To call the Headland Hotel and Spa imposing is putting it very mildly indeed. It sits on its own promontory outside Newquay in Cornwall and broods in majestic, even Gothic, magnificence over the wild Atlantic Ocean. No surprise then that it caught the eye of director Nicolas Roeg who used it as the setting for his film of The Witches (not to be confused with The Witches of Eastwick, though to the delight of the hotel staff at the time, there was a Jack Nicholson connection as he regularly sent flowers to his then girlfriend, Anjelica Huston during filming).
Inside, though, there’s no brooding at all and I’m greeted on a cold January day by the welcome sound of crackling fires and the subdued chatter of people on comfy sofas having proper high tea (with cake stands!). There are dogs basking by the fire – and this is the dog-friendliest hotel I’ve ever come across. They can stay in your room on a doggy package that includes not just food and treats but a welcome letter from the hotel’s dog who keeps his water bowl behind the reception desk.
I suppress my guilt about leaving my dog behind (she’d have hated the travelling, I tell myself), and focus on my spa break. After a long train journey, I’d booked in for the AFYNA total body detox on arrival that promised to leave my “mind clear and calm”. AFYNA is a new organic skincare range hand blended in Cornwall that isn’t scented with the piercing sweetness you often find in aromatherapy ranges, but is more subtle and somewhat earthier. The smells linger and develop during the treatment and the oils and lotions absorb quickly. Because I was having the Total Detox, the oils were juniper berry and grapefruit to cleanse and stimulate but you could go for alternative treatments (relaxing or invigorating).
So after an all-over body brush to prepare my skin to soak up all these goodies, the massage begins with long smooth strokes, reminiscent of Ayuvedic massage, uniting one side of the body in its entirety from legs up to arms and shoulder and then repeating on the other side. Then it’s a much deeper back massage – forcing out knots and tensions until I submit and release. It ends with a mini-facial, then a scalp massage, surely one of the simplest and most relaxing techniques ever invented.
This is a bright, airy spa decorated with silver birch walls and pebbles from the beach and in the summer you can sit on the spa terrace and soak up the sun. It’s extensive, too – the biggest in Cornwall and the only one in the county rated “Five Bubbles”. There are couples’ rooms, a Rhassoul Mud Chamber, and a long list of treatments for face and body. You can be scrubbed with Cornish sea salt, hydrated by Irish moss patches, detoxified with hand-harvested bladderwrack seaweed from the local shore or relax in a VIP spa room (a bottle of fizz can be provided).
So this is not a spa for the abstemious. Which is not to say you need to spend the time just lounging about. There’s a gym and a pool with sauna and steam, as well as hot tub and a variety of showers. But if you’ve come all the way to this beautiful coast, surely it makes sense to take your exercise outside. There’s a golf course (9 holes), tennis, or you can get a picnic from the hotel and go on a bike-ride. There are great cliff-top walks (lots more dogs) and plenty of places to visit (the shipwreck centre, the Eden Project, Land’s End…).
The beaches are sensational. Nearest to the hotel is Fistral Beach, huge and sandy and renowned for surfing. The hotel offers a surf school (Surfing is Therapy), providing wet suits and everything you’ll need. Even in January, there are people out there all day long – in summer, it’s heaving.
Fistral is just footsteps away from the hotel and has shops, bars and cafes, all in a single seasidey building (massive windows and sandy boardwalks). The Fish House had a tempting menu but was closed in January so I tried the Stables. I had my doubts because it’s a pizza place (not my favourite food) but it had a great atmosphere – a big wood fire, long wooden tables lit by massive cream candles – and surprisingly excellent pizzas.
Further along is Little Fistral Beach beneath the old Lifeboat Station (in its day, it had the steepest gradient in Britain and it looks like a roller-coaster ride). There are steps down to the sand past the diagonal rock strata but only when you get down to the beach itself do you see the caves and towers and mini-Durdle Doors the sea has gouged out over the centuries. Oyster catchers run around the rock pools and curlews utter their piercing cries. The sea is a milky green in places, in others darkest blue with hundreds of white cresting waves and huge rollers.
A spa break here has so much to do with the environment – long headland walks, the beautiful coastline peppered with black rocks and islets, all that ozone. So calming and relaxing, yes, but when the Atlantic storms come in, you get a dazzling show, truly a force of nature. Where water hits rock it boils and crashes high into the air. In a big storm it rises above the look-out point on the clifftop. It’s the wildness of the Atlantic making its first landfall. In summer here, it’s all family bucket-and-spaders and surfers. In winter, it’s the Cornwall of Jamaica Inn and Fisherman’s Creek, smugglers and pirates.
The storms are so sensational, in fact, that the Headland offers special “Winter Storm Watching” breaks. Be sure to book a room on the Atlantic side or stay in one of the hotel’s gorgeous fishermen’s cottages – seaside luxury and service but your own perfect little retreat. Either way, let the storms lash the windows and the waves crash on to the shore. You can chill out in the spa and toast your toes by that open fire.
The Headland Hotel, Fistral Beach, Newquay, Cornwall, TR7 1EW 01637 872211. Prices from £89 per night B&B. Sea view cottages with one bedroom are priced from £75 to £235. Village view from £59 to £215. For more information, visit www.headlandhotel.co.uk.
Ocean Spa Break – the Overnight Escape (from £499 based on two sharing per night): nibbles for two served in the Spa Lounge ahead of a back, neck and shoulder massage, the Headland Signature Body Scrub and a Seaweed Bath and smoothie. The break includes accommodation in an Atlantic Ocean facing bedroom and breakfast in bed.