still feel like you’re getting a holiday yourself.
A multi-generational gem
First there’s the location. The hotel overlooks Watergate Bay – one of the finest expanses of golden sand on the north Cornish coast. The South West Coastal path runs along the clifftops here and for outdoorsy types it really is paradise.
Out of school holidays, kids stay for free in low season when sharing a parent’s room and in mid season one child under eight goes free
For activity hunters there’s kayaking, paddle boarding, horse riding, yoga and the hotel’s Extreme Surf Academy is set right on the beach and will have you popping up on a board in no time.
Sure, surfing may not be your go-to sport, but in our group the age ranged from 12 to 60 years old and despite it being a blustery March day it was the best fun. The instructors are exemplary – getting everyone (yes everyone) – up on their board. We left exhilarated and booked in for the next day.
Coastal vibes in Watergate
Indoors, it’s all about the views. The infinity pool feels as if it will drop down on to the beach below and even the manicure chairs have their own picture window allowing you to gaze out across the clifftops while being preened.
The décor is straight out of a beach house Pinterest board (no Smarties here, thank you very much). Bleached white wood sofas heave with billowing striped cushions, sage green book cases covet corners and muted blue shelves and distressed photo frames adorn the walls.
It’s stylish and boutique-y, but kick-off-your-flip-flops-relaxed in the same breath, meaning kids and teens get the run of the place and adults have some luxuries to enjoy. Out of school holidays, kids stay for free in low seasons when sharing a parent’s room and in mid season one child under eight can go free. The hotel’s popularity and PR machine has made it a bit of a magnet for visitors to the north Cornish coastline and perhaps it could feel a little more idyllic on weekends especially if non-residents were’nt able to enjoy all the facilties (the lounge and outdoor decks can get quite busy when the sun is shining) it’s a good base if you want to enjoy the beach.
Spas and staycations in Cornwall
The golden sands are a magnet for children (obviously) and the pool is open to kids from morning until 6pm. This is great for families but can mean romantic escapers could feel a little overrun. The Canadian outdoor hot tub is reserved for adults so you can slink away in peace.
There’s also a spa where you can book in for some more secluded R&R. It’s small and I was sad not to see a sauna and steam room but the full-body massage was top notch.
The capacious ocean-view lounge tops things off with incredible floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the coast and there’s stacks of board games in the corner for those who aren’t ready for Sunday papers and a grandé latte.
The foodie option: Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, The Beach Hut and Zacry’s
The Living Space is the main lounge and is open all day long meaning you can mooch in and out at your leisure. Restaurant-wise there’s Zacry’s in house, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant 30 seconds from the front door and the relaxed Beach Hut right on the water.
With baby sitting services available and restaurants on your doorstep, multi-generational breaks can work really well.
On our first evening we headed down to dinner at Zacry’s. With the restaurant occupying the same space breakfast is served in, I was expecting good but not great food.
How wrong could I be? Zacry’s seasonal meat and fish is excellent and there’s real finesse to the dishes that arrive. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and go-the-extra-mile types and the setting (candle-lit with white table cloths for the evening) feels like a lovely romantic bistro.
Down on the sand, the relaxed Beach Hut hits a home run for views. The seafood is fresh, delicious and herby, there’s light bites, dishes to share and cracking classics. Table favourites included the plump moules and huge, fresh crab linguine.
Parents usually have to give up their cucumber-topped Hendricks, Egyptian cotton sheets and Scandi-styled bedrooms on family holidays, but not here.
Given, if you’re a couple on a romantic break sans children I’d advise going out of school holidays and serious spa-lovers may prefer hotel’s in this neck of the woods with a larger pampering offering but there’s a reason why you’ll be telling friends about Watergate, and it’s because it’s one of the few hotels that lets you be a couple again yet still has waffle makers for the kids at breakfast.
Low season 1-28 March, 1 November–22 December, 27–29 December: standard B&B with sea view £180pn
Dogs are charged at £15pn. Dogs can stay in Ocean Wing (our favourite rooms unless you’re splurging for the sea view and free-standing bath suites in the main house) and coach house rooms.
Prices start from £312 per person in a standard house room based on two people sharing.
Chantal Borciani is travel editor at High50, responsible for food, travel and business. She reports on destinations and wellness and specialises in travel trends for over 50s. Twitter: @ChantalBorch