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Cornish gold mine

01 January 2000
Cornish gold mine

It is a problem most hoteliers would kill for. Too much press coverage - and positive at that. But there are reasons. In the 1960s Hotel Tresanton counted the Queen and Princess Margaret as its guests, along with the wealthy who came to Cornwall's south-east coast.

But over the years it became run down. Its saviour, to the tune of £2m, is Olga Polizzi, daughter of Lord Forte and sister of Rocco.

It is also the feeling that Cornwall is sexy - the place to be - that is urging the media on. Even before the hotel's June opening, Condé Nast Traveller had written an article. The Spectator and the Sunday Times published articles before the end of June, and soon every travel publication, women's magazine and critic was on the phone, asking for an interview.

Polizzi has barely touched her marketing budget, thanks to the press coverage - a Swedish couple stayed for 10 days after reading the Condé Nast Traveller piece. But she is worried about overkill, recognising that the in-crowd can be very fickle. She hates reading reviews of the hotel. "I force myself to read them. I do not like doing it," she says.

Tresanton was cheap to buy but needed total refurbishment. Polizzi admits she is over budget, having spent more than £2m.

The final days before the mid-June opening, and the first weeks with guests, were difficult. "It has been a nightmare - it must get better, I suppose," Polizzi says, plumping pillows in the hotel's lounge, her eyes scanning the room for anything out of place.

"I should have concentrated full time on it," she adds, referring to her interior design consultancy work with RF hotels.

So why open Tresanton when she could have put her feet up, following the Granada takeover of her father's empire?

"I thought about retiring, and I must be mad not to have!" she laughs. "My brother fired me up and I wanted to stay in for a bit. Doing up the hotel has been the hardest bit. Running it is the easy bit - I hope," she adds, rather doubtfully.

With her interior design background, the look of Tresanton was all-important to Polizzi. She says the fun part was collecting the furniture for the bedrooms and the artefacts, such as whale vertebrae, Moroccan fossils and a plaster head of Neptune she found in a London market.

The feel of the hotel is European - clean, simple and relaxed. Pale yellow walls in the lounge are offset by royal blue sofas and paintings of Cornwall by the St Ives School. Lights in the shape of stingrays were designed by Paul Verborg.

The restaurant is white, with large windows that make the most of the view of the bay and St Anthony's lighthouse.

The bedrooms have neutral sofas, linen on the beds and pure white bathrooms with huge tubs and power showers.

"I did not want the typical country house hotel - I did not want chintz and flowery material. By the sea I think it needs to be relaxed, not over-stuffy. I have always hated hotel furniture, so here it's a mixture of things - some new, some old," Polizzi explains. She hopes the hotel will attract a mixture of people - young, old, rich and those wishing to splash out on a special weekend or night.

Winter retreat

The seasonality of Cornwall does not seem to deter her, but Tresanton will be closed in January. "It will not be easy to fill in winter, but there must be people like me who are tired and want to read and have a beautiful view and really relax. I have gumboots and umbrellas for them to borrow if they want to go walking in the rain," she says.

While she is not keen to discount, she will try to offer greater value for money at off-peak times. The hotel has its own cinema room and Polizzi imagines doing special weeks concentrating on films, with a Marilyn Monroe season or even a run of Fawlty Towers episodes.

In the summer a 48-foot racing yacht, Pinuccia, is available for £150 for a half day. Instructor James Prince, who is on the hotel's staff, provides sailing and windsurfing classes for around £20 an hour.

Polizzi has brought in Richard Young as general manager at Tresanton. He was formerly at Selsdon Park in Croydon, before Principal Hotels took it over.

Young is positive about filling the hotel. It is already almost fully booked for the August 1999 solar eclipse, he says. A minimum five-day stay has been imposed and the same will be true of the millennium New Year celebrations, says Young.

Richard Turner is in charge in the kitchen, producing a three-course dinner menu with five choices per course for £30. A former soldier, Turner trained under Albert Roux at Le Gavroche. He admires Roux for taking him on with no experience or training.

After stints with other chefs, Turner spent four years with Marco Pierre White, most recently opening the Pharmacy (now renamed Pharmacy Restaurant and Bar).

Now he is settling into life in Cornwall with his girlfriend and their four-month-old baby. "I wanted to come down here and get out of London - I've been there for nine years," he says.

In the kitchen with Turner is sous chef Barry Zonfrillo, who was with Turner at the Pharmacy. The rest of the brigade have very different backgrounds. The pastry chef was a village baker and another chef cooked pub food.

Further help has come from Polizzi's daughters, Charlie and Alex. Both are directors of the hotel and have other jobs in London. Charlie, a freelance in television production, has been working as sommelier. Alex, who is in charge of Tresanton's 55-seat restaurant, also runs Miller's Bakery in Wandsworth with her business partner, but she plans to spend a year at Tresanton to help out her mother.

For Polizzi, the hotel has been a labour of love - but one she hopes will bear financial fruit.

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