Artists, and art lovers, have been coming to western Cornwall for centuries, but the picture-postcard appeal of St Ives, with its Tate Gallery and Barbara Hepworth Garden, tends to steal the limelight from its plainer sister, Penzance.
Yet this historic port has much to love: atmospheric pubs, smart restaurants, designer-y shops and galleries that have established it firmly on Cornwall’s art trail.
Gallery-cum-boutique hotel Artist Residence is on Chapel Street, the most charming and browsable street in Penzance’s old quarter. But for art lovers the real draw is the original designs by British artists in the hotel’s 14 bedrooms.
The reception area opens into a spacious cafe-gallery hung with paintings of Cornwall (all for sale) and mismatched shabby-chic tables and chairs. On a sunny Saturday it’s buzzing with couples and young families, setting a laid-back tone for the rest of the hotel.
Friendly staff show us to the Picture Room, a light and airy double with crisp white linen and walls hung with playful graphic prints saying things such as “Rise and shine”. It’s modest rather than spacious: a comfy double bed leaves room for two stylish arm chairs and a desk with views to the neighbouring buildings. (Only the two attic rooms have sea views.)
My favourite room is one by artist Jo Peel with a Chapel Street scene in orange and turquoise murals. Designs range from Sinead Geary’s Dolly Devine, with delicate butterflies in soft green, clean seascapes of the Muju Room, whose designers have a gallery in St Ives.
A 40-minute stroll along the coast takes us to Marazion, for a dip in the bay and a pint in the Godolphin Arms overlooking St Michael’s Mount. Back at the hotel we freshen up in the small bathroom – just room for a clawfoot bath and powerful shower with BeeKind products. The hotel doesn’t serve evening meals but the Bakehouse a few doors up does a mean steak, and we follow it with a nightcap at the Turk’s Head, Penzance’s oldest pub.
Next morning my exemplary cooked breakfast (all locally sourced ingredients) makes me wonder why it doesn’t branch out into full meals. The homemade fruit compote with Greek yogurt and granola would have been a healthy option if I hadn’t chomped it down as a first course. While coffee-lovers may bemoan the Nescafe sachets in the rooms (what no Nespresso!), the Artist Residence has personality in spades. It’s cheering to find a hotel that celebrates this area’s artistic culture. And best of all is waking up in your own mini art gallery.