The Idle Rocks, St Mawes: A hotel where winter can even outshine summer — particularly if you take the whole place for yourself and your loved ones

The Idle Rocks in Cornwall has long been a popular destination for those looking for a beautiful West Country hotel — and if you're going with a group, this retreat is now available for enviable private stays. Harry McKinley paid a visit.

In autumn and winter, the Cornish seaside village of St Mawes is a sleepy sort of a place. Fishing boats bob empty in the harbour, the cries of seagulls carry on the crisp breeze and, more often than not, a wild crimson sunset marks the day’s end – a gift of the colder seasons. With the flocks of summering families having long since flown, visitors will find in their stead empty lanes and deserted stone beaches; an atmosphere-laden revelation for those who have only known these parts at their sun-soaked, holidaymaker-filled peak.

It’s at this time of year that The Idle Rocks, the village’s 18-room boutique hotel, also sees a change of personality. In the sitting room, a wide sofa and bulbous armchairs swallow guests, a roaring open fire the perfect companion for a sluggish afternoon with a book or newspaper. On the terrace, blankets are handed out to fend off the biting sea air, for those who wish to put their feet up and enjoy a hot drink, watching as waves clobber the surrounding harbour walls.

Opened in 2013 by Karen Richards and her husband David (a former chairman of Aston Martin, who made his name in motorsports), The Idle Rocks is billed as a home-from-home and is now available on an exclusive-use basis for travelling families, groups of friends and memorable occasions.

For those who wise to escape to the Cornish coast en masse then, it is a retreat light on formality and heavy on comfort, featuring distinctly personal Richards trimmings: framed family photographs, favoured novels and curated collections of objects that speak to travels had and memories made. Commissioned works by local artist David Pearce dress most walls (joyfully colourful abstractions of seaside scenes), while shamelessly riotous prints adorn upholstery. In short, the property has style, but one that lends itself to a snug, private getaway, with room for up to 36 adults and 5 children.

The living room at the Idle Rocks Hotel, St Mawes. Picture: Hugh Hastings / Idle Rocks

Naturally, taking the whole joint doesn’t mean being left to fend for oneself and guests enjoy all of the neat luxuries of a regular stay, including a full staff and the culinary expertise of Executive Chef Dorian Janmaat, formerly of Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. He has a particular knack for crafting creative, playful menus using terrific local and seasonal produce, and one of the joys of exclusive-use is the freedom to work with him directly on the curation of bespoke lunches and suppers.

As for what to do, well the region is a prize. England’s only tea plantation, Tregothnan, is a short drive away in The Idle Rocks’ Defender, which seats seven and is at the disposal of guests for the duration of their stay. It’s possible to tour the hillside estate and even have a go at plucking a few leaves for a DIY brew. For something a note stronger, head to nearby English winery Trevibban, for a glimpse of the vineyards and a flight through its award-winning bottles.

Then there are traditional country pursuits, of course, and The Idle Rocks makes for a fantastic base for groups during pheasant season, with its own boot room and the use of that sturdy Landy. It also has a bijou spa and, at sibling property, The St Mawes Hotel, the Hidden Cinema accommodates 25 and can be booked exclusively for relaxed evening screenings with ice cream and popcorn.

Autumn and winter in Cornwall then: officially the off-season and yet, when it comes to St Mawes and a private sojourn at the Idle Rocks, it may even leave summer in the water.

Stay at The Idle Rocks on an exclusive-use basis with 18 rooms charged at seasonal rates, plus a £5,000 exclusive-use fee and a minimum food & beverage spend of £5,000 per day. To book visit idlerocks.com. Head to visitcornwall.com for more information on the county and activities.