The SL Guide To… Devon

With historic houses and pretty towns dotted in between miles of unspoilt coast and countryside – and dramatic, wild moors – it’s no wonder Devon has become a firm favourite with British holidaymakers. Lovers of the outdoors have countless activities to choose from, while those seeking a bit of R&R should head to the coastal towns or quiet country villages to the south. Whatever you’re after, here’s where to stay, eat and what to do…
KIRSTIN MCKEE/STOCKSY UNITED

VISIT

Dartmouth

Situated on the mouth of the River Dart, this charming town is surrounded by countryside villages and rolling hills. The town itself is lined with pastel-hued 17- and 18th-century buildings, while the river is a playground for water sports and boats. Greenway, the home of Agatha Christie, can be reached via the Dart Valley Trail from Kingswear, while Darmouth Castle is best seen from an open-top ferry. Dartmoor National Park is also a 30-minute drive away, as is Totnes, another lovely town. 

Tavistock

Often overlooked in favour of the larger towns, Tavistock is one of the prettiest spots in west Devon. Here, there are plenty of chic Airbnbs to choose from, most of which are hidden in between country lanes. A great choice for families, visitors should visit Morewellham Quay, Buckland Abbey, and the heritage fairground centre. Don’t miss Lydford Gorge, a National Trust site, home to a spectacular 30m waterfall which is teeming with wildlife. Tavistock also has excellent walking routes in and around the town – Whitchurch Down is particularly popular with dog walkers. 

Exmouth

Located at the mouth of the River Exe, Exmouth has a wild, rugged coastline that was made for sailing and kayaking. It’s also the gateway to the beautiful Jurassic Coast – a World Heritage Site that has some of the best views in the south. To get a feel for the town, which is lined with Georgian buildings, it’s best to discover streets by foot. Exmouth Beach is a lovely spot for fish and chips, while the Dawlish Cliffs, about two miles away, is where you’ll get a great Instagram snap.

LIAM GRANT/STOCKSY UNITED

Salcombe

Located in the South Ham district, Salcombe is one of the most popular Devonshire spots. Here, you’ll find some of the best hotels and restaurants in the county, but the main draw is the beautiful coastline where visitors can enjoy an array of water sports, like surfing, paddle boarding, sailing and kayaking. There are several beaches to visit – North Sands and East Portlemouth are two of the most beautiful, while Gara Rock is a hidden gem not to be missed. Be sure to visit Overbeck’s, an Edwardian country house set in three acres of lush, subtropical gardens, too.

Torquay

Nicknamed the English Riviera (thanks to its palm-lined seafront and red cliffs), Torquay has been a popular destination since Victorian times. Ideal for a traditional seaside holiday, visitors can relax on the beaches, walk the South West Coastal path and explore the historical buildings. A great choice if you’ve got kids in tow, there are several museums and parks, and even a zoo, to keep little ones entertained. For an early morning swim, head to Torre Abbey Sands beach, though if you’d rather relax on the sand, Anstey's Cove is the place to go.

Exeter

A small cathedral city that has plenty to offer, Exeter is the cultural hub of Devon. Easily reached by car from places like Torquay, Tavistock and Exmouth, the city has a great selection of shops, from high-street favourite to small boutiques. The quayside is one of the prettiest spots, where visitors can head on a kayak trip or spend a lazy afternoon at one of the riverside pubs. A trip to the Cathedral is a must, as is the local Farmer’s Market which takes place every Thursday afternoon. With plenty of restaurants, pubs and bars to choose from, visitors are spoilt for choice – wherever you go, be sure to sample West Country cider or local seafood.

STAY

Glebe House, Colyton

Glebe House is a new guesthouse, restaurant and smallholding in Colyton, a 40-minute drive from Exeter. Set on a beautiful 15-acre estate, the house has five bedrooms with dreamy interiors and plush furnishings. The Old Kitchen Room, with pretty pink pastels and freestanding bath looks particularly inviting. The property has a tennis court, swimming pool and casual dining restaurant that champions local, Devonshire produce. With far-reaching views over the rolling Coly Valley, and just a short drive from the Jurassic Coast, it’s ideal for a romantic getaway. 

Visit GlebeHouseDevon.co.uk

Gara Rock, Salcombe

Also located on the South West Coast Path, Gara Rock is one of the most stylish boutique hotels in Devon. Perched high on a cliff, the hotel has beautiful views that extend for miles. There are several rooms to choose from, including loft suites and penthouse apartments, all of which are stylishly decorated with nautical influences. The hotel also has a small spa and an indoor swimming pool where guests can relax after exploring the surrounding area. 

Visit GaraRock.com

Dart Marina, Dartmouth

Overlooking the River Dart, this boutique hotel is one of the most stylish in this guide. Inside, expect bright and airy interiors and large windows on each floor that look out onto the harbour. Bedrooms are furnished with handmade beds and have en-suites with freestanding baths or drench showers, while some have balconies with panoramic views of the river. Whether you’re after fine dining or a casual spot to enjoy a slice of cake, Dart Marina has an excellent seafood restaurant which also serves traditional Devonshire cream teas at weekends. The hotel also has a pop-up on the river where guests can enjoy a bottle of rosé or morning coffee.

Visit DartMarina.com

The Pig At Combe, Honiton

Only eight miles from the coast in the Devonshire hills, The Pig at Combe is part of a 3,500-acre estate. Guests can choose from rooms in the main house, the stable yard or a cottage on the grounds, each of which has four-poster beds and free-standing baths. In terms of food, the Kitchen Garden is all about sustainable fish and locally sourced meat and veg, while the rustic Folly is ideal for a casual meal. Be sure to book a treatment at The Potting Shed spa which is stocked with luxury Bamford products.

Visit ThePigHotel.com

Southernay House, Exeter 

When in Exeter, be sure to book a room at the boutique Southernay House hotel. Just a two-minute walk from the city centre and the cathedral, the hotel is set in a beautiful Grade-II listed Georgian townhouse. Inside, expect Farrow & Ball colours, plush furniture and decorative accents, as well as original fireplaces, sash windows and shutters. There are 11 rooms to choose from, plus a newly renovated suite on the lower ground floor with a spacious kitchen, bathroom and living area. Enjoy freshly made pastries for breakfast, snack on an open sandwich at the bar, and make a reservation at the fine dining restaurant for supper.

Visit SouthernhayHouse.com

Lympstone Manor, Exmouth

If you want to go all out, head to Lympstone Manor in Exmouth. The five-star hotel, which is only a stone’s throw away from The Exe Estuary and the Jurassic Coast, has a range of stunning bedrooms and suites to choose from – for a romantic staycation, choose a cosy shepherd hut or a luxury suite which comes with a private terrace and an outdoor firepit. The Michelin-starred restaurant is headed up by Michael Caine, with several menus to choose from featuring dishes like lobster ravioli and salted cod with samphire. Lympstone also has an on-site vineyard in the nearby hills which is set to produce wine by 2023. 

Visit LympstoneManor.co.uk

Hotel Endsleigh, Tavistock

The rolling hills of Dartmoor are home to the beautiful Hotel Endsleigh. Set in 100 acres of forest and fairy tale gardens, this Grade I-listed boutique hotel is a gem. Hang out in front of the open fires in its cosy drawing rooms, take afternoon tea in the impressive library, and enjoy a seasonal dinner in the wood-panelled restaurant. The hotel has six suites and 13 rooms with hand-painted wallpapers, antique furniture, roll-top baths and stunning views. A stay here feels like a real treat, so bookmark it for a special occasion.

Visit HotelEndsleigh.com

South Sands Hotel, Salcombe 

When in Salcombe, staying at South Sands is always a good idea. This New England-style hotel is set right on the Salcombe estuary with views of the water and beyond. All 22 rooms have a distinctive nautical feel with light wood furnishings, white linens and notes of blue throughout, while the five beach suites have spacious rooms and excellent self-catering facilities. Here, the food is all about simple dining with dishes that can be served up quickly so you can get back to the beach – the breakfast is a particular highlight where guests can choose from a continental buffet, pastries, fruits and little parcels of smoked salmon. 

Visit SouthSands.com

EAT

Harry’s, Exeter

This family-run restaurant is renowned for its hearty plates of bistro food made with local ingredients. Set in a 19th-century gothic building, the restaurant has an extensive menu for brunch, lunch and dinner, with dishes like lobster with garlic butter, fish finger sandwiches and truffle risotto. Here, the puddings are the star of the show – their chocolate brownie sundae is a favourite with visitors and locals alike.

Visit HarrysRestaurants.co.uk

The Elephant Restaurant, Torquay

If you’re after a five-star meal in a beautiful setting, book a table at The Elephant Restaurant overlooking Torquay Harbour. Headed up by award-wining chef Simon Hulstone, the restaurant has one Michelin star, but the dining experience remains laidback and causal. The menu changes frequently to reflect seasonal produce – diners always have something delicious to choose from, like plaice with saffron aioli, scallops and chicken wings, and caramelised apple tart. 

 

Visit ElephantRestaurant.co.uk

The Cornish Arms, Tavistock

The Cornish Arms makes one of the best Sunday roasts in Tavistock. Chicken or beef is served alongside individual plates of cauliflower cheese, red cabbage, roast potatoes and seasonal veg, while generous portions of desserts – like sticky toffee pudding, apple and pear soufflé, and dark chocolate delice – are not to be missed. Popular with families, the restaurant has a buzzing atmosphere, particularly in the beer garden which overlooks a babbling brook. 

Visit TheCornishArmsTavistock.co.uk

The Old Firehouse, Exeter

For a simple yet delicious meal, head to The Old Firehouse which is tucked away just off the high street on New North Road. The pub has an extensive list of craft beer, cider and wine (the white sangria is particularly tasty), alongside crowd-pleasing classics like burgers, beer battered fish and chips, and sausages and mash. Diners flock to the pub in the evenings to enjoy one of their signature pizzas which are served in rustic tins.

Visit OldFirehouseExeter.co.uk

Two Bridges, Dartmoor 

This award-winning hotel is the place to go for a traditional Devonshire afternoon tea. Served in one of the hotel’s comfy lounges or on the terrace during the summer months, diners can tuck into warm scones, dainty sandwiches, and homemade cakes with a pot of tea or glass of prosecco. It’s also worth vising for lunch or dinner where you can expect tasty dishes made with local farmer’s produce.

Visit TwoBridges.co.uk

Riverford Field Kitchen, Buckfastleigh 

Riverford Field Kitchen is a lovely spot in the small town of Buckfastleigh on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. Once you’ve been for a walk on the moors, head to the organic restaurant for seasonal ‘vegcentric’ food. Expect dishes like grilled lamb with aubergine and peppers, hasselback potatoes with cavolo nero, and beef tomatoes on sourdough toast. Riverford have just opened a new garden terrace with plenty of seating – ideal for long family lunches in the sunshine.

Crab Shed, Salcombe 

This quayside restaurant has a wonderfully relaxed feel – think tasty seafood dishes with a glass of rosé overlooking Salcombe harbour. All the seafood is caught by local fishermen and hand-picked by the team on the quay. The menu includes scallops with garlic and herb butter, crispy salt and pepper squid, and beer batter haddock and chips. The hand-picked crab is a real treat, so be sure to order a crab side or main to your order.

Visit CrabShed.com

The Winking Prawn, Salcombe

This family-run beach café is the ideal spot for a quick bite to eat after relaxing on North Sands beach. With a shabby chic décor and a fresh, simple menu, diners can enjoy buckets of prawns and platters of shellfish, washed down with craft beer or wine. If you’re stopping by for a quick snack, a pot of popcorn shrimp with sweet chilli sauce or a scoop of Salcombe Dairy ice-cream is a great choice.

Visit WinkingPrawnGroup.co.uk

THINGS TO DO

EMILIA CZARTNORA/PEXELS
Dartmoor

Dartmoor National Park

Located in the south of Devon, Dartmoor National Park is a beautiful yet mysterious place. As the inspiration for many fictional stories, there are several legends to learn about during a trip. The wild moorland is a great place to explore year-round, but the summer months are the best time to make the most of outdoor pursuits, including wildlife spotting, hiking and cycling. Visitors can take horse riding lessons across the moors and canoe on the River Dart between October and March. 

Visit Dartmoor.gov.uk

Hartland Quay

Located along the north coastline of Devon, Hartland Quay is home to stunning cliffs with huge rocks and pools that can be scrambled over during low tide. With several picturesque vantage points, head here for sunset or sunrise to see the waves crash against the rocks. Little ones can search for wildlife in the rockpools, while adults can venture out for a swim.

 

Visit HartlandPeninsula.co.uk

Salcombe Harbour Hotel & Spa

For a special treat, book a spa day at this beautiful hotel, located in the picturesque Salcombe estuary. With a heated pool, sauna, steam room, hydrotherapy pool, and state-of-the-art fitness suite, you can easily spend a whole day here. The team use luxury ESPA products in their treatments, from collagen facials and hot stone massages to mud wraps and full-body exfoliations.

Visit HarbourHotels.co.uk

Exeter Cathedral

This beautiful gothic cathedral dates back to the 12th century. Built in honey-coloured stone, it’s one of the city’s most impressive landmarks where visitors can take a guided tour around the building or relax on the green outside. Choral evensong services are held daily, while the surrounding cobbled streets hold the annual German Christmas market – a must if you’re visiting in December. 

Visit Exeter-Cathedral.org.uk

Ottery St Mary

This small town, located along the River Otter, can be reached in a 30-minute drive from Exeter. A lovely afternoon can be spent walking along the river, visiting boutiques on the high street, and sampling local beer at one of the many pubs. On bonfire night, the town hosts its annual tar barrel event where flaming barrels are carried through the town in a spectacular display.

LIAM GRANT/STOCKSY UNITED

Mothecombe Beach

One of the quieter beaches in south Devon, Mothecombe is a sandy enclosed bay. Popular with windsurfing and bodyboarding enthusiasts, it’s an ideal spot for water sports.

Buckland Abbey

This ancient abbey in the Tavy Valley was built over 700 years ago. Today, it’s a National Trust site (part museum, part house) where visitors can walk through the gardens, take a guided tour through the abbey and stop for refreshments at the on-site café. 

 

Visit NationalTrust.org.uk

Tamar Valley

Straddling the border between Cornwall and Devon, Tamar Valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Easily reached by a 20-minute drive from Tavistock, the area is rich in history and is an important haven for wildlife. Visitors can explore the valley by cruise, canoe or kayak.

 

VisitCornwall.com

Exmoor National Park

A beautiful landscape of wild moorland, woodland, and rivers, there’s plenty to see and do at Exmoor National Park. A family day out can be spent scouring the rockpools for wildlife, going on a bird-watching walk, riding ponies, and enjoying a picnic on the moors. There are lots of historical sites and buildings to see, too, including Dunster Castle, Cleeve Abbey and Tarr Steps (Exmoor’s most famous landmark).

 

Visit Exmoor-NationalPark.gov.uk

 

*DISCLAIMER: Travel restrictions are changing daily, so please check the latest government advice before you book anything. Visit Gov.uk for more information.

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