Destination Dartmouth (and beyond)
Whether you’re Roman Abramavich rolling in on your mega-super-yacht, or Mary Berry twerking after a night on the Salcombe Gin* (*only one of these is true. Probably), this part of Devon manages to charm everyone, because it ticks every goddam box. Beautiful beaches, top-notch food, pretty idyllic coves ripe for discovery on family walks. Whether you’re a local, or a visitor, coming for a weekend or the entire summer, count yourself very lucky. You’re in for a treat.
Stay at Cliff House
I know, I know, it’s so tempting to base yourself in Dartmouth, isn’t it? Great shops, civilisation and award-winning restaurants all on your doorstep, I don’t blame you. But consider staying somewhere nearby and then you won’t miss the bigger – panoramic – picture that is the gorgeous stretch of the South Hams coastline.
I recently checked out Cliff House, perched high on a cliff in Torcross, a village I’d never visited and yet is only twenty minutes’ drive from Dartmouth (it’s actually only a hop and a skip along the coast, but you know what our roads are like). You’ll be utterly smitten by the views, before you’ve even stepped through the front door.
To your left is Slapton Beach, to your right is Cove beach and straight ahead and beyond is the whole of Start Bay. Remember the humpback whale who recently popped by for a mini-break? Yep, grab the binoculars and you might just spot him!
The house is perfect for families – and all of the paraphernalia that inevitably comes in the car and on the roof rack; relaxed with a clean, beachy feel; not the kind of stiffly decorated place where you’ll find it hard to feel comfortable (dogs are welcome, too) and full of rooms and cosy spots downstairs to retreat to with a glass of wine. Upstairs, there are four bedrooms, sleeping up to eight and, that bathroom in the master bedroom can be “your secret spot” that the kids don’t have to know about, complete with handy shelf for wine glass. There are views literally from every point in the house.
Open fireplaces and cosy beamed rooms mean you’re set for all seasons, but it’s easy to escape for some fresh air when the weather behaves.
On your doorstep
Steps from the house lead straight down to the beach and the coastal path is on your doorstep (well, not literally, because that would be awkward). Slapton beach is a lovely stretch of sand but it has a poignant history, as this was the site used by allied forces in 1943 to rehearse the D-Day Landings. The ill-fated exercise resulted in the death of 749 American servicemen and you’ll see a stone monument to commemorate the event, as well as a Sherman Tank at Torcross.
Torcross itself has more than a post office and newsagents, with emergency wine. Just behind the beach, you’ll see Slapton Ley, a nature reserve based around a freshwater lake, which is great for taking the kids to spot wildlife amidst the flora and fauna.
The Boathouse is a fab spot between the sea and the ley for fish and chips and is reassuringly family-friendly. You can eat in, or take-away if you want to keep it alfresco. The gorgeous white-washed thatched cottage with blue shutters on the beachfront is the Seabreeze Cafe, which I’m told is an excellent place for breakfasts and does a mean cream tea. And the Start Bay Inn is a charming historic 14th century pub, which majors on locally sourced food and drink.
Within walking distance
If you want to go out and explore on foot, pack up a picnic and take to the coastal path for some cracking walks and amazing views. For an easy 30-minute stroll, check out Limpet Rocks and head towards the village of Beesands, where you’ll find a bit of old-school Devon, with a mile-long shingle beach, which has been awarded a Blue Flag, for its crystal clear waters. If, like me, you need the carrot dangle of a pub at the other end, then check out the Cricket Inn, a pub with gorgeous views known locally for its outstanding seafood.
But for something a little different, you have to try Britannia @ The Beach, known locally as The Shack; it’s a combination of fishmongers, village stores and cafe all under one crazy roof, right on the beach. The owners, a fishing family, have their own boat from which they fish and bring back the day’s catch and the cafe has won awards for its grub.
A little further along from Beesands is Hallsands, a stretch of beach that was once a village that was lost to the sea, where today you’ll find eerie reminders of its past.
For a longer, more adventurous walk, you can go all the way to Start Point Lighthouse, on the western side of Start Bay, which you’ll see flickering on and off from Cliff House. This is the southernmost tip of Devon and overlooks the busiest shipping lanes in the world. If you’ve a bit of a photography buff or a keen wildlife-spotter in the family, this’ll keep them happy. Top tip? Keep an eye out for seals!
Well, you’re spoilt for choice in this part of the world, really. If wine and cheese get you all excited (me too, wanna hang out?), then head to Sharpham Vineyard on the banks of the River Dart for a self-guided ‘trek and taste’, or a full-blown ‘vine to wine’ tour.
Closer to base, a minute or two’s drive from Cliff House is Stokeley Farm Shop, which is everything you want from a farm shop; butchers, deli, cafe, gifts and plant centre all in one easy-to-mooch-around space.
For a great Sunday lunch, grab a table at The Tower Inn, tucked away inland at the achingly pretty village of Slapton. Head chef Dominique Prandi has worked with Michelin starred chef Jean Christophe Novelli during his twenty-year career, so you’re in very safe hands.
And for those evenings when both going out and cooking at home feel like too much hard work (holidays can be knackering, too), Polly and Gemma, The Galley Girls come highly recommended by the owners of Cliff House. They specialise in catering for holiday rentals in South Devon, using locally sourced produce wherever possible.
Then, of course, there’s Dartmouth, renowned for its food offering. Pop into indie food shop, The Deli at Dartmouth, or pick up a premium bottle of plonk at Dartmouth Wine Company. And do not miss coffee and lunch at Cafe Alf Resco, a local institution. The cafe is a fabulous, family-friendly blend of laidback and quirky and does great food and coffee.
For the shoppers
While you’re in Dartmouth, you can easily lose a few hours and a few ££’s off the bank balance. Distinctly Living, is a homewares shop worth visiting and Fine Street is the place to go and browse the galleries. Be sure to pop into the gallery of Paul Barclay Oxford Street, famous for his nautical designs, not only via traditional artwork, but in yachtwear and interiors pieces too.
The oh-so-easy to mooch around estuary town of Kingsbridge is just twenty minutes away. It’s also an oh-so-easy place to flex the plastic. Check out gorgeous new store Busby and Fox, the third and latest outlet to come from the fashion and florist combo. Owner Emma Vowles is a florist at heart and her gorgeous ‘gathered-from-the-garden’ style arrangements are found in store. For men’s and women’s clothes, you’ll find a curation of Bibi and Mac’s best and most beautiful pieces and, further up the hill discover Stark, a fab mid-century and vintage shop for bespoke interior pieces.
Further afield, you’ll need a good day to do the shops and boutiques of neighbouring Totnes and Dartington. For the chest-beating Mr Muddy’s out there, check out Big Fire at Dartington for something a bit different. But be warned, he may return with a wood-fired hot tub, or a Kadai fire pit demanding that you catch the next bus back.
And if interiors are your thing, then the pretty fishing town of Brixham is creeping up the list of must-see places to go and splurge some cash. Doris in Brixham specialises in unique driftwood pieces for the home, but if you’re after something with a more designer vintagey feel, then Tooth & Claw will be right up your street, with a curated collection featuring fab designers and one-offs. It’s handily right next door to one of the best cafe’s in Devon, too, the Curious Kitchen.
If you time it right, you might be lucky enough to catch a bit of good old-fashioned Devon culture. The Dart Music Festival in Dartmouth is in its 2oth year and takes place every May, giving a clever boost to the short and sweet tourist season. This year, over 100 acts are playing at venues around the town and the entertainment spills onto the street into the open air. It’s a date on the cultural calendar not to miss.
Whetted your appetite? A week staying at Cliff House, Torcross, sleeping up to 8, plus four-legged friends costs from £1000 – £2700. Visit luxuryholidaysindevon.co.uk or check out Muddy Devon’s Little Black Book for more details.