Families: Hi de hi-brow in the valley
A new complex in Cornwall is offering five-star luxury with holiday camp convenience. Does it work? That's a matter of taste, says Nick Coleman
Sunday 25 March 2007
You can see what they're driving at from the moment the security gate hisses open. The Valley, in the Cornish village of Carnon Downs near Truro, is someone's fantasy holiday destination. It's a fantasy predicated, for once, not on local grandeur but on the kind of grandeur you bring with you.
Historically, the deep west has been blighted with adequacy. The culture of "this'll do" has seen no greater flowering than in the Duchy of Surf, where the local economy is straitened and for decades the scarred plastic tablecloth, the bleach-stained avocado toilet bowl and the home-joinered chipboard light fitting set a notable standard for self-catering decor with an ad-hoc twist.
No doubt we deserved no more. We fairweather holidaymakers were, after all, only exploitative incomers - emmits, in the parlance. But this is the 21st century and Cornwall is happening as never before in its difficult history. And anyway, who ever went to Cornwall for the fixtures and fittings?
On the very crest of this new wave of "avocado bogs certainly won't do" culture is The Valley. The bogs here are not bogs at all but manifestos of contemporary lifestyle design. As are the knives and forks and crocks. We know they are because they've got designers' names on them, and because the brochure tells us so. "Villeroy and Boch crockery," it says, "is complemented by Stellar and Judge cutlery and utensils." Get the picture?
The Valley is high-concept self-catering. The concept is five-star luxury accommodation with built-in holiday camp convenience - all the fun and safety of the corralled, kids-run-wild camp environment wedded to the needs of knackered mums and dads who fancy a bit of the cosseting you get in a posh hotel. You can see how it might work.
After the security gate hisses shut behind you, you attend reception and then tool in first gear down the steep internal road system which makes it clear, if it wasn't clear before, that The Valley really is a reformed holiday camp. Yes, by all means the "architectural masterpieces" with "vaulted open-truss ceilings" which huddle within the eponymous declivity are an "oasis of serenity", but they still feel like a holiday camp which has had Linda Barker in.
The cottages themselves are indeed spacious and comfortable, though not so that you'd feel comfy, in all conscience, leaving wellies scattered on the hall carpet. Kitchens are huge and well appointed with shiny things you can switch on and off. Sitting rooms are carpeted from horizon to horizon, sofa'd to the hilt and, in the estate agent's idiom, boast huge flat-screen tellies with "integrated" DVD and mini sound systems that look nice. The lighting is "integrally designed".
Upstairs, you get vast comfy beds, en suite bathrooms, wardrobes you could store a footballer's wife and all her tracksuits in, sexy lighting, Venetian blinds and nets, cheerful "contemporary art" on the walls and carpets which are as lushly contiguous with the sitting-room carpet as is technically possible one flight up. It's as if Hemel Hempstead has come to the Cornish riviera.
So, you kick back with a glass of something to watch your flat-screen telly... What do the kids do? Well, there's a games room, an indoor pool and, if it's Easter, there's an Easter Egg Hunt. Bless 'em. The staff at The Valley are, almost to a man and woman, very nice and couldn't be more helpful; you do feel looked after without feeling too looked at.
Meanwhile, beyond the hissing gate there is an entire Cornish landscape to get into. Walks, rivers, surf, art, sheep, foxes, bunnies, Truro.... One of the duchy's great virtues is that you are always within easy reach of anywhere worth going to. And after you've been there, you can subside in front of a tower of posh food on a square plate with turned-up corners in The Valley's Café Azur, next to the swimming pool. Very civilised.
You probably sense a "but" hovering. But it isn't a bad "but"; it's the kind of "but" you use when you don't want to carp yet need to make a plain point with a measure of grace. My point is this: if The Valley concept appeals at face value - the bit about the fun and safety of the camp environment accommodating the needs of weary mums and dads with a keen sense of their inner Linda Barker - then get in there. It's a very good idea. But it isn't Cornwall. It's somewhere else altogether.
Let me leave you with a quote from The Valley's literature: "We have sacrificed practicality for style so unfortunately the dinner plates do not fit the dishwasher."
THE COMPACT GUIDE
HOW TO GET THERE
Nick Coleman stayed as a guest of The Valley (01872 862194; the-valley.co.uk). It offers seven-nights' self-catering in a property sleeping four from £725.
Visit Cornwall (01872 322907; visitcornwall.co.uk).
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