‘Da!’ says Baby Smith, as we first enter the imposing foyer of Fowey Hall. There, curled up by the reception desk, is a shaggy black dog; a far more sanguine welcome than champagne. The dog doesn’t even mind when Baby Smith gives her a poke – this being her very first visit to a hotel, the little one’s manners are a bit wanting.
‘Welcome!’ says the friendly receptionist.
‘Da!’ says Baby Smith.
‘This is Millie, the hotel dog. You can take her for a walk, but please don’t feed her,’ the receptionist says. A family of four trot down the corridor in terry-towelling dressing gowns, their hair wet from a recent swim. ‘Da!’ said Baby Smith. While ‘da’ is a general expression of joy for the Smithling, on this occasion we take it to mean she wants to go swimming. And what better way to recover from a six-hour journey from London? Our bags deposited in our room, off we go.
We stride to the pool as all Londoners must do, eager to cram as much into the weekend as possible. But speed and purpose melt away in Cornwall, and we find ourselves stopping to contemplate the spectacle of Fowey Hall itself, transfixed by its lawns and their view down to the harbour. Fowey Hall, a warm sandstone chateau in a Queen Anne style, sits atop the fishermen’s village of Fowey. From its manicured lawns, we watch boats bob on the water and gulls circle overhead. Hell, even the trees are photogenic.
Set under glass like a giant greenhouse, and heated to a temperature that makes it feel like a warm bath, the pool, when we eventually get there, has floats, armbands and beach balls aplenty to keep Baby Smith amused. Fowey Hall bills itself as a family hotel and it really is: after our swim, it’s time for the little one’s first dinner, and the staff are so kind that they quite take away that slightly tense feeling you experience when your toddler is let loose in a grand hotel dining room. ‘Sausage casserole or salmon and vegetables?’ they ask, and, while I would quite happily eat both, I choose the salmon, which is dispensed to baby, sitting in a high chair with a powder pink tray. Children’s dining takes place in a bright, airy room around communal tables, so that toddlers can make eyes at each other over the Petit Filou. Three-year-old Inigo takes quite a shine to Baby Smith, but since she is too young to start dating, we take her back to our room for a quick siesta before the ‘grown-up’ dinner.
Our generously sized room, in the garden wing, has direct access to the gardens and is tricked out in an antique/modern, Ilse Crawford style (read: Victorian chest of drawers placed next to a Fifties chair). Like the rest of Fowey Hall, it is manna to the eyes of any parent worried that stylishness might forever evade them now that they have children. Yes, there are cots, kettles, sterilisers and bottle warmers kindly placed in the room, but those are the only reminders of your post-baby life. For a few hours in the evening, you can pretend you are child-free.
The most seductive part of Fowey Hall isn’t its Wilton rugs, elegant drawing rooms or sparking log fires, but something rather more prosaic – its baby-listening service. Every room is wired for sound, with an ultra-sensitive listening device that can detect when your offspring whimpers, never mind screams. Nor do parents trek down to dinner with a Tomy monitor: a kind staffer does the listening for you, only alerting you if baby cries.
And so to dinner we go: our first grown-up meal à deux for months. Seated in an oak-panelled dining room with dim lighting and big fat wine glasses to get drunk with, I get a fit of the giggles at the sight of so many knackered parents – the women all dutifully dressed up and the men in their best shirts. Mr Smith gets stuck into the Cornish crab, eschewing the fresh lobster (residing in a tank next door) for a locally sourced sirloin steak. I toy with the idea of six oysters from the Fowey River, but settle on asparagus, followed by a rich cod, chickpea and chorizo stew. Children are not allowed in the dining room at suppertime, but handfuls of the older ones pop in to regale their chewing parents with tales of what they’ve been doing in the games room. This doesn’t spoil the grown-up ambience, though, and it’s fun to covertly play ‘match the parents with their offspring’.
After a ‘pudding’ of local Cornish cheeses, we take the remainder of our bottle of wine and finish it outside on the terrace. When we tipsily steal into our bedroom a little later, Baby Smith is stretched out like a starfish in her cot. We switch off the listening device (heaven help those parents who forget to) and sleep like babies.
The following morning, after a quick breakfast of Dorset cereal, bacon, sausage and hash browns (and eggy soldiers for the little one), we head off to explore the village, stopping on the way to check out the Four Bears’ Den. This marvellous nursery, manned by a team of trained nannies, is another of Fowey’s charms: open all day, it allows you to leave the small fry and enjoy some grown-up time. We don’t want to leave our baby, so instead take delight in her joy at the slide, ride-on toys, dressing-up box, paints and paddling pool filled with plastic balls. Weirdly, all this pales into insignificance when she spots the giant trampoline. We spend the next hour bouncing up and down, working up an appetite for the Cornish pasties and ice cream that is to be our lunch. Who knows, maybe we’ve even burned off one of the many millions of calories we’ve imbibed throughout the weekend.
For any beleaguered Smiths who want to shed their children for an evening, Fowey Hall is the ideal retreat. The friendly staff really don’t mind if your toddler drops their dinner, and the house feels uncluttered and calm, despite the proliferation of children running around. As we pat Millie for the very last time, Mr Smith and I notice some of the other parents are already rebooking for half term. ‘Da!’ said Baby Smith. We think that means she wants to come back sometime.
Anonymously reviewed by Laura Craik (Fashion editrix)
Reviews of Fowey Hall from Smith members
Whenever you book a stay through us, we’ll invite you to comment when you get back. Read the Guestbook entries below to see what real-life Mr & Mrs Smiths have said about this hotel…
There were fantastic staff who made us all very welcome, including our 15-month-old. Tea time for kids was fantastic and we could relax with a glass of wine: lovely food and great facilities for kids. We will be back. Everything was great.
Jenny, BlackSmith stayed on 29 Sep 2013
Very friendly staff and a beautiful hotel with stunning views of Fowey.
I would've liked some ventilation in the bathroom as it's quite hot.
Gayle, SilverSmith stayed on 26 Jul 2013
Incredibly friendly and helpful staff. Amazing food and even more amazing wine selection. Brilliant child-listening service – we had our first meal out as a couple since our child was born 10 months ago (so good we did it twice). Lovely swimming pool (for families) with excellent changing facilities. Beautiful rooms with stunning views. Everything you could possibly need when travelling with a child: bibs, plates, spoons and a great, varied children's menu, which was blitzed in a food processor so our little boy could enjoy gourmet food too! DIdn't feel at all embarrassed or stressed when our little man made a bit of a mess in the restaurant - carefully placed family dining took place away from the more formal diners so neither were disturbed. It was so good we stayed an extra night!
Rooms were very hot, even with the windows open, but that is a matter of personal choice. Slightly slow service on arrival for a cup of tea, but then it was handover time and we were early
Nicola, BlackSmith stayed on 12 May 2013 Travelled with our 10 month old son, George.
A delightful hotel. We were given a complimentary upgrade to a deluxe room and had fabulous views of the estuary and the sea. Staff all seem young and were very helpful, there when you want them and vice versa. Nothing was too much trouble for them. The extensive space and facilities mean that children can be children without interfering with those who no longer have to worry about how to occupy and entertain them. Lovely outdoor hot tub with great views. All in all, a very sympathetic environment.
Restaurant is extremely good value for money. We had made a decision to eat there on all four nights and as the food was great on the first evening, there was some suspense as to whether it would be as good as our stay progressed… we were not disappointed. Only thing that was suspect was being charged £11 for a glass of rose (and a local Cornish brew at that!) Overall, the combination of sympathy, suspense and a bit of suspicion could have been straight out of Daphne du Maurier (lots of gulls around as well – but flying rather than just sitting).
Reg, BlackSmith stayed on 26 Feb 2013
Fowey Hall is something that we would never experience in Australia. This majestic castle is still in its original glory – well worth the two-night stay. We unwound and relaxed within the comfort of different sitting rooms, where we could enjoy either a pot of tea or a glass of wine. Fowley Hall certainly makes everyone feel welcome – regardless of whether you’re travelling with children or not. Breakfast was delightful and there was plenty of it to make sure that you got the proper start to your day. If you want to experience how the rich and famous once lived, look no further – Fowey Hall is the place for you.
Our greeting was not quite as we had expected. The girl at reception told us straight away that there was no booking for us. Upon showing her our paperwork, she apologised for her mistake and was very helpful from that point onwards. Food at dinner was average. We had just come from the Bull Inn, so we expected the quality of food to be even better – considering the quality of Fowey Hall’s accommodation. Should the food improve, I would give it a 10 out of 10.
Paul, BlackSmith stayed on 14 Oct 2012
A great hotel for families, with good spa facilities; good Cornish fare (for a price).
Not really a place for couples to relax, unless they're very keen on having children running everywhere.
Stephen, SilverSmith stayed on 18 Aug 2012
Remember to pack your trainers or some sort of walking shoe. The walk down to Fowey is quite steep. Crabbing is an essential past time in Fowey and you can buy crabbing lines at the Aquarium in Fowey.
Marjorie Devine-King, BlackSmith stayed on 16 Jul 2012
A lovely building which goes under renovation as of June 2012. This didn’t impact too much as new public rooms were made available whilst others were closed for repainting. The staff were very attentive, friendly and helpful and the food in the hotel was really excellent. Lots of children staying but they were well-behaved and not noisy. I would recommend any potential guests to pay extra and insist on a refurbished bedroom. I had taken the description 'luxury hotel' at face value and expected a 'standard' room to be luxurious but perhaps less spacious. We got an unrefurbished room at the back over the kitchens and it was quite shabby. I am very disappointed that this was not made clear to us when we booked.
Brian, BlackSmith stayed on 15 Jun 2012