Headland Hotel review
Traditional family-friendly spa hotel above Fistral Beach in Cornwall
The Quick Read: This traditional, family-friendly spa hotel in Cornwall has sat in gothic splendour on the headland overlooking Fistral Beach in Newquay since 1900 – Edward VIII, no less, convalesced here after getting the mumps. There wasn’t a spa then, of course – but now there’s a rather sassy one for pampering treatments. The hotel is large and rather old fashioned, but it’s child-friendly, dog-friendly and in an awesome location over a popular surf beach.
Who it’s best for: The Headland attracts families, friends, elderly couples and younger couples looking for relaxation and some sandy beach, surf and spa action. It would suit people happy with a larger hotel and more traditional surroundings (though the separate cottages are nicely spruced up). There’s a relaxed atmosphere here and no dress code, and it’s very near Newquay airport, so easy to fly to if you’re just wanting a weekend break. Kids will love the setting – they can learn to surf or just body board in the waves. There’s no kids club, but babysitting is available and there’s a little games room. If you’re a boutique hotel addict, it won’t be for you.
What you can do: The coastal setting is the main draw – it’s right on the headland overlooking Fistral Beach, a popular surfer’s hang out, with some marvellous waves all year round, and the hotel’s Surf Sanctuary can organise lessons and equipment for surfing, Stand Up Paddleboarding, kitesurfing and coasteering. There’s a small golf course too. Go walking along the coast, and in summer, hang out around the outdoor pool.
For down time and rainy days, the Headland Spa is nicely done, and unexpectedly contemporary compared to the rest of the hotel. As well as a gym and airy spa café there’s a ‘leisure area’ with pebbles lining the walls and retro multi-coloured deckchairs beside a moodily lit (chlorinated) swimming pool. The pool is small, but there’s a machine to swim against for lengths, and hydrotherapy options such as air beds and a neck jet which come on at timed intervals. Nearby you can soak in a jacuzzi, or sweat in a Swedish sauna or Cornish salt steam room.
All manner of pampering, beauty and body treatments using various brands including Elemis, Kerstin Florian and OPI for nails are available in 7 treatment rooms, and there’s also a dedicated hand and foot area. The most interesting are the signature treatments using the local AFYNA range, and there are two holistic treatments on the menu – Indian Head or Reflexology. After your treatments, take tea in the deep relaxation lounge, which is an enclosed but large and peaceful space to hang out in – there are no windows or natural light, but it’s graced by a tree lit by fairy lights and loungers with warm throws.
Where you stay: On the outside, this vast Victorian building is all pebbledash and red brick. Inside, you’ll find high ceilings, stained glass windows, lots of space and wide sea views. Much of the hotel is traditional and feels slightly old fashioned, with dark furnishings and swirly carpets in many public spaces. However the Terrace café and its adjoining sitting room and bar is more modern and colourful, as are some of the bedrooms, which come in all shapes and sizes. If you’re a family, splash out on a suite such as room 205, which though rather long and thin in shape has a four poster, a cute side room for two children and a balcony with a fabulous sea view – it was used for bedroom scenes in the film version of The Witches by Roald Dahl with Jack Nicholson in the late 1980s.
How was it for us: I came here with my family one weekend and hung out a lot on the lovely long stretch of beach. It was wintry but gorgeously bright and sunny, and my husband surfed while my young daughter and I walked, hunted for pebbles and watched the seal-like surfers cruise the waves. We loved storm watching from our room one rainy afternoon, and spent lots of time in the spa’s swimming pool with our little girl.
Our first visit to the spa was unpleasantly busy, as we were here during school holidays and there were no restrictions on how many people were allowed in. Boisterous older kids jumped into the pool from all angles, and sitting in the steam room was a Piccadilly Circus experience, the door constantly opening and closing as people came in and out every few minutes. Such is sometimes the way with larger hotels that have spas. When I went back the next morning, I found just two other adults, and the peace was palpable – over the course of our stay we got to know the less busy times and went accordingly.
My king Tom had an exceptionally good 30 minute back massage with Bryony, who was attentive, strong and got the pressure just right. ‘She got into all the right places, and achieved an almighty click using only her elbows,’ – as he says.
I had the Gerys-Da signature treatment, which combines reflexology, a scrub with Cornish sea salt, a full body massage and a facial using Cornish AFYNA products, all in 90 minutes (for £99). My therapist was Jodie, who at my request spent more time on my head instead of the feet, and gave me a facial massage instead of the seaweed mask. Jodie wasn’t the strongest of therapists (when I asked for more pressure it didn’t really change), but I liked the treatment a lot, especially the long whole body strokes of the massage, which reminded me of Ayurvedic techniques and enabled me to drift off into a much-needed slumber.
What we took home: Great lungfuls of sea air and lots of pebbles and shells in our buckets to use in our garden (is this legal? Probably not).
Would we go back: The setting is fantastic – but personally I found the hotel too big and unsoulful for my taste so, no, I probably wouldn’t. But many people do go back – year after year. We met a father who had been going back since he was a little boy, and a couple who had got married there 10 years before and were now on a break with their son.
People watch: The staff in the spa and throughout the hotel were courteous and friendly at all times, though everything felt a little impersonal as often happens with larger hotels. Service was good at mealtimes, except one night when it was too slow for a hungry child waiting for her dinner (they did have impressive colouring kits for kids, though).
Food watch: The spa has an attractive, airy spa café with its own entrance; it serves healthy snacks and smoothies. The hotel’s dining room is traditional, with lovely sweeping views of the sea, white table cloths and waiter service. Food here is locally sourced and excellently cooked (if slightly predictable) hotel fare, with a buffet breakfast, and lots of meat (venison casserole, roast pigeon breast), fresh fish (dover sole, seabass) and the inevitable risotto as the veggie option at dinner. More relaxed and modern is the Terrace restaurant, which offers comfort food such as Cajun chicken burgers or chargrilled halloumi with spring vegetables. Puddings were suitably indulgent, though it was disappointing to find nothing more exciting than Twinings tea bags in the room and in the spa.
What’s queenly: The hotel has an impressive sustainability ethos for its size, and the spa uses the (80%) organic Cornish product range AFYNA (which means ‘to beautify’ in Old Cornish) – a welcome change to its other predictable (and less natural) brands.
What’s lowly: Fistral Beach is a busy place, and so is the hotel when it’s packed with families. For those seeking peace with a companion, stay in one of the little cottages outside the hotel or come out of school holidays. If you want peace during your spa time, ask ahead for quieter times.
Insider tip: If you want more veggie options, try asking the chef to cook you something bespoke. One night we asked if they’d do us a veggie curry in The Terrace, and they agreed and cooked up something very tasty.
Price with a companion: From £287 for two people sharing a room including accommodation, breakfast and a spa treatment each, based on two sharing a room.
Price going solo: From £188 per person including accommodation, breakfast and a spa treatment.
Value for money: The Headland often runs impressive spa break deals which are good value for money, though do watch out as little extras, especially drinks (a small black coffee was £3.20), can add up.
Reviewed by Caroline Sylger Jones
© Queen of Retreats