CORNWALL, England - So many "leisurely" vacations these days turn into in a frenzied attempt to cram as many activities as possible into a short space of time. "Unwind" is often left out of the equation, and as a result, vacationers go back home in a more soporific state than when they began.
Thankfully there are such places which, by their very essence, can lull you into a state of blissful relaxation. The Budock Vean Golf & Country Hotel is one such place... much to the relief of the weary Passepartout.
The area in which the hotel is set is perhaps one of the most unspoiled - and opulent - in the south west of England. Indeed, the locality has become the preferred retreat of the rich & famous, and the hotel perfectly reflects this - a place which very much favors the finer things in life.
The building stands upon the site of an ancient Celtic monastery which was eventually overrun by the Saxon invasion. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, the property was handed to the Bishop of Exeter, before eventually becoming a stately manor house and failing as a country club shortly after World War I. However, fortunes improved somewhat after the property was renovated in 1937, and it developed into the luxury hotel it is today.
Presently owned and managed by the Barlow family, the Budock Vean Hotel prides itself on its numerous high-profile commendations, including a four-star Automobile Association listing. In these days where the criteria for such awards have become increasingly stringent, the quality of the accommodation and service cannot be questioned - the staff is extremely pleasant, and all efforts are made to ensure that the visitor is well cared for.
Although there are several courses within a half-hour drive from the hotel, it is always reassuring to find that indulgence in divot-taking can be achieved onsite. Fortunately, the Budock Vean Hotel has a challenging James Braid designed course within its beautiful grounds, and, a splendid golf bar for the use of guests and the small number of members.
The hotel could well have had a monstrous 7,000-yard behemoth should it have so desired. However, even to those whose thoughts primarily lie within the realms of golf, it would have been sacrilegious to uproot several hundred acres of ancient waterside Oak woodland to accommodate a larger course. As a result, Budock Vean opted for two distinct tee positions to create an eighteen-hole test from nine, very exacting, holes.
Of all, the most notable of these is the fifth/14th holes, which in the opinion of all who play it, is without doubt one of the most difficult par-4's to be found anywhere in the U.K. Not only is it over 400-yards in length, but your progress is beset by an almost continuous right-hand curve to the pin.
Only if you have a fair wind behind and the mightiest of drives will you stand any chance of a clear view to the green. Indeed, your only real hope of par will depend upon a critical second fairway shot and a short iron onto the green, before one attempt to sink the ball.
For the "give it a go" category, the downhill par-4 third/11th is the outright winner. This is simply due to the fact that it is possible to drive the green from the tee and, therefore, record an Albatross. There is, of course, little chance of doing so.
Alas, whilst rolling the ball onto the green is entirely feasible, the direct route to the pin is hampered by a dense cluster of giant Monterrey Pines. However, several years ago the hotel confidently put up a substantial cash prize for anyone achieving the feat, only to find that one golfer clearly had God as his caddy.
The signature hole of the course, the ninth/18th, is both aesthetically pleasing, as well as the perfect opportunity to exercise your "target golf" ability. Although only a par-3, the path from tee to pin is beset by a deep valley. It is imperative that the tee shot lands squarely on the green - too much club will see you out of bounds behind the surrounding azaleas, whilst too little will find you cursing at the bottom of the aforementioned hollow. But the biggest problem may be negotiating the devilish borrows and tier on the green which can make putting infuriating.
Whatever your score, enjoyment of the game is enhanced by the excellent maintenance of the fairways and greens. The former are lush and unsullied, the latter beautifully manicured. In fact, the entire award-winning gardens are a joy to behold, as are the woodland walks to be had down to a private cove on the river.
The award-winning restaurant is befitting of a high-class hotel - the owners quite rightly request gentlemen to wear a jacket and tie for the evening. Many of the dishes use local produce, with the magnificent Helford oysters a must to those partial to seafood. Furthermore, the traditional Sunday roast is worthy of mention on its own merits - huge in content and superbly prepared.
The wine list is extensive to say the least, and features some notable examples which tempt diners to forget any notion of an early rise next morning.
Pristinely maintained and beautifully furnished, all rooms are en-suite, with many also having their own adjoining living space. The views across the gardens and toward the river are pleasing on the eye, and although one could quite happily remain in a recumbent position for the duration of the stay, there are many other ways in which to relax here.
The hotel is located within a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and, as a result, it is imperative that the visitor at least spend some time away from Budock Vean's 65 acres and explore the immediate locale. The walks to be had along the unbelievably exquisite Helford River are a must, as are visits to the numerous gardens along its banks.
Glendurgan Garden, for example, has one of the finest hedge mazes in the country, whilst Carwinion is home to one of the largest Bamboo collections in Europe. Nearby Trebah, which also demands a visit, was the site of the departure of U.S. troops to the Normandy landings - a memorial commemorates those who did not return.
For those who enjoy "messing about in boats", the river itself is the perfect playground. Both sailing craft and motor vessels can be hired for the day, allowing for the exploration of numerous coves and creeks. For those familiar with the literary works of Daphne du Maurier, the opportunity to sail quietly along Frenchman's Creek and land at the immortalized quay cannot be missed... but beware of the tide!
With services such as aromatherapy and the compulsory Indian head massage, those who enjoy being pampered will feel very much rewarded by their stay. For the more sporting, the hotel also has several all-weather tennis courts and a snooker room.
If you cannot unwind at Budock Vean, you may just be wound too tight for remedy. In an ever-increasingly frantic age where tranquility is at a premium, it is refreshing to find somewhere which embodies the "quality time" ethos of days gone by.
Very much locked into a time where gentlemanly conduct and traditional values were paramount, the Budock Vean is a comforting retreat from modernity.
August 25, 2004
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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