I was sceptical about taking a holiday on the English Riviera until I discovered good food and secluded coves in Devon
If someone had said to me a year ago that the credit crunch would get so bad that I’d be taking my holiday on the “English Riviera”, I would have laughed them out of town. No really, I actually thought the name was a bit of British banter, until I saw it on the road into Torquay embedded on a grassy knoll in two foot high letters made out of red and white carnations. Well, to be fair, there are some similarities – like, hmm, a coastline.
Sarcasm aside, it should be said that the French Riviera isn’t all 'crystal clear waters' and 'golden sands'. In fact, many beaches are not sandy at all and if you don’t venture farther than the public beaches of the more popular tourist resorts, you could just as well be in Torquay, with an inch of space for your towel, surrounded by burnt British boobs and bums. But, as in France, travel a little further a field, (the masses are lazy, you don’t have to venture far) and you will find beautiful beaches, both cleaner and quieter. And the best part is, they will cost you next to nothing to explore.
So, after a token look at some tacky merchandise and a walk along the pier, we made our way to The Elephant (3 & 4 Beacon Terrace, Torquay, TQ1 2BH, 01803 200 044, www.elephantrestaurant.co.uk). This is by all accounts an outstanding, if somewhat unexpected, find. For the full works, head upstairs to The Room, where the head chef shows off his award-winning skills. If you are on a budget, the brasserie downstairs provides fine bistro cuisine at very reasonable prices. A starter of scallops with coriander pesto and peanuts was a well thought through balance of flavours and the venison which followed was cooked to perfection. For this standard, I would gladly have parted with more than the £16.50 it cost for the two courses.
Fed and watered, we moved on to explore some more fulfilling destinations. After a quick consultation with the satellite images on the boyfriend’s new toy, we were soon hurtling down country lanes at break neck speed. Me, white knuckled hands tightly gripping my seat, screaming “slow down, do you want to spend the whole holiday in A&E?”
And so, it was that with my stomach in mouth, we came to a sudden stop in front of Coleton Fishacre.
“I don’t want to go fishing”
“We’re not, honey, the iPhone says…”
“The iPhone, the iPhone, enough about the iPhone”
“As I was saying, my iPhone, which helped you find your restaurant, let's not forget, says there are some nice walks near here. I thought you might appreciate that, since you like walking?”
“Yes, very nice idea”, I conceded.
Following the signs towards Scubbacombe Head we were confronted with the quintessentially English imagery of cows grazing in green pastures, set against a novel backdrop of white cliffs, plunging down dangerously towards pebbled coves. And amazingly, on what was a lovely summer’s day, by English standards, we had it all to ourselves.
Next stop, Kingswear and with no more driving planned in the foreseeable future, we headed straight for the pub. There are only a few to choose from in Kingswear and the Ship Inn (Higher Street, Kingswear, TQ6 0AG, 01803 752 348, http://www.theshipinnkingswear.co.uk/index.htm), with its terrace looking out over the river to the town of Dartmouth on the other side, was an easy winner.
Kingswear is a great base from which to explore the area. There are great walks and deserted beaches in all directions. If you are after a good meal and a little more excitement, Dartmouth is just a two minute ferry ride away, but you can escape back to the peace and quiet at the end of the day. That said, the options for accommodation are more limited, which means they can be pricey. Nonsuch House b&b offers good rates in the low season and is well positioned. In the summer, the prices go up a bit, but it is still reasonable if you are splitting the bill.
Dartmouth is a beautiful town, its long history as an important seaport is still evident in relics such as the Dartmouth Castle, still proudly guarding the mouth of the River Dart. It is an easy and pleasant stroll from the town and I can highly recommend their cliff-top café (Dartmouth Castle Café & Snack Bar – Castle Rd, Dartmouth, TQ6 0JN, 01803 833897) as a great location for a Devonshire cream tea. For a proper feed, the locals recommend the Dartmouth Apprentice (St. Barnabas Church, Newcomen Rd, Dartmouth, TQ6 9BN, 01803 837 820, www.dartmouthapprentice.com), a Jamie Oliver-esque enterprise offering disadvantaged youth a chance at long-term employment. Or if you’re feeling flush, the New Angel (2 South Embankment, Dartmouth, TQ6 9BH, 01803 839425 http://www.thenewangel.co.uk/) on the waterfront has rave reviews.
If you decide to stay on this side of the river, there are plenty of choices. If you are on a budget, try The Cherub’s Nest (15 Higher St, Dartmouth, TQ6 9RB). The rooms have all the old English charm of the adjoining pub, the Cherub’s Inn, which dates back to the 14th century, with clean and cosy rooms close to the centre. If you have bit extra to spend, The Royal Castle (11 The Quay, Dartmouth, TQ6 9PS) offers rooms with a view right on the Quay. The food in the pub downstairs is not bad either.
So it is with my hat in my hand that I stand corrected; the “English Riviera” is the way forward if you want a break in England this summer, and, dare I suggest it, for many summers to come.