Escape to the beautiful St Martin’s on the Isles of Scilly, as all your worries melt away in an instant.
Cornwall is often the destination of choice for UK holiday goers looking to escape the hustle and bustle, in search of that little slice of paradise. And it’s not hard to see why. But what do you do if you already live in Cornwall? The answer is simple – you head to the Isles of Scilly! My wife and I decided to do just that this spring. Scilly has all the qualities beloved of Cornwall, while carrying a rugged charm and unique identity entirely of its own.
Having visited both Bryher and Tresco in recent years – and fallen in love on each occasion – we felt it was time to get to know St Martin’s. And what a decision that turned out to be! Combining the best bits of the other islands, St Martin’s is simply paradise found: hills, small woodlands, moorland, dramatic cliffs, long powdery white sand beaches, translucent turquoise seas and views that will take your breath away, leaving you standing there with your jaw on the floor. We have found our favourite island; a paradise just 28 miles from the Cornish coast, with a demanding travel time of 15 minutes!
Arrival on the small jetty saw a welcome by three of the team from our hotel, Karma St Martin’s, who efficiently unloaded our luggage into the small van and drove it the 50 yards to the front door! Scott was charming and welcoming – it felt as though we floated through the reception area to a soft brown leather armchair, welcome-cocktail and a personal concierge’s guide to the hotel, dinner, breakfast and the island. To be honest, I didn’t hear a word as we sat in awe of the view.
Once we had finished our drink Scott re-appeared as if by magic to show us to our room – attentive, but no pressure. The room was immaculate with intricate Balinese wallpapers selected by designer Tina Driscoll. Karma Group’s business started in Bali and India and is spreading to Europe with plans of luxury resorts to come. Our superior ocean view room was perfect – modern, comfortable and with every luxury you could hope for. My wife’s excitement at the mesmerising vista from the window said it all!
With very few cars on the island, St Martin’s really is a world away from the mainland – a true idyll to escape it all. We timed our visit to coincide with the Walk Scilly Festival, making the most of the rare opportunity to get closer to nature and to ourselves. The festival is held every year in April, followed by a Walk Scilly Weekend in October (look out for our upcoming feature soon). We enjoyed an enlightening foraging walk with expert Rachel Lambert, later being treated to a gourmet foraging dinner, back at the hotel. The rock samphire tempura served with gorse flower relish was divine! Check out Rachel’s book, Wild Food Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, for some fantastic ideas.
Walking around St Martin’s is a real treat, whichever direction you choose to take – it’s just about big enough to lose yourself for the day but not big enough to get lost. We found plenty to explore over a few days on the island, meandering round the paths and trails to discover view after view after view. You can’t visit the island without making the trek to the iconic daymark erected north east of St Martin’s in 1683 by Thomas Ekins – it’s an awe-inspiring walk, with 360-degree views across Chapel Down.
No countryside walk is complete without a pit stop in a proper traditional pub. Thankfully, we were lucky enough to stumble upon the Seven Stones Inn, a lovely stone building offering a good pint and quite possibly the best view from a pub garden anywhere in the UK. (Look out for our upcoming feature with owners Emily and Dominic to find out about their move from the mainland.) It was also a delight to meet Fay Page in her studio and workshop. Fay makes amazing silver charms and jewellery all inspired by the islands – worth a visit just to hear the tale of the whale on the beach and to see the subsequent charm she produced.
On our travels, we also passed Churchtown Farm, home to Scilly Flowers – an inspiring industry now sending 90,000 bunches of flowers to Cornwall, the UK and beyond. Call in to meet the friendly team and send a ‘wish you were here’ gift home (they will wish they were there when they see your photos!).
Of course, after each day exploring, you want nothing more than to retreat to the perfect sanctuary. With so much having made an impression on our minds, the bar had been set very high. Fortunately Karma St Martin’s exceeded every expectation.
It’s the little touches that make the difference. Every guest is given a ‘wine card’ with £100 credit (billed to the room if used), allowing you to sample top wines from the cabinet, before choosing a whole bottle – an inspired idea, and the Pomerol gets my vote! Then there’s the record player linked to the Sonos system in the wine lounge, where you can pick from the hotel’s owner John Spence’s personal vinyl collection. And, if you’re here for some rest and recuperation, then a treatment in the luxury spa will do just the trick.
The hotel’s restaurant is the perfect spot to watch the sun go down, but it wasn’t just the view that impressed. A chef once told me that you can judge any restaurant based on whether they are brave enough to offer crème brulee on the menu. Well, Karma St Martin’s certainly rose to the challenge – the consistency, presentation, taste, enjoyment and pure indulgence of the dessert was symbolic of every single aspect of the experience on offer at Karma St Martin’s. It’s something that Ashley, the General Manager, and his young and delightful team are working hard to maintain and improve across the board. Obviously improving on perfection is very hard to do, but I think they might just do it.
If you happen to be planning a wedding, I’m hard pressed to think of a more sublime location; the Honeymoon Suite, Tean Conference Suite, and the beach below make the perfect trio for your big day – see our upcoming Romantic Scilly feature for the full review. Karma St Martin’s is a truly fantastic hotel – it exudes luxury, style and elegance all within the most spectacular of settings. It really needs to be visited to be believed – it is a little corner of heaven on the water’s edge.
Another favourite was Dibble and Grub on Porthcressa beach, St Mary’s. Here we savoured the last taste of paradise sat with a glass of sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio, a salad, wrap or sandwich (I love the lamb souvlaki in pitta), watching the sea and wishing we could stay forever.
Inevitably, all good things must come to an end, and with heavy hearts but lighter feet, it was time to head home. Words really don’t do justice to the majesty of Scilly – it has to be experienced. Upon arrival, you feel all your stresses and strains quickly melting away quicker than the ice cubes in your freshly prepared cocktail. Our biggest conundrum now is finding time to plan our next visit!
ISLES OF SCILLY