Journalist Rachel Williams travels to Truro by train for a whistlestop weekend of Cornish luxury, fabulous fry-ups and natural splendour
I’d always thought you couldn’t really go to Truro by train for the weekend. Cornwall is far too far by car for a short trip, and too limiting by train, with no way to get around once you’re there, I’d assumed.
A recent stay at The Alverton, a beautifully updated, Grade II listed former manor house in Truro, has proved me wrong.
My friend Helen and I started our adventure at Paddington station on Friday evening, a full day’s work behind us and delighted to sink into the plush embrace of GWR’s First Class service. Luxuriously wide, padded reclining seats, complimentary snacks and drinks, and attentive, jolly staff made it the perfect way to get in the mood for a weekend of relaxation.
At The Alverton, our superior room in the newly completed Courtyard complex, set just apart from the rest of the hotel, reinforced the impulse to unwind.
Decorated in muted grey-green Farrow and Ball tones, it combined traditional styling – a giant tapestry headboard and wood panel-effect wallpaper – with contemporary features, including a very cool exposed filament bulb pendant. If that sounds like it would be a bit much, rest assured that it’s all done in a pleasingly understated way, with the end result simply being a feeling of lovely, classy coziness.
There were nice touches everywhere: umbrellas by the door, in case of inclement weather en route to the main building, tea and coffee-making facilities tucked away on a shelf that slid smoothly out of the wardrobe, a DAB radio, and motion-triggered bathroom lighting for those half-asleep trips in the middle of the night. Oh, and that bathroom had a heated slate tile floor, monsoon shower and White Company toiletries. Elsewhere in the 15-room Courtyard, the junior and superior suites each have an exposed roll-top bathtub in the bedroom.
Built in 1830, the hotel started life as a family home for William Tweedy, who went on to be president of the Royal Horticultural Society.
In the 1870s it became a convent, whose nuns were responsible for the building of the impressive vaulted chapel – now known as The Great Hall and used for weddings and functions. Designed by the same architect as Truro Cathedral, it has the Victorian Gothic grandeur to match.
Truro is billed as a good jumping off point for many of Cornwall’s attractions, and on Saturday morning – refreshed by a couple of well-executed fry-ups for breakfast – we set out for Trelissick, a National Trust property renowned for its tranquil gardens. The 493 bus nipped through the undulating country lanes to deliver us there in an efficient 25 minutes, but in the summer you can take a passenger ferry down the River Fal from Truro quay.
We walked down through the gardens – naturally not at their peak in December, but striking nonetheless – to see where the boats come in. The Fal was splendidly still, its waters a milky bottle green and the bank opposite topped with a spooky tangle of bare trees. We watched in silence as the King Harry car ferry made its way back and forth across the water, accompanied by the rhythmic clanking of the chain it runs on and the lapping of the river at its sides. Then it was back up the hill to explore Trellisick House, a Regency country residence made all the more atmospheric by the pianist in the drawing room and fabulous views across the estuary. We also had a cream tea, obviously.
Back at The Alverton that evening, we settled down for dinner in the brasserie. My butternut squash and sweet potato soup, drizzled with truffle oil, was warming and velvety, and the tender duck confit leg came with creamy colcannon and rich, but not overpowering, mulled wine-spiced red cabbage. Helen, who likes to buck a trend and has recently started eating meat after 18 years of vegetarianism, found her juicy rib eye steak a tasty way to further explore the world of the carnivore.
Pomegranate-topped rosemary panna cotta with just the right amount of wobble and a excellent chocolate and mandarin fondant brought the meal to a happy close.
The service was fantastic: unfailingly efficient, yet relaxed and friendly, without a hint of pretension. Coupled with welcoming décor – think soft purple hues and vintage lamps – it makes for a dining room that’s easy to linger in. In the bar next door, a log fire blazed merrily, but we eschewed a nightcap and instead curled up with magazines and Christmas shopping lists in the Courtyard rooms’ own stylish lounge, savouring the delicious quiet.
Late on Sunday afternoon, just 47 hours after leaving London, our train slid back into Paddington. We were refreshed, replete with good food, and ready for the week ahead.
You can do Truro by train in a weekend – and I’ll definitely be going back.
(We travelled courtesy of Great Western Railway and were hosted by The Alverton Hotel)
How to get to Truro by train:
Advance single fares from London Paddington to Truro by train are available from £24.50 each way (£56.50 First Class). For the best value fares buy before you board at www.gwr.com
Rooms at The Alverton start from £99.
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