Walking through the door of our luxury holiday house of Stargazers in St Mawes, I felt the Wow! factor as if I’d been given a rather expensive but delightful present. Wow! St Mawes certainly had more than its fair share of Cornish charm, with the pubs overlooking the sea, pretty cottages climbing up the hillside and the lighthouse twinkling across the estuary at St Anthony’s Head. Wow! From the front door we were drawn straight towards the huge expanse of windows with stunning views across the bay. Wow! Every one of the four bedrooms felt like walking into a luxury hotel suite, each with its own bathroom and gorgeous, colourful furnishing.
Stargazers in one of five luxury holiday homes available to rent through St Mawes Retreats and it didn’t take long for us to settle into the good life. After a tiring week at work in Bristol, we told ourselves, this was no more than we deserved! In the Master Bedroom, the huge bed even swallowed up my six foot husband and was piled with silk cushions in lime, crimson and fuschia overblown roses on a crisp white cotton pique duvet. In front of the window were two leather recliners separated by a coffee table of glass on a base of tangled driftwood, the perfect place to relax with a cup of coffee and take in the view.
I hope you enjoy the video below from our stay at Stargazers with St Mawes Retreats and feel free to subscibe to my YouTube channel below
Love was in the air as we snuggled into the bed to watch a George Clooney movie on the flat screen TV on the wall – well at least it was spelled out in big wooden letters L-O-V-E on the cream painted chest of drawers. Even the recliner cushions with motifs like “You rock my boat” , “Love is all you need”, and “Sail away with me” were guaranteed to make those of us who’ve been married 25 years giggle like teenagers again.
We had a bathtime soak in deep, oval bath, liberally doused with the Cath Collins orange flower bath oil, while contemplating the sparkly border tiles, his and hers sinks and huge walk in shower. I fell asleep with the St Anthony’s Head lighthouse winking at us across the bay and woke up with the sky tinged a little pink with just enough blue to make a pair of sailor’s trousers. The passing St Mawes ferry on its way to Falmouth looked like a blue painted toy boat and was followed in hot pursuit by a Cornish rowing skiff out for training. And all this before I’d even got out of bed!
It didn’t feel quite right with just me and Guy rattling around in a house that demanded to be shared, to be filled with friends, with chatter and good food. But on Saturday morning, our friends joined us with their teenage daughters and the house started to feel alive, as we all shared the pleasure of our luxurious holiday house.
Our friends chose the pink bedroom with a deep magenta velvet headboard, pretty crystal bedside lights and curtains covered with oversized pink and purple peonies. The bedroom faced the back of the house looking out on a little gravelled space with a bank planted with shrubs and its own modern bathroom with brown and white stone tiles and sparkly lighting around the mirror.
The girls loved their teenage pad upstairs, under the eves with four beds which was decorated with purple crushed velvet, spangly curtains and silver sequin cushions on the bed. They were thrilled to have their own TV, bathroom across the landing and a little balcony where they could look out on the sea view. The best bit, however, was that they had their own floor to get away from the grownups and make as much noise as they liked.
While we ladies were feeling that we’d stepped into the pages of a glossy magazine, the husbands were more interested in the number of flat screen TVs around the house. Guy even went around and counted them; there were seven in all, one for each bedroom, two in the sitting area and one in the kitchen. For someone who barely watches TV, I found the amount of electronic gadgetry slightly baffling. We lost count of the number of guns to control it all and mysterious voices wafted from the kitchen ceiling until we worked out how to switch off the radio.
Even more exciting for the menfolk was the wood-burning stove in the centre of the living room, which demanded to be stoked up, although fortunately no manly displays of wood-chopping were required. Once Guy had worked out that there were three recliners built into the large bank of leather sofas, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to prize him away from the weekend papers, the TV or that stove.
As if one huge living room was not enough, there was a second sitting area beyond, with cream covered sofas and so many cushions on the sofa that there was barely room to sit down, although of course the teenagers didn’t stand on ceremony and threw them all on the floor to make themselves comfortable. All around the house were lovely art-works, my favourite being all the driftwood sculptures and the ink drawings of boxing hares, although I wasn’t too bothered by the strange, sculptural metal discs.
All the living areas looked out onto the beautifully landscaped garden, with shrubs, grasses and spiky plants. There were paved areas where you could sit on wicker loungers and soak up the sun, with paths among the foliage where children might play hide in seek. Just below the house, although out of sight was Hotel Tresanton, a luxury hotel that I definitely want to visit for afternoon tea or lunch on the terrace when I come back to St Mawes in summer.
By late morning I was concerned that I’d never prize the crew out of the house, so I rallied everyone for the walk down into St Mawes. Even though it was 5 minutes down the road, we had to stop for a good look around the Waterside Gallery with beautiful Cornish glass and a wooden seagull sculture that bobbed up and down from the ceiling. We skirted the row of pretty cottages, while the girls ducked down onto the beach and kicked around in the pebbles and seaweed.
At the harbour we checked the times of the ferry, in case we fancied a trip across to Falmouth later and as it was nearing lunchtime bought ourselves a hot, peppery Cornish Pasty from the little bakery shop. Along the sea wall, we attracted the attentions of the seagulls who perched hopefully nearby, thinking that they might get a few forgotten crusts. We peered into the window of the St Mawes skiff club, set in what was once the village garage with vintage petrol pumps outside. Where the cars were worked on, we could see the large Cornish rowing boats that are used these days for sport and racing in local competitions.
We could have easily settled into one of the many pubs and cafes along the sea front but I was keen to see the pretty church at St Just in Roseland, which was one of the suggestions in the helpful guide left by St Mawes Retreats. We retraced our steps past St Mawes Castle, built as a coastal fortification by Henry VIII with the matching Pendennis Castle on the other side of the estuary above Falmouth. We traced the coastal path across fields that became increasingly muddy, and as the girls were becoming tired our friends turned back while we continued until we reached the creek and traditional boatyard with the church of St Just beyond.
This 13th century church has the most picturesque setting and is set in tropical gardens backed by palm trees with an ancient well bubbling into the creek. We walked back up the path that was lined by carved granite tablets carved with verses from the bible and at the car park unexpectedly found our friends who had fetched the car and driven back to save us from a muddy walk home.
Although there seemed to be endless eating-out opportunities in St Mawes, we decided that we really did need to test out the enormous kitchen back at Stargazers, although it felt like you needed a text book just to work out how to use the microwave. The granite covered island was a sociable space to gather with a glass of wine while you were cooking up a storm and the dining room table felt large enough to feed the 5000, or at least 12 of them. The next day we found two potatoes that had gone missing from our meal, and joked that the oven was so big you could lose your dinner in it!
On Sunday morning we emerged sleepy from each of the luxurious bedrooms and gathered around the kitchen work stations for our our frothy hot coffee, croissants, eggs and bacon. Once again, it was touch and go whether we would get out to explore anything else, as Guy was busy perfecting the Sunday morning art of doing nothing (which he’s very good at).
However, that winking lighthouse across the bay was calling us, so we decided to take a look at St Anthony’s Lighthouse. In summer ferries can take you across the water from St Mawes but we drove around the bay and left our car in the National Trust car park (£2 honesty box). All around were old military fortification and we walked down through the pine trees, to the white lighthouse which is as complete a version of a lighthouse as you could find. It was even used as the setting for the childrens’ TV show, Fraggle Rock which I had never heard of, but the girls told me all about the puppets living in the caves.
We could get as far as the gate to the lighthouse which has a cottage that you can rent, and watched the birds on the rocks and even saw some seals bobbing in the water. A few kayakers paddled up to the rocks to spot for seals, and snippets of their conversation with mentions of “Fraggle Rock” drifted up to us. Turning back up the path we walked until we reached the sandy beach that we had spotted from the lighthouse and scrambled down beside the stream, over the slippery, barnacle encrusted rocks to get to the sand. I love walking on beaches in low season with that feeling of freedom that you get in Cornwall in winter, the freshness and wide open skies.
Returning back to Stargazers it was time to pack up our things and leave the house for the next lucky people to come and enjoy the fabulous views and sea air. The sign in the hall says “Relax, it doesn’t get any better than this!’ and how right it was.
We all agreed that Stargazers was a wonderful place to stay at any time of year, and even if you never get out of the house (which is tempting) there’s always something happening out there on the water. St Mawes Retreats have done a fabulous job in creating the perfect luxury holiday home that you’ll want to come back to time after time. I’d come back again just for the breathtaking view, to sit in the garden and watch the boats go by and breathe in the magic of Cornwall and St Mawes.
Stargazers in St Mawes is available to rent through St Mawes Retreats and sleeps 10 people in 4 bedrooms. It is one of 5 luxury holiday homes offered by the company, sleeping between 4 and 12 people, all of which are beautifully furnished in contemporary style with all the luxury and attention to detail you could wish for. Four of the properties are in St Mawes with one in Fowey. Short breaks at Stargazers start at £650 for 4 people or £995 for 10 people. For more details and bookings do check the St Mawes Retreats Website.
Our thanks to St Mawes Retreats for hosting our weekend stay at Stargazers.
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With Christmas fast approaching, a shopping trip to London makes a great day out, and a surprisingly affordable one, if you’re visiting from abroad, due to the favourable exchange rate. Here’s a quick tour of the different shopping neighbourhoods of London and what they each have to offer.
Oxford Street for the big name brands
Let’s start with the more renowned places to visit. Oxford Street is situated right in the centre of the city and is home to all the famous chain stores as well as a large number of independent fashion outlets and the flagship Selfridges department store. While Oxford Street has something for everyone, nearby Regent Street will suit the more affluent shopper and offers a wide array of excellent jewellery stores, upmarket boutiques and the Liberty store for unique prints and gifts. The Apple store is also situated in Regent Street as is Hamleys, a fantastic toy store over five floors and a great place to take the kids! Adjacent to Regent Street is Carnaby Street, which came to life as the place to hang out in the 60s and nowadays still has a vaste number of independent shops, offering all manner of clothes, shoes, music and general paraphernalia dating back to that era.
Speciality shops in Kensington, Luxury in Knightsbridge
Heading south west across the city, we reach the trendy borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Here we find the King’s Road, a meeting point for punks in the 70s and still considered an in-place to visit and shop. Again, we find a large number of independent retailers in this long street offering everything from fashion and design wear to furniture and music outlets. Peter Jones is a large department store at the Sloane Square end of Kings Road offering quality clothes and goods. Nearby Kensington High Street, close to the Royal home of Kensington Palace is also a great place for some retail therapy with a good selection of different shops. Not too far away in Knightsbridge is the famous Harrods Department store which is reputed to be able to sell you anything you may wish for! The food section in Harrods is excellent with many different types of meats, cheeses and fruits to buy and after a hard morning of shopping your way through this huge department store, the Georgian Restaurant offers an excellent afternoon tea at very affordable prices.
Visit neighbourhood markets for local flavour
Markets are a great way to pick up a bargain and to interact with locals at the same time and London offers a number of different markets through the week. Camden Lock (Sundays) and Portobello Market (Saturdays) are two of the more well known markets however certain other markets are also very interesting for both locals and tourists. Petticoat Lane Market (Sundays) located near Aldgate in London’s East End offers a wide range of clothes, household goods and general bric-a-brac. Old Spitalfields Market, likewise in the East of London is one of London’s oldest markets and is open all week, specialising on different goods each day. Near to Spitalfields is Brick Lane, home to some of London’s best curry houses and a great place to stop for lunch with a difference!
More things to see in London:
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Food, glorious food, is one of the pleasures of taking a cruise like the 4 day European Sampler cruise I enjoyed recently with Princess Cruises; the abundance of the 24 hour buffet; the ease of never having to cook while on board; the delights of delicious and beautifully presented 3 course meals. It’s hardly surprising that the average passenger can gain a pound a day on a 2 week cruise, according to a survey last year.
As a food lover, I have to watch out for the creeping pounds and inches that seem to appear from nowhere whenever I go on holiday. Of course we all want to enjoy ourselves when on holiday, but if you go too wild with the eating and drinking, those extra pounds are tough to shift when you get home.
Although my 4 day cruise from Southampton on Crown Princess was a relatively short one, I decided to try and eat sensibly, while still having a great time and enjoying all the food on board. Here are some of the strategies that I tried and how they worked for me;
Cut back before your cruise
I find that it’s easier to eat moderately when I’m at home and in a more settled routine. At home I have more time to plan what I eat, stock up on healthy food and stick to eating at set times. Before my short cruise on Crown Princess I did make an effort to go to the gym a couple of times and stick to low calorie options like salads for lunch and grilled fish or chicken in the evening. It was a bit boring, but easier to bear when you know that you’ll have so many exciting food choices to look forward to once you get on board your cruise.
Keep healthy snacks in your stateroom
When we boarded the Crown Princess, it was a pleasure to find a bowl of fruit waiting for us in our stateroom which I used to snack on during our cruise. I’m not sure whether this was a complimentary service for all passengers, but in any case I noticed that fruit could be ordered for your room. In the Horizon Court buffet restaurant there was also a good selection of fresh fruit available, so you could take an apple or banana to eat as a snack on board or on the shore excursions. Of course you may be tempted with delicious but not-so-slimming snacks in your cabin, especially if you are a priority customer of your cruise line. In addition to the fruit bowl we found a treat of fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate awaiting us, and I’m ashamed to say that my resolve wavered and I ate all of my share. However, if you are trying to avoid fattening treats, you can always let your cabin steward know and they can ensure that nothing too tempting is left in your stateroom.
Head for the gym
On boarding Crown Princess, we took a walk around the ship to familiarise ourselves and discovered the large gym at the front of the ship. There were plenty of running and cycle machines, weights machines and a mirrored area with mats where classes were held. Guy and I resolved to spend at least 30 minutes exercising on the machines each day we were on board and my run was actually quite enjoyable, as the ship sailed through the changing scenery of modern windmills and industrial buildings as we entered the canal to arrive in the port of Rotterdam.
On our sea day we booked a pilates class which cost around $14 and I felt a satisfying ache in my tummy muscles after the class. Although yoga and pilates don’t necessarily work up a sweat, they are great for toning, posture and strength, so ideal to combine with the weights or the running machine. All the exercise machines could show you how many calories you had burned, although I worked out that running or cycling for 10 minutes would work off a meagre 100 calories, which might enable you to enjoy an extra glass of champagne but wouldn’t mean you could go wild with the cream cakes. A quick calculation made me realise that you have to exercise for quite a while to compensate for a creamy desert or cocktail so while regular exercise helps, you also need to watch the quantities that you eat and save certain foods for a treat.
Plan your meal times and enjoy every mouthful
On board Crown Princess there were a wide range of dining possibilities, with snacks and pastries at the International Cafe in the atrium area, Vines wine bar for sushi and tapas, pizza in the pool area and that was before you’d even tried out the main restaurants. The Botticelli restaurant was the place for Traditional Dining where you kept to the same meal time and dining companions each night, but we preferred the Anytime Dining in the Michaelangelo or Da Vinci restaurants, where you could have dinner whenever you were ready and sit with different companions each time. We found this was great as a couple, since we mixed with different guests each night and heard what they had been up to in the day and their tips and recommendations.
For informal dining, the Horizon Court buffet restaurant was open through the day and evening, and we did eat here some of the time for breakfast or lunch. The food on board was of a very high standard and I noticed that the same dishes from the restaurant menu were also served in the Horizon Court buffet restaurant, so it was more a question of what style you preferred than any difference in food quality.
In general I found that it was easier to control what I ate in the formal restaurants, and loved dressing up to make an occasion of my dinner. There were plenty of healthy menu options to choose from and the portions sizes served in the restaurant were just right for me, although I avoided any bread so that I could really enjoy what I ate and not add food to the meal that I didn’t need. I think that in the psychology of eating you feel satisfied if you’ve eaten in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere and had time to taste and savour every mouthful.
Splurge on a special meal
Although the food in the main restaurants was delicious, it’s sometimes nice to splurge on a special meal. To celebrate our recent wedding anniversary we decided to book for Sabatini’s, the Italian inspired restaurant on board that is a premium dining option (you pay a supplement of $25 per person). However, just because we were celebrating didn’t mean that we felt we had to over-eat; it was more about the exclusive atmosphere and beautiful painted frescoes. It was such a lovely evening that we would have liked to eat there again on the following night, but sadly the restaurant was all booked up.
I chose the chef’s wild boar pasta followed by a lobster trio which was delicious and a citrus tart for desert, with a glass or two of prosecco. As we decided to try Sabattini’s on the formal dining night, the evening felt even more special for being all dressed up, with cocktail dress for me and black tie for Guy. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, I found that treating yourself to a special dining night while on board makes for a memorable cruise and doen’t have to mean you eat more than usual.
Cut out a meal
At dinner one evening we met a couple who had enjoyed a 3 week cruise for their honeymoon with Princess Cruises and as I’d earlier seen them on shore in Guernsey in running gear, I asked them how they managed to stay in shape on a longer cruise. One tip they gave us was to miss a meal each day or at least eat lightly. They said that some days they would miss breakfast or just have fruit and at other times they would have a late breakfast which meant they could miss lunch and keep going until dinner. If you use this strategy it means that you can really look forward to and enjoy the two meals that you have and perhaps just choose a light snack and drink from the Horizon Buffet restaurant in between.
Treat the buffet with caution
I must admit that I love buffets because you can taste a little bit of everything and not be looking enviously at someone else’s plate and wishing that you had ordered that instead. The selection in the Horizon buffet had something for everyone, from salads to homely hot dishes, to the same elegant choices that were being served in the formal restaurants. However, there is always the temptation to overeat at a buffet so to avoid this I adopt certain strategies. Firstly I tend to walk around slowly, taking in all the choices that are available, letting my eyes feast on the many different possibilities, so that my eyes and brain feel full before even a mouthful has passed my lips.
Then I will take the smallest plate available and take a spoonful of two or three things that look delicious and return to my table to eat it. When I’ve finished everything, I may return to take another small selection of something different, or perhaps a second helping of what I have enjoyed. By taking small portions rather than overloading my plate, I don’t feel guilty about leaving something that I don’t like, and give myself permission to go back for a second helping. My stomach has time to digest and my brain has time to register when I’m full. Like all the restaurants on Crown Princess, the Horizon Court buffet offered plenty of healthy options and a salad bar, I just had to close my eyes as I passed the cakes and deserts.
Stay active on board
Although we only had one sea day on our short cruise with Crown Princess, on longer cruises there are no shortage of ways to stay active around the ship. We had a good look at the sports facilities and discovered the Center Court on the top deck where you could play basketball, paddle tennis or have a kickabout game of football. I noticed that there were plenty of other active entertainments such as Ballroom dancing, Latin American Zumba dance-fitness, Merengue and Line Dancing which sounded great fun. There were also talks with a health or fitness theme that would be good to keep you focussed and take you away (at least for a short time) from the numerous eating and drinking opportunities. Another trick we used was to always take the stairs rather than the elevators which left me out of breath when I had to walk from the Atrium on Deck 5 up to Deck 11 where our Stateroom was situated.
Keep active on the excursions
I love to go walking and cycling so it’s a pleasure to incorporate these into any cruise shore excursions where I can. In Rotterdam we decided not to take the free shuttle bus to the town centre, but instead took a walk from the ship over the striking Erasmus bridge (known as the Swan). After taking a Spido harbour tour we continued on a walking route of the architecture trail based on a leaflet we picked up from the tourism stall in the cruise terminal. Although we didn’t follow the tour slavishly, and took a detour when we spotted something interesting, we saw many of Rotterdam’s striking modern buildings on this route.
In Guernsey I noticed that one of the shore excursions was a cycling tour which would have been a great way to see this pretty island, but as we had visited Guernsey before we decided to do our own thing around St Peter Port. We found a place to hire bikes just behind the tourism office but on a Sunday there was no-one there, so instead we planned a walk to Fermain Bay which we had visited before, where there’s a lovely beach cafe with a grassy terrace overlooking the sea. The walk took us around an hour winding along the coastline through woodland with views of the sea and after a coffee we made our way back by the same route. Be sure to pack your trainers or comfortable shoes for the cruise so that you can stay active on shore excursions.
I’d be lying if I said I stuck to all these strategies, all of the time, but I did manage to use some of them, some of the time, and I reckon that’s good enough when you’re on holiday! We all want to enjoy ourselves on our cruise and that includes eating delicious meals and having a few drinks with your husband or friends. Considering I love my food I was pleased to find that I’d only gained 1.5 lbs after 4 days of enjoying myself at sea, which is a manageable amount to lose after the cruise.
The main lesson for me was to have fun and enjoy the delicious food but in moderate quantities so that you’ll arrive home feeling healthy and relaxed.
Read more about our European Sampler Cruise in my Taster Cruise diary series at the Online Travel Journal
My 4 night European Sampler Cruise with my husband was hosted by Princess Cruises who offer cruises to European and Worldwide cruises to allow you to explore fascinating destinations and escape completely on board their elegant and spacious ships. Our cruise took us from Southampton to Rotterdam to Guernsey before returning to Southampton. You can keep up with latest updates for Princess Cruises on their Twitter page @PrincessCruises and on the Princess Cruises Facebook Page.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey