Thursday, 1 November 2012

Artist Residence

Artist Residence, Penzance, Cornwall

It has been an epic five hour train journey from Paddington to Penzance, and we feel exhilarated when we see the huge stone sign welcoming visitors to England’s southernmost station, like Sinbad on his first voyage away from home.

Picking our way past the fishing tackle shops and boat hire huts that line the picturesque quay, Monsieur 2 spies the imposing edifice of St Mary’s Church, a landmark for historic Chapel Street where our hotel, Artist Residence, is located.

Longing for a decent cup of tea, we march gung-ho towards the steeple, but then can’t find Artist Residence. Seeing our confusion, a friendly local guides us to a smart white townhouse with bold red door. Voila, we have arrived.

Flo, our friendly receptionist, checks us in and gives us a copy of the hotel’s own sightseeing map. It’s illustrated, and the coolest tourist map we’ve seen to date. Monsieur 2 squirrels it away for closer examination later.

Walking through a light, bright cafe-cum-gallery space towards the bedrooms, we see vintage clothing, arty accessories, and other local produce for sale. Artist Residence is clearly very much part of the community, which we applaud.

“Artist Residence is very much part of the community, which we applaud”

But the encore has to go to the decor. It’s as though they’ve hauled booty from the seas’ quirkiest of ships, given it a lick and a polish, and curated the entire hotel with it.

 "The encore has to go the decor, though – it’s so fabulously fun”

Our room, one of 11, is named the Picture Gallery – it has a high beamed ceiling, a pristine white backdrop, and bold graphic prints hanging from its walls.

An installation of colourful lovebirds in twisted reeds is a clever alternative to flowers, and an artists’ trestle table set with tea tray, and complimentary mineral water benefiting the Lifeboats charity, adds a homely touch. It’s fun, imaginative, and wonderfully unexpected.

“An installation of colourful lovebirds in twisted reeds is a clever alternative to flowers”

I make tea, whilst Monsieur 2 mulls over the map. He announces we should go for a walk.

Chapel Street is lined with landmarks, including an early 19th century Methodist church, the town’s original Assembly Rooms and an Egyptian House decorated with hieroglyphs.

On Market Jew Street we stop to admire the statue to local lad Sir Humphrey Davy, the famous scientist who, amongst other things, invented the miners’ Davy lamp. We amble past the station and along the hillside to watch the sun set over St Michael’s Mount – a spectacular island castle just off the coast. We’ve missed the crossing to it today, but we’re rather hungry and upon consultation of our map, we know just where we’re heading.

The 17th century Admiral Benbow pub has an eccentric interior – figureheads, ship’s wheels and myriad maritime ephemera from shipwrecks of yore.

It is here that we park ourselves for a beer from the St Austell brewery, and locally caught cod and chips. It’s delicious, but Monsieur 2 nearly chokes on his when I tell him that the very room we are sitting in was once the prow of a Portuguese man o’ war!

“We are in Cornwall. This is no time for meagre portions”

A soak in the free-standing roll-top tub is just the perfect tonic after such a long day, and as I lie back, Monsieur 2 meanwhile settles into an armchair to read some of the thoughtfully-chosen art and local history books provided. We couldn’t be cosier!

Nicely relaxed, we turn in for the night. I love the bedstead made from unvarnished planks of wood but Monsieur 2 says he’s worried about getting splinters, so I wrap us up snugly in the gorgeous feathery duvet to allay his fears…

Tuesday, 09.18
Waking to the sound of seagulls, we fling off our covers and race for a drench shower before breakfast; we are ready for adventure and have appetites to match.

The cafe’s been set up beautifully with funky mismatched vintage china and modern Alessi jars and cruets, and the food is great.

We help ourselves to cereal and fresh juice, then order eggs Royale for me and pancakes with bacon and maple syrup for Monsieur 2, followed by doorstep slices of toast, spread thickly with Cornish butter and home-made preserves. We are in Cornwall. This is no time for meagre portions.

As Monsieur 2 stands, he turns to admire the very cool urban art on display by Cornish artist Mat McIvor. He shuffles. I smile to myself – he has loosened his belt, and thinks I haven’t noticed.

Apart from the absolute individuality of this place, what we love about Artist Residence, is how wholly supportive they are of Cornwall’s artists.

On the recommendation of the staff we’re just back from a visit the Exchange Gallery up the road – we very much liked what we saw. And that’s just as true of Artist Residence – what a fantastic, friendly, bohemian and chic place it’s been to stay – a real piece of treasure in Penzance.

For more details, ideas on what to do, and booking info, see the review in full on

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