I was recently offered the opportunity to review a gorgeous, award-winning holiday cottage in Cornwall. We haven't done much in the way of self-catering holidays, for the simple reason that we generally move around a lot when we're holidaying, whereas renting a cottage is more suited to longer breaks in one place. On reflection, because it's something my parents did when I was growing up, I also seem to think of it as a "family" thing to do, when you have kids and need more space to spread out. On the other hand, I do tend to assume that a holiday cottage will provide a pretty high level of accommodation - so I was fascinated to see what makes a really luxurious cottage stand out from the crowd.
We packed our bags and headed off for a three-night break, staying in Ring and Thimble, the smaller of the two cottages at Boscrowan Farm. This is a little thatched cottage specifically designed to sleep two - which does for at least one of my preconceptions, since it's clearly designed as a retreat for couples, no kids in tow.
So what makes the Boscrowan cottages so special? On the surface, it's features like the aga, the "super king" sized half-tester bed (set beneath a crystal chandelier), and the claw-footed bath. But while these headline items are nice to have, and might well affect my decision to stay somewhere, it's the attention to detail throughout the property that really shows that someone is taking care of you. (That someone is owner Elizabeth, who's also just plain lovely.)
On walking through the door, the first thing we noticed was the Cornish cream tea laid out for us on the dining room table.
The scones were homemade that afternoon, and it only took me a moment to realise that the jam was also Elizabeth's own. The clotted cream was local, too. We hardly wanted to stop and unpack before diving in, but first we had to put the kettle on (on the aga!) so we forced ourselves to some restraint while we waited.
We tend to prefer coffee over tea, and I had wondered whether to pack our cafetiere along with some fresh coffee, but it turned out that the cottage had both a cafetiere and an espresso machine to choose between. (And a supply of ground coffee in the cupboard.)
Knowing what to pack was a more general challenge, particularly since I knew I'd be wanting to cook on the aga every night. I'd considered putting half of my pantry into the car, but eventually decided against it on the grounds that we could always stock up on anything we needed from the nearby supermarket. We ended up bringing only a few stray vegetables from the fridge. I'm glad I didn't grab my spice rack (yes, I seriously considered it), because there was a generous bunch of freshly-cut herbs on the kitchen windowsill, and fresh herbs have far and away the best flavour.
Elizabeth also provides guests with a trug of seasonal vegetables from her smallholding: in our case this included potatoes, onions, rainbow chard, and rhubarb. There was oil and vinegar in the cupboard, and fresh apple juice in the fridge. And the freezer was stocked with croissants and Cornish pasties (including veggie ones) that were available for purchase at what can hardly have been more than cost price. We treated ourselves to freshly-baked croissants for more than one breakfast, and the pasties were top quality in the classic Cornish style.
Since we're talking about food, let me say a little more about the kitchen. The aga is the centre of the room, obviously, and ensures that the whole space is warm throughout the day (and night). It's a different way of cooking which takes a little getting used to, but I found it was fairly easy to adapt my favourite meals, and there are a few recipe books if you fancy trying something more adventurous. (There's also an electric oven and microwave, if you wimp out, so everyone is covered.)
The cupboards and drawers are well stocked with every tool that the keenest chef might need, from scales and measuring spoons to a food processor and electric whisk. We even found some skewers to speed up our baked potatoes. This is what I mean about attention to detail: there wasn't anything I needed that I couldn't find.
The kitchen is surprisingly large, too, so there's plenty of space to spread out while preparing your feast. And although we did most of our washing up in the double sink, on the last day we were glad to just be able to load our dirty crockery into the dishwasher before leaving.
The open plan sitting/dining room has a dining table tucked under the stairs, a pair of armchairs in front of the fire, and a sofa by the patio doors. It didn't quite get cool enough for us to light the wood-burning stove (there was, after all, an aga in the next room), but with the large flower arrangement in the hearth the fireplace still felt like the focus of the space. We also took advantage of the DVD player to watch a few episodes of Poirot.
The only slight down-side of the living room is that since the cottage is old, the windows are small, so even in broad daylight it can feel a little dim inside. We have the exact same issue at our house - and if you're out and about during the day, it's hardly a problem. But the larger of the two cottages, next door, has its living space upstairs to let in a lot more natural light.
Upstairs in Ring and Thimble, the bedroom is tucked under the eaves, giving the room an interesting shape with a very high ceiling. There's a little reading nook with a dressing table, and of course the enormous bed takes pride of place beneath the chandelier. I'm a picky sleeper, and I was more than happy with the comfy mattress and soft sheets. Elizabeth runs a soft furnishings business, too, so everything is decked out with beautiful handmade curtains, cushions, and the like. (I also had a go at cushion-making, while I was there, but that's a story for another day.)
Across the hall from the bedroom, unsurprisingly, is the bathroom. The freestanding, claw-footed bath is a great spot to relax and read, and even has a little side table where you can rest your book (and a drink), but for people like Andy who prefer a shower, there's also a separate shower cubicle.
Given the sheer size of the bathroom (and the bedroom, for that matter), it would have been easy to squeeze in a second bedroom, here, by opting for a smaller shower room. The fact that this remains a two-person cottage, with room to really stretch your legs (literally, in the case of my physio exercises), is another indication of quality over quantity.
All in all, I can see why Elizabeth wins awards for these gorgeous cottages. Tucked away in beautiful gardens, and located in the perfect spot for exploring the furthest reaches of Cornwall, it's not surprising that many people re-book year after year. We were delighted to have chance to stay here, and I'm confident that we'll be heading back before too long.