Now residents are fighting plans to build a second storey on a harbourside hotel, saying it will obscure the sweeping views across the estuary.
Since the 1950s, when visitors included Princess Margaret, the 1,000- strong community has happily absorbed the summer influx. But proposals by Keith Richardson, a businessman from Manchester, to build an additional six bedrooms on to his Idle Rocks Hotel have caused concern. Six hundred residents have formed the St Mawes Action Group and, supported by the St Mawes Parish Council and Carrick District Council, they have objected to the plans. A second storey on the hotel would block views over Roseland Peninsula and the Fal estuary, and turn the narrow road entering the village into a "canyon", they say.
The Rev Peter Durnford, a St Mawes resident and former rector of St Just in Roseland, a 6th-century Cornish shrine, said yesterday: "The healthy balance between visitors and those who live here is already in danger of being disturbed to the detriment of the simplicity and peace of this village - the very characteristics which make it attractive to holidaymakers. If Idle Rocks Hotel builds its extension it will dominate the whole of our little harbour. It will create a sort of canyon just as you enter St Mawes at the narrowest point and will increase traffic. The saddest part, however, is that it will devastate the views from the 200-year-old fishermen's cottages on the hills behind."
A planning appeals inspector from Bristol has approved Mr Richardson's proposal. He wrote in his report: "Whilst it would marginally reduce views of the harbour, and possibly make the last part of the approach to the village centre more `canyon-like', I do not consider that it would be seen as out of character or against the public interest." Residents were furious the inspector reached his conclusion on written evidence alone. However, this week they learnt there is to be a public inquiry into the acceptability of the scheme.
Sir David Nicholas, former chairman and editor of ITN, has holidayed in St Mawes since the 1950s. He said: "It's a classic case of distant bureaucracy overruling local democracy. Here is this little community in one of the most beautiful parts of Britain being dictated to by an inspector in Bristol."
Mr Richardson was unavailable for comment yesterday.