Gothic Glamour: Libertine, Praa Sands
In need of a glamorous staycation, because, frankly, who’s going to want to brave an airport anytime soon? Muddy heads to Cornwall's south coast for a spot of escapism.
No matter how much we might want to, proper global travel is still off the cards. So, for the time being, the only holidays are the ones that are not a million miles from home – but where to go? You want the faff-free ease of self-catering, but after weeks of lockdown, you need a generous dollop of luxury with decor that reminds you there is a world outside the UK? I hear you and, don’t go telling everyone, but I reckon we’ve just found a winner.
Well, technically, Cornwall based Cornish Secrets have actually, since they’re the experts in matching lovers of unique places to stay, with, well, the unique places to stay. This glamorous pad on Cornwall’s south coast might be nearby in terms of distance but it is oceans away from a run of the mill self-catering cottage.
In amongst their portfolio of properties scattered across the region’s prettiest destinations is Libertine, an old vicarage turned treasure trove of a holiday stay. Despite the weather, you’ll have your swimsuit on and a cocktail in your hand before you know it.
Originally built to serve the church St. Breaca in 1456 (one of the oldest churches in Cornwall) Libertine was a monasterial retreat for a silent order of monks serving the church – the garden and grounds, complete with dove cote that is still present, provided the total privacy and peace that the monks would have craved for prayers and meditation. Their insight is your gain, as it now makes it a pretty super location for a spot of luxe relaxation.
You’ll find Libertine in the village of Breage, handily near to the coastal village / beach at Praa Sands (above) and just five minutes drive from the foodie harbour town, Porthleven.
You’ll probably recognise Porthleven as it is often the face of Cornwall’s storms, with photographers crowding the wall to capture images of waves crashing over the clock tower. Turn the other way though, and surrounding the inner harbour you’ll find all sorts of foodie destinations including the Mussel Shoals, Kota, The Square and newly re-opened Amelie’s, alongside fish and chips and a plethora of independent shops.
Perfectly placed then for exploring the south coast, with Penzance and Marazion just a short drive away, but Breage itself just slightly inland, forming a sheltered and peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle nearby.
Swing open the front door and you know you’re somewhere special. In many ways the house resembles a pirates lair, a treasure trove reflecting the owners eclectic, bohemian style. Widely traveled artists, their collection of furniture and artefacts has been amassed over decades, and they are not shy in terms of decorating: gold flecked walls and spray painted surfaces reflect their own style and seamlessly blend with the ancient building materials of the house itself – returning the house to a more modern version of its former glory.
Inside you’ll find well traveled pieces, none of which are perfect but all with a history, which sit perfectly alongside the original features of the house. The large fireplace in the sitting room which would have been an open fire for roasting pigs and cooking pots back in 1600, now holds a wood-burner, much more suited to lounging than cooking.
Very much lived in, it’s a family home and styled for comfort with open plan living areas. The large polished walnut antique dining table can seat up to ten people. Passed down through the family, it has been used in the humidity and heat in India in the 1930’s, The Bahamas and the Deep South of Florida, and now finally Cornwall, it bears the marks of many years use.
It’s not all antiques though – the sleek, gadget-laden kitchen and contemporary games room provide everything you could need for a luxe holiday, and outside you’ll find a heated pool and fire pit. You’ll even find a fully equipped gym room hidden away upstairs – and a Sonos surround sound system brings music to every room, should you wish.
Art fans will enjoy the many works of art hanging across the building – almost all of them have stories to tell, which can be found in the information about the building, and have been lovingly collected and brought back from the owners eclectic travels and overseas living – many of the oil paintings are reproductions of originals that hang in galleries such as The Louvre.
Upstairs, you’ll find four bedrooms, sleeping 8 or more, all en-suite. The corridor leads straight out to the pool, so if you’re fond of a morning swim, bagsy the room with the hand carved, French bed below believed (allegedly) to have come originally from the Palace of Versailles, and was bought in an auction in Paris out bidding the then largely unknown but hugely talented British designer, the late Alexander McQueen.
The master suite was designed to echo the history of the building; a large gothic stone fireplace is the main feature with a large circular bath for total escapism. A large 5m tall ecclesiastical stain glass reclaimed from a fallen church completes the look.
If previous bed owners help you choose a room, then you might be interested to know that the master suite also contains the superking bed that used to belong to the late Sean Connery. Apparently Sean had the bed made in tooled leather at his European home and shipped out to the Bahamas for his wife – who hated it on sight, so it was sold to Libertine’s owners, their (then) neighbours. Not sure quite was the issue was, as it looks pretty lovely in Libertine’s master suite!
SCOFF & QUAFF
For those days where you just want to hang at home, the kitchen is kitted out with everything you could need, for you and indeed the rest of the town if you’re feeling sociable, for the cupboards are packed with every kind of glass and plate known to entertainment.
Plus, it’s mega-easy to self-cater and chefs, aspiring or otherwise, will love that the kitchen is fitted with high spec, streamlined Smeg and Gaggenhau equipment, including a Teppenyaki grill, plus a boiling hot water tap, so no wasted time waiting for a kettle to boil – you can get straight on with drinking your morning coffee by the pool listening to the doves.
The rear of the kitchen leads to the Buddha Breakfast and Barbecue area which is perfect for morning coffee and a little dip. The heated pool and surrounding area is totally private and bordered by olive and palm trees and mature Cornish Camemillia trees.
There’s also a fire pit (for added warmth and glamour) and while we think the modern loungers are probably more comfy for the hard work of reading and getting a tan, the heavy wooden Indian Howdah can also be used as a day bed – although it would have carried people on the backs of elephants circa 1890.
You can make the most of the moving sunshine and the BBQ, too, whilst lounging by the pool. There’s no doubt this place brings its self-catering A-game.
At night the garden is subtly lit and ideal for a relaxing float looking up at clear skies and viewing the stars.
OUT AND ABOUT
No matter what time of year nor how long your stay, there are plenty of options to fill your time nearby. If the long sandy beach at Praa Sands is not up your street, you’ll find beautiful walks along the coast path in both directions, including Prussia Cove, below, which is just lovely for a swim.
Further afield, you will find Marazion and then the town of Penzance – don’t miss the Penzance Arts Festival or you can head straight to the galleries (Penlee House, the Newlyn Art Gallery, or Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens), plus the bustling high street full of independent shops (we like No.56 and Chapel Street which is home to book shops, other delightful indies, plus the Artist Residence for lunch).
Gardens wise, you can head in land to Godolphin (National Trust) or even head over the water (or walk the causeway) to St Michael’s Mount – the little island off the coast which was also built by monks – perfectly on theme for your stay.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Families with teens or small adult groups craving sophisticated catch-ups, dog owners (well behaved pets allowed) and fans of a boho artisan vibe with a Gothic atmosphere. Also great for those who love outside entertaining as the garden with pool and BBQ is something special.
Not for: Minimalists – Libertine oozes character and is full of layered fabrics, patterning and eclectic décor, just right for lovers of a creative aesthetic but perhaps not for those that prefer a more Scandi vibe to their holiday. Also not one for families with very young children as you’d need eyes everywhere, not just in the back of your head and you’d never relax all week.
The damage: 7 nights from £2500 up to £4995 in high summer. Prices are for the whole house which sleeps 8.