The Abbey stands in a narrow lane in old Penzance, with views across the harbour to St Michael's Mount (sunrise is marvellous). The moment you open the little wrought-iron gate and walk in, you leave the clamorous present and step into the elegant past, a cosy and comforting haven which suits free-spirited Penzance perfectly. So many hotels claim to feel like a home but this one really does: the complimentary newspapers – whatever you want – waiting at your breakfast table, the complimentary freshly baked scones at teatime, and the drinks brought to you before dinner as you relax by the fire add to the effect, but it's the bedrooms that really entrance: each different, each charming and each, whether large or small, with the feel of a guest room in a much-loved country house, the sort where you long for an invitation. If a tap feels a bit wobbly or a little bit of wallpaper has come unstuck, you know it will be attended to, but in the meantime it only adds to the illusion that you are staying with a dear friend.
On the first floor is the heart of the house: Jean's gorgeous drawing room, with huge squashy sofas surrounding an open fire. In the panelled dining room, with a pretty mismatch of antique tables and chairs, a perfect, leisurely breakfast is served anytime between 8am and 10am. Outside is a delightful tropical walled garden, much used in summer.
Dinner is no longer served at The Abbey, but for a very good reason. In the restaurant next door, also owned by the Cox family and now called Untitled, the chef, Robert Wright, has a Michelin bib gourmand ("just right; the last thing I want is a star", he says) for his easy-going and well-priced menus in the first-floor restaurant, and there are snacks in the basement tapas bar too. Untitled and The Abbey make the perfect combination.
Rooms (out of five) TTTTT
It's hard to believe they are hotel rooms; love the false bookshelf doors
Thad and his colleague, Libby, make guests feel at home but respect their privacy
An enveloping house, like staying in a friend's home
Food & drink TTTTT
Perfect, leisurely breakfasts; excellent restaurant next door
Value for money TTTT
The kitchenette apartment and two-bedroom suite are great value for four
The old part of Penzance is charming, and you should make a circuit that includes Morrab Gardens, Regent Terrace and Chapel Street (places of note are Kitts Couture at number 51 for vintage clothing; the historic Union Hotel, where the first news of Nelson’s death was announced; the extraordinary Egyptian House; The Turks Head, the oldest pub in Penzance; and the Admiral Benbow, full of nautical objects). Don’t miss Captain’s Fish Bar, on the corner of Daniel Place and Queen Street, where you can buy divine tea cosies, baby hats and other items hand-knitted by the owner’s wife.
Along the seafront in Newlyn, look out for Newlyn Cheese & Charcuterie (1 New Road; newlyncheese.co.uk), and nearby Jelbert’s, a small family business that has made superb traditional Cornish vanilla ice cream for generations. Farther along in Mousehole, check out the newly refurbished Old Coastguard Hotel (The Parade; 01736 731222; oldcoastguardhotel.co.uk), which has an excellent brasserie and fabulous views.
Food-foraging expeditions are offered by Wild Food Walks (wildwalks-southwest.co.uk) and Fat Hen (fathen.org), both based near Penzance. For marine wildlife-watching boat trips, visit marinediscovery.co.uk.