Staycation: Artist Residence, Penzance
Sarah Maber escapes the daily grind of the school run and a long commute for a solo break to savour the bohemian charms of Penzance and Marazion...
I’m in The Exchange Art Gallery in Penzance, looking at a photograph of Olivier Silva, a young French man who joined the Foreign Legion. A series of unflinching portraits capture his changing face over three years, and by the last shot, his face has changed beyond recognition. His features have hardened, he’s careworn, tired, the weight of the world on his shoulders. To be honest, I’m feeling the complete opposite. I arrived in the Cornish town just two hours ago, but can already feel the stresses of daily life lifting.
Back home, I’m a working mother, juggling the school run with a two-hour each-way commute to work. But here I realise all I have to worry about is being on time for dinner. The streets of Penzance are filled with galleries, vintage emporia and proper pubs – the kind where beams are low and fire crackles in a grate. I wander down Chapel Street, and stop to browse in Steckfensters, a treasure trove of bric-a-brac, vintage books and magazines, not to mention an actual Dalek. Wondering whether I can justify buying a mid-century desk lamp, I glance at my watch. There’s still time to pop into The Cornish Hen Deli for a mini vegetable tart and a cappuccino – the perfect antidote to the salty wind whipping in from the Atlantic.
I’m tempted by a pint at the 17th-century Admiral Benbow pub – the setting for the opening chapter of Treasure Island and bedecked with artefacts from shipwrecks – but decide to resist the lure of Cornish bitter and head back to Artist Residence, my Georgian- house hotel, which perfectly captures Penzance’s bohemian, artsy vibe. My room’s walls are raw planks of wood, the wardrobe has battered, salvaged doors and the bedside table is a vintage tea chest. The hotel bar and restaurant are buzzing, but tonight I’m eating at The Shore, an acclaimed restaurant on Left: the dining room at Artist Residence; below, one of the bathrooms Alverton Street. As its name suggests, fish is firmly on the menu, and I devour a procession of perfectly crafted fish dishes, from soy-simmered squid with Cornish mushrooms to monkfish with fermented cabbage, followed by mackerel with wasabi sorbet.
The next morning I take a 40-minute stroll along the beach, the tang of seaweed and salt on my lips. I’m heading to the town of Marazion, Penzance’s even artier little sister, and where my husband and I came when I was pregnant with our first baby. A painting we bought here at The Market House Gallery still hangs in our sitting room. Savouring the memories, I browse the gallery and then wander back to the seafront, cobbles under my feet. The fairytale turrets of St Michael’s Mount rise from the water, so I hop on one of the many boats with a couple and their Border collie, and head to the Sail Loft restaurant for a delicious crab tartine and cake with clotted cream for pud. From there, I climb to the very top of the Mount to take in the spectacular views that sweep over the peninsula and out to sea.
Back on shore, I begin the 15-minute uphill walk to my new hotel, the luxurious Mount Haven in Marazion, where every room has a stunning view. In The Terrace bar I have a glass of fizz before going down to the restaurant, where chef Ross Sloan forages some of the ingredients, creates wonderful dishes and even makes the bread. My starter of slow-roasted beetroot, smoked goats’ cheese custard, damson and chia seeds is followed by hake, new potatoes, greens and white-wine emulsion. Both dishes are melt-in-the-mouth delicious. The following morning, I pack my bags to return to reality.
As I turn round to check I’ve remembered everything, there is a heart-stoppingly beautiful sight. Through the window, I can see St Michael’s Mount, beautifully framed. I could be back in The Exchange Gallery – only the shaft of sunlight illuminating the Mount through steel grey clouds is something that even the greatest artist would struggle to reproduce.
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