Capturing the Castle in the Scilly Isles – The Star Castle Hotel:
I love the romance of staying in a castle hotel. So, on my recent short break to the Scilly Isles I was thrilled to be offered the chance to stay at The Star Castle Hotel, an historic hotel on St Mary’s. One of the landmarks of the Scilly Isles, it’s clearly visible from the airport and sits on one of the highest points of the Island, looking out to sea with picture postcard views over the harbour.
The hotel has its own taxi service to meet you at the airport or ferry and bring you and your luggage up the rather steep hill. We were met by ‘Spider’ who also helps those visitors who need a shuttle service around the island.
The main part of the hotel is indeed the castle and there’s a stunning dining room in the original officer’s mess room, a comfy lounge with stunning views, a rather quirky bar in what was the dungeon and a range of accommodation
Star Castle was built during the reign of Elizabeth I, in 1593 by Robert Adams and Francis Godolphin, Captain of the Scilly Isles, during the “Spanish invasion scare. It later became something of a Royalist stronghold and in 1643, the Prince of Wales, later to become Charles II took refuge there from the parliamentary forces.
It went on to become the headquarters of Royalist Privateer Sir John Grenville until it was stormed and captured by Admiral Blake in April 1644. Ironically, it was then used as a prison for prominent Royalist prisoners including James Hamilton, Marquis of Hamilton. And then, after the restoration of Charles II in 1660 to imprison Parliamentarians such as Sir Harry Vane. In 1740 more fortifications were built along the lines of the Garrison and the castle itself became the governor’s residence.
It was transformed into an hotel in 1933 and, rather fittingly, opened by the then Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VIII. The current owners, a family of hoteliers, Robert Francis with his son James, took over and have developed a very loyal group of regulars who return year after year to what must be one of Britain’s best-kept secrets.
In terms of accommodation, you can choose from a room in the hotel or one of the garden rooms. Furnished with antiques and classically decorated, the hotel rooms are charming and unusual. There are standard doubles and a range of larger rooms and suites. There’s one single room in the hotel itself and two in each of the watchtowers, which are tiny but charming.
Garden rooms are larger and more contemporary in style. Each has a small terrace, most with stunning sea views. There are fluffy towels, robes and a good selection of toiletries. These rooms are dog-friendly and have massive and exceptionally comfortable beds. I loved my view so much that on the last night I stayed at the hotel, sat on the terrace and enjoyed a glass of champagne and a smoked salmon sandwich from the hotel’s room service.
I can’t think of anything much better than sitting looking out over this view as the sun sets, sipping a glass of champagne.
There’s a good sized indoor swimming pool to the rear of the garden rooms and a large conservatory which houses the second of the hotel’s two restaurants. We really enjoyed our breakfasts in the sunshine there. I tried mushrooms on toast the first day and, just to suit my own taste, an eggless full English (complete with Cornish pudding) on the second day.
And, yet again regretted not being keen on eggs when I saw Choclette’s fine and perfectly cooked eggs florentine.
Over breakfast, the hotel’s boatman comes round and checks who needs transport to one of the other islands. And, if his own schedule doesn’t work, the hotel reception are a mine of great information on how to get to and from each of the islands without getting stranded.
The hotel also has its own vineyard and I was lucky enough to be invited to Holy Vale for a lobster lunch and wine tasting. Although still in its infancy, the vineyard is clearly one of Robert’s great passions and he has worked with leading wine producer, Willi Opitz, to plant Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris vines across seven acres of land on the Island. Highly recommended for a relaxing and different lunch. Robert not only grows the grapes and makes the wine but he also catches the lobster. The vineyard is a pleasant 30-minute walk from the hotel and the lobster lunch costs around £29 for more lobster than I could eat and a glass of rather good Holy Vale Pinot Noir.
Robert is also the force behind the wine list at the hotel in each of the restaurants. Both restaurants offer fine dining menus, though there’s an emphasis on fish in the Conservatory. I had a fairly packed itinerary and only managed dinner on one evening in the Castle restaurant, a romantic and traditionally decorated room. Both restaurants have ambitious menus, I was particularly impressed by the sourcing of ingredients though felt that a simpler dining option was lacking.
An amuse Bouche of ham terrine with pea puree and bread appeared quickly. My companion, Choclette from Tin and Thyme is vegetarian, which the restaurant didn’t know ahead of our meal. She was quickly and efficiently served with a veggie amuse bouche though of tomato and olive tapenade.
I started with grilled lemon sole served with samphire, crab cake, cured sea trout and salsa while my vegetarian companion enjoyed a salad of Cornish brie pannacotta with thyme roasted figs, croutons, toasted pine nuts and herb oil. The portion size was great, but the starter size of lemon sole with a whole assortment of accompaniments resulted in fish which was just a little dry for my taste. My companion loved her Cornish brie pannacotta though.
We both enjoyed a palate cleanser of sweet potato veloute
My main was local turbot with wilted spinach, a fine tart of caramelised onions, asparagus and lobster truffle butter sauce. I love turbot and to be honest would have been content with just the first two elements of the dish. Or the asparagus and lobster with truffle butter sauce. Together it was just a little over complicated for my taste.
Choclette meanwhile was feasting on one of two vegetarian options, linguine, avocado, spinach, roast peppers, parmesan and pesto oil. No complaints here.
Dessert for both of us was a beautiful raspberry pavlova. Well, who would say no! Coffee and homemade chocolates to follow rounded off an excellent meal which is only £25 for hotel residents!
After a day of walking round the island we both retired happily to our rooms and I slept extremely well – perhaps all the sea air?
We were really very fortunate that over the three-day stay there was no rain and plenty of sunshine. But, the Star Castle Hotel is well set up to cater for rainy days, with a comfy lounge area equipped with all kinds of board games. If you happen to be hungry you can enjoy afternoon tea there, looking out over the sea.
The gardens are beautiful and the microclimate of the Scilly Isles means that even in early May they were bright with summer flowers
Best of all though, without any sense of being intrusive, the hotel has a real sense of familiarity. As guests arrived they were greeted by their first name, long lost friends returning for their annual summer stay. I got the impression the staff quickly get to know everyone’s preferences – from what room they’d like to stay in, to what kind of things they might want to do. And, people are genuinely there to help.
If you are thinking of travelling to the Scilly Isles, why not pin this post for later