Visit Gittisham in Devon for a short break and you will find thatched villages, great walking, city shopping nearby and antique shops galore - what more do you want?
Gittisham is the “ideal English village" according to HRH Prince Charles and its country manor, Combe House Hotel, the ideal romantic country retreat say I.
What to do around Gittisham
Gittisham is no stranger to film crews with its Norman church and high street stream - one of its most famous film sets was for a Rosamund Pilcher film. Low-thatched cottages with tiny windows bordering on the village stream and the church lynch gate make a wonderful picture postcard setting and camera snapping scene.
Gittisham village is only five minutes from the market town of Honiton and 15 minutes from the county town of Exeter. Honiton is famous for its antique and Bric-a-Brac Trail, with 38 shops to visit and Lace Museum, Allhallows Museum, High Street, Honiton Tel: 01404 44966 www.honitonmuseum.co.uk
It is also home to Honiton pottery which is famous for its pre-war Collard period collection dating back to the 17th century. If you fancy having a go at throwing your own pot or a pot throwing party visit www.honitonpottery.co.uk
Visit the Jurassic Coast
England's first natural World Heritage Coast, part of The Jurassic coast lies nearby, visit the town of Beer or the larger Lyme Regis just over the border into Dorset. While away an hour or two searching for fossil and dinosaur bones or just enjoying the delightful rocky bays with towering limestone cliffs. Beer is a small cliff-walled bay and pretty town while Orcombe Point near Exmouth boasts the oldest rocks in the Heritage site. For kids of all ages an amble across the stony beach treasure hunting is a must and then an obligatory (for me) cream tea.
Best Devonshire cream teas
While visiting Devon it's impossible not to sample a cream tea or two, lashings of clotted cream with freshly baked scones and home-made jam. Don't forget to buy a pot or two of that delicious clotted cream that Devon does so well before leaving.
And the best cream tea? Well they were all so good, maybe I need to go and sample some more, perhaps a Devon cream tea guide is need of research.
Exeter the county town or should I say city is just 20 minutes away. Visit the Gothic Cathedral or discover the unique shops down Exeter's cobbled alleyways. Find out when it's market time as the cathedral grounds hold a colourful yearly craft market.
Exeter has some great hotels if city life is more your style, wherever you stay in Devon you're never far away from the coast and many delightful typically English bays. Try the modern Georgian-style Southgate Hotel for a city centre location.
Where to stay
We (hubby and me) stayed at Combe House Hotel which has "a most pleasant aspect" as Mr Bingley from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice would have said and the sight of Bingley and Darcy cantering across the lawns in front of the hotel on our arrival wouldn't have been a surprise.
The country lane into Gittisham is a delight, huge gnarled ancient trees create a tunnel along the winding road and a left turn through the entry gate to the park heightens the excitement. Rabbits bound through the grass as the path snakes around to give a peak of the superbly sited Grade 1, 15-bedroom Elizabethan manor, which has me thinking of the Bennet girls yet again.
Combe became England's first country hotel over forty years ago and huddles in the 3,500 acre estate, a wisp of smoke from the recently lit fire in the Great Hall wafts upwards, curling against the backdrop of ancient trees and Arab stallions gallop around the grounds - heaven.
The heavy wooden door invites you into the Great Hall where, in its original fireplace, an enormous fire licks and curls around huge logs from the estate.
Our visit was in early September, cooling mornings and evenings with a dampness in the air and dew on the lawn that made a wander around the hedge-lined lanes a must. An early stroll before dinner down the approach road and into the time-lapse prettiness of Gittisham village was delightful. Low thatched cottages, narrow lanes and a stream running along the roadside, just my thing, HRH was right, not that I’d want to live there but an essence of romanticism lingers.
A morning meander in 10 acres of gardens and arboretum is a joy and if you're lucky, like me, someone will be around and let you see the walled kitchen garden and busy beehives, oh for a long dress and parasol, tea and croquet. But then all that is available here, I just didn't have a long dress.
Hotels around the area
There are several great hotels around the area, for a more touristy spot try the 4-star The Victoria Hotel in Sidmouth. It's a huge old-fashioned looking hotel but thoroughly modern and comfortably enjoyable whether putting on the lawn, in the indoor pool or partaking of tea and scones while sea-gazing through the massive windows overlook the bay. It went down well with me, a bit of fussiness is ok once in a while, but most importantly (and rarely) my grandmother approved. Watch the hustle and bustle below and let your mind wander back in time to its days as a Victorian summer residence.
For a more intimate hotel and country location try The Deer Park Country Hotel, this is for nature lovers to discover down narrow hedge-lined lanes. Being near Buckerell it's a great base for exploring this great bit of the rocky South Devon coast and being on the outskirts of Honiton, ideal for a must visit to it, my favourite antique-shop town.
Not to be missed
If you're a craft or traditional lover then don't miss the quaint thatched workshop and shop forge at Branscombe and see the wrought iron work grow before your eyes.