The Budock Vean exhorts guests to use their cars as sparingly as possible. I found no need at all for mine in 48 hours, and could have lasted days longer. The mesmerising Helford River, which laps at the foot of the hotel garden at high tide, is all you need.

Life on this majestic waterway is dreamily fascinating, especially when observed at close quarters from the hotel’s small boat, the Hannah Molly, which does daily, two-hour trips at high tide, chugging up and down the mysterious, silent creeks.

The jolly guides will point out the homes of the rich and famous, atmospheric Frenchman’s Creek, immortalised by Daphne du Maurier, and the real Manderley, where Rebecca met her end. They are equally astute on local natural history: we saw dunlin, redshank, curlew, kingfisher, heron and an egret colony, the birds perching on the trees like snow-white blossom.

I also experienced the river in welcome solitude, walking out the back door of the hotel and onto the romantic South West coastal path. This manages to feel like a satisfyingly wild adventure, with its narrow cliff-top path, waves crashing beneath the gorse-covered slopes, yet secure, with its discreet signposting.

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You can take on the 10 miles round to Falmouth, returning by local bus; incorporate it into a garden visit to nearby Trebah or Glendurgan, or just sit on a bench, stare dreamily out to sea, and slope back for a pint of prawns at the Ferry Boat, the sailors’ watering hole at Helford Passage.

No wonder the staff actually seem to enjoy their jobs-there is none of the dispiriting blandness that mars other hotels-and Sophie, who gave my nails a birthday in the spa (which has a large indoor pool and blissful outdoor hot tub), was an enjoyable person to while away an hour with. She did a great PR job on Made for Life, the enterprising cancer charity set up by the dynamic and original Amanda Barlow, whose in-laws bought the hotel 25 years ago-the spa specialises in products that suit the sensitive skin of cancer sufferers. Its 2012 calendar is now on sale at £7.50 (www. www.spieziaorganics.com)

Budock Vean is old-fashioned in feel-not to say faintly creaky and in need of a facelift in parts-and that’s clearly how its clientele like it. Mad-keen golfers of mature vintage go out before breakfast, even into the clammy sea mist; traditional standards apply to dressing at dinner (the food is excellent), and everyone seemed to know each other from last year-and the year before that … I heard someone brag: ‘No one’s been coming as long as I have.’ I now know why they return.

Budock Vean, Helford Passage, Mawnan Smith, Falmouth, Cornwall
Rooms start at £98 in low season. Dogs are welcome. To book, and to check special offers and events, telephone 01326 250288 or visit www.budockvean.co.uk.

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