We woke at the Godolphin Arms to hear the sea swishing below us, the milky green swell splashing white foam against the stone wall. Opening the curtains revealed St Michael’s Mount surrounded by water at high tide, with its 18th century cottages and wooded slopes rising to the castle perched at the top. The wind was blowing the puffy white clouds across the sky to reveal the occasional patch of blue, in an ever changing cloudscape. We relaxed with a cup of coffee seated at the bay window, watching the sea rise and fall, with seagulls floating on the surface. With a flap of the wing they would lift out of the water as a wave threatened to engulf them, settling back into the sea once it had passed. We found these typically Cornish views of sea and sky both energising and mesmerising.
Our weekend in Marazion, with a stay at the Godolphin Arms and a visit to St Michael’s Mount reminded me why I love Cornwall so much. There’s something calming about watching the turn of the tide and the swell of the waves, the feeling of space as you gaze out to the ocean – next stop is America. The early autumn is the perfect time for a weekend break in Cornwall, when the kids are back at school and the August crowds have dissipated. Even though you take your chance between sunshine and showers, there’s a freshness in the air and the wind to blow away the cobwebs of your mind.
The Godolphin Arms is a 200 year old inn which is perfectly positioned in Marazion, overlooking the beach and right opposite St Michael’s Mount. The hotel was renovated a couple of years ago to give it an updated, contemporary feel. There’s plenty of space in the restaurant and beach bar, with lots of bleached wood and a Scandinavian look in the clean lines and furnishings. We had views of St Michael’s Mount from the restaurant, our bedroom and from the terrace of the hotel – no need to crane your neck to get the best views here!
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Another bonus is that the hotel is owned by St Aubyn Estates who run St Michael’s Mount in partnership with the National Trust, and manage the car parks in the village. As a hotel guest you are allocated a parking place when staying at the hotel, which is a big benefit when all the car parks fill up so quickly.
Most of the bedrooms are on the first floor, some with sea views and others looking towards the village at the front of the hotel. We loved our bedroom number 10, which was on the first floor with a comfy sitting area of two armchairs in the bay window overlooking the beach and a view of St Michael’s Mount from the side window. The colour scheme was restful with walls painted in a milky sea green to match the colour of the sea, and cream wood furniture giving a contemporary, seaside feel.
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A print by Carol Lander above the bed showed us a another view of the rocky Cornish coastline, with other art by contemporary Cornish artists throughout the hotel, which is curated by Lord St Levan, head of the St Aubyn family. The bathroom was clean and modern with a sea green mosaic tile border, powerful shower and delicious smelling toiletries – lavender and lemongrass by Arran Aromatics.
The Cornish village of Marazion
The village of Marazion, where The Godolphin Arms is situated is one of those pretty Cornish villages with old houses and cottages strung out along the narrow road that hugs the coast. There are a number of gift shops and art galleries, where you can shop for a unique and local souvenir of your stay in Cornwall, as well as restaurants, inns and cafes. Even apart from the visit to St Michael’s Mount, it’s a lovely place to come for the beach, although worth checking the tide times to see when the sand will be most exposed. You can pick up a leaflet guide to Marazion in many of the hotels and shops and there’s more information on the Marazion visitor website.
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After checking in at the Godolphin Arms, we headed across the causeway to St Michael’s Mount, feeling rather windswept and dodging the intermittent squalls of rain. Due to the high winds, the castle and gardens were closed, so we had a look along the quayside with stone cottages and visitor centre, where there was an interesting film playing about St Michael’s Mount and the people who live and work there. We continued around the wall of the harbour, where the fishing boats with their colourful buoys were resting on the mud at low tide, then joined one of the free village tours that take place each day at 11am and 2pm.
You can easily walk to St Michael’s Mount along a stone causeway, which is exposed at low tide for a few hours. When planning your visit it’s worth checking in advance the times when the causeway will be open – Causeway times here. Outside these times, there are boats to take you across (£2 return), but these may not run if the wind is too high and seas are rough. The castle may also be closed if the winds are too high, but it’s still worth walking across to look around the village, harbour and information centre. If you visit the castle and gardens it’s open daily 10.30-5pm except Saturdays and costs £14 for a combined castle and garden ticket (free for National Trust members).
St Michael’s Mount became a place of pilgrimage after tales spread of how St Michael had appeared to fisherman near the mount in 495AD, warning them of a fierce impending storm. In the 12th century a church and priory was built on top of the mount on the orders of Abbot Bernard Le Bec from Mont St Michel in Normandy, which over the centuries was incorporated into the castle.
By the 18th century, St Michael’s Mount had become a thriving commercial port, exporting tin and copper from the Cornish mines and a stopping point for ships on their way up the English channel. While only 34 people live on the island today, at that time there were over 300 on the island, with 54 houses, 3 pubs and 2 schools, the population swollen by merchants who would rent a room in the houses while they waited for their ships to be unloaded.
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In the harbour, we could see the white royal barges, which were used to ferry both Queen Victoria and King Edward VII on their visits to the island – there’s a bronze trace of the royal footprints on the quayside. Members of the current royal family have also visited the mount but they were able to use the more convenient Amphicraft which can transform from a boat to a vehicle and is used in winter to ensure the island can be reached in all weathers.
Behind the Barge House, which is now a visitor centre, we spotted the goods tram that was installed in 1901 and runs underground up to the castle through a tunnel, transporting goods and luggage back and forth. Under the courtyard are two huge water tanks that store water in case of fire and on the lawn at the foot of the mount is a small white dairy house. A herd of six Jersey cows were kept on these grassy slopes until 1909, to ensure the islanders were supplied with fresh milk, butter and cheese.
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We finished with a visit to the Island cafe where a Cornish pastie hit the spot for a late lunch and we saw a watchful seagull on the terrace, who was no doubt waiting for any leftovers. Although the castle gardens were closed, we enjoyed looking around the small garden centre behind the cafe where there were pots of succulents on sale, like the ones that are used in the rock gardens on the sides of the Mount. Although the plants here have to survive the salty winds, the gulf stream keeps the climate mild and the rock heat up during the day and then releases warmth at night, creating a sub-tropical micro-climate on the Mount. As the causeway was due to close around 5pm, we returned with the wind blowing us about and the smell of seaweed, stepping over a fringe of brighter green weed among the paving rocks of the causeway.
We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the Godolphin Arms, watching the tide coming in until it was time for dinner. The busy restaurant brings many visitors to the Godolphin Arms and there is a light and airy space on two floors as well as an outside terrace with views of St Michael’s Mount. The menu is short but well thought out with a local, seasonal and sustainable theme and plenty of seafood dishes as you’d hope for in a seaside location. At dinner were lucky enough to get a table by the window with wonderful sea views – the restaurant tries to give preference to guests who are staying at the hotel. Our starter of sea salt and chilli fried squid was simple and delicious, the perfect combination of soft and not too chewy squid with a crispy exterior, with a garnish of salad leaves and chilli sauce as well as garlic mayonnaise on the side.
For my main course I chose a fish platter, with with a pile of sweet Newlyn crab meat, a selection of smoked fish and a pile of prawns, with some crusty bread and garlic mayonnaise. I really enjoyed it, although it’s really more of a cold starter platter, but if you want something hot there’s fish and chips or crab linguine. As it was a Sunday, there was also a roast dinner menu and Guy had the roast beef which he really enjoyed, with tender, flavoursome slices of beef. To finish our meal we shared a desert of meringue with berries, raspberry compote and Cornish clotted cream which was very good indeed.
An a la carte breakfast is included with your room and the next morning I ordered my favourite Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, which was really delicious; plenty of smoked salmon, perfectly poached eggs and oozing with hollandaise sauce. Guy enjoyed his Cornish breakfast and there were plenty of other options, from healthy fruits and yoghurts to buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup.
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A visit to Penzance
After checking out of The Godolphin Arms we decided to visit Penzance, the Cornish town that we could see across St Michael’s Bay, just a 15 minute drive from the hotel. We parked in one of the seafront car parks and walked up along the main high street of Market Jew Street, then back down Chapel Street towards the quayside. This street is full of beautiful 18th century houses and inns, built on the wealth of merchant trade that passed through Penzance, which are now used as restaurants, quirky independent shops and art galleries. We passed the strikingly decorative Egyptian House, painted in bright colours with lotus columns which was said to have been inspired in 1835 by an Egyptian temple.
Once we reached the Quayside, it was time for lunch at the Jubilee Pool, where the small outdoor cafe was quite a suntrap. The art deco lido was built in 1935 and has recently gone through a renovation programme to restore it to its former glory. The pool provides a protected place to swim in seawater, right beside the sea and the cafe serves lots of cakes and light meals, with all profits going toward the renovation project.
From here it was sadly time to drive back to Bristol, having filled our lungs with Cornish sea air and lifted our spirits with the wide open sea views and visit to St Michael’s Mount. It was a short visit that was both relaxing and invigorating, and of course we’ll be back to St Michael’s Mount to see the beautiful castle and gardens some day.
Where to stay near St Michael’s Mount
The Godolphin Arms
We stayed at The Goldolphin Arms, which can hardly be beaten for its location above the beach in Marazion, right opposite St Michael’s Mount. This is a comfortable, contemporary hotel with 10 bedrooms, many of which have fantastic sea views of the mount. Even if you are not staying here, it’s a great place for coffee, lunch and dinner, especially if the weather is fine and you can get a table on the terrace. The hotel offers allocated parking for guests in the adjoining car park.
More information and to book: The Godolphin Arms Hotel
The Mount Haven Hotel
This boutique hotel was taken over last year by the St Aubyn Estate and has gone through an extensive refurbishment of the bedrooms and many of the public areas. The hotel will close again over winter 2017 to allow the refurbishment of public areas to be completed, reopening in spring 2018. We took a look at The Mount Haven Hotel while we were in Marazion and loved the luxurious boutique style, with understated but elegant decor. Almost all of the 19 rooms have sea views over St Mount’s Bay and St Michael’s Mount, and the restaurant run by Head Chef Ross Sloan features modern British cooking, using Cornish produce with some ingredients foraged locally. The hotel has parking and is a 15 minute walk or 5 minute drive up the road from the Godolphin Arms, making it ideal for those who want a more peaceful location just outside the main village centre.
More information and to book: The Mount Haven Hotel
Thanks to The Godolphin Arms and St Aubyn Estates who hosted our 1 night stay at the hotel.