With miles of sandy coastline, picturesque towns, caravan parks and gloriously green countryside, South Devon is surely the ultimate staycation destination? During a recent visit there I came to realise that there’s so much to see and do in this relatively small slice of the English countryside. I have therefore created a guide to top experiences in South Devon, so you can make the most out of your holiday there.
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I am certainly no stranger to a staycation, as a child I was taken on old-fashioned seaside holidays around the UK as my parents love a ‘proper British holiday’. I grew up holidaying in all manner of seaside resorts and picture perfect little villages. I remember one year my parents announced we were going to ‘The English Riviera’, which, when you seven years old, conjures up all sorts of posh connotations. Were there castles? Did the Queen vacation there? What exactly is a Riveria?
As I got older and started going on my own trips, I spent less and less time exploring Britain, seaside towns were relegated to a distant memory and I regarded staycations as something that ‘pensioners on coach holidays’ did. Travel blogging has thankfully reconnected me to my roots, as I am now asked to go on lots of press trips and review trips to many of the wonderful places in the UK, places I had long forgotten and places that I had frankly written off.
Rediscovering Devon with my husband Luke was a really wonderous experience full of cream teas, foodie finds, hot tubbing, wildlife spotting and pub going. I would definitely recommend spending some time on the sunny South Devon coast.
Stay in a Cofton Holidays Cottage
Staycations don’t have to mean living on top of each other in a tiny caravan! We stayed in Cofton’s Estuary View Hot Tub Cottage, with Cofton Holidays for 5 blissful days of countryside living in Dawlish. Our cottage was located within the picturesque Eastdon Estate and had lovely views of the surrounding farmland. We were about 2 miles away from the main holiday park and there were country walks and cycle paths nearby, so we could easily explore the area.
Set amongst pretty Devon farmland, with its own private hot tub, our cottage was seriously luxurious. In our cottage, there were 2 lovely bedrooms, a bathroom, fully-fitted kitchen with an open plan lounge and diner to unwind in. “This is nicer than our house” enthused my husband as we explored the spacious cottage.
The entire living space has a design that I can only describe as ‘Pinterest goals’, with Egyptian cotton bed linen, dressing gowns, all manner of upscale kitchenware as well as a private patio area with table and chairs next to the private hot tub overlooking gorgeous countryside. There is even a bird table outside, complete with adorable and curious wildlife to watch.
Obviously, the main attraction for us was the hot tub, we would frankly live in a hot tub if we thought we could get away with it. There is nothing more lovely than enjoying an afternoon wine in a relaxing, bubbling hot tub, after all, it’s Ireland somewhere right?
Our cottage stay also included complimentary passes to the heated indoor pool, gym, steam room and sauna on the main holiday park. There is also a cafe, restaurants, gaming areas as well as coarse fishing and fitness classes on site. It definitely reminds me of the traditional family holiday parks I used to visit as a child, so my time there was very much a giant nostalgia fest.
There are lots of accommodation options to choose from on this family run park, ranging from cottages to caravans to touring and camping sites. I would definitely recommend a stay here if you are looking for a classic British holiday experience, with a touch of luxury.
Paddleboard to the pub
Arrive at the pub in style on a giant paddle board and take in those countryside views as you glide down the Exeter canal. Exe Adventures took us for a paddle to the Double Locks Pub for a cheeky little Devonshire cider. “Do you have a change of clothes?” nervously asked our guide Sam, surveying my jeans and cashmere scarf. “No, but don’t worry, I’m not planning on falling in” came my overconfident, breezy reply, to disguise the fact I am far too disorganised to pack towels and changes of clothes.
Luckily, I have done a fair bit of paddle boarding, so I managed to stay upright during our paddle to the pub and back. Darling husband has only been once before so he took a fair amount of coaxing to get him to stand up, as well as the promise of a Guinness when we reached the pub.
The Double Locks is a lovely little waterside pub, populated by weathered Devonshire men with dogs by the fire, exactly how I imagine a Devonshire pub to be. We had a swift pint before embarking on our gentle paddle back. We had a marvellous afternoon with Exe Adventures and we are still very smug about staying dry.
Discover fabulous Foodie places
There is a real mix of foodie places in South Devon, choose from Michelin-starred venues, gastropubs and quirky cafes. We had utterly marvellous fish and chips and clam chowder at Cafe Ode in Ness Cove. This friendly and sustainably minded cafe has a constantly changing menu, with dishes served up in nifty bio packaging.
The Fish was extremely flaky with a perfect, crispy batter. There is surely nothing worse than a soggy fish and chips to ruin a lunchtime outing? Their clam chowder was also full of delicious sea flavours, I often find that clam chowder either too salty or too bland, but the Cafe Ode Chowder was well seasoned.
One of the best features of Cafe Ode is the gorgeous sea view that can be admired from its many seating areas. We chose to warm ourselves by the open fire and gaze out to sea from the large windows. It’s also the little touches that make Cafe Ode a special place to visit, from the chalkboard menus, commitment to sustainability, mini microbrewery, to the dress up box for kids to play with. It’s a unique spot by the sea and well worth visiting foodie fans.
South Devon also has a plethora of cosy pubs to snuggle up in and hearty dishes to try. We had delicious homemade steak and ale pie and slow roasted belly pork in the atmospheric Anchor Inn in Cockwood, Dawlish. There are all the elements of a proper, seaside pub here with low wooden beams, seaside paraphernalia, roaring fire and a selection of fine ales.
Portion sizes here are huge, you certainly won’t go away feeling hungry. Despite declaring myself ‘absolutely full’, the rather charming waiter upsold me on Affogato as dessert. Italian desserts are my weakness and I was powerless to say no. I’m glad I decided to order though, with crunch biscotti, smooth espresso as well as a cheeky shot of Kahlúa, it was the perfect way to round off the evening.
Thre are also plenty of charming cafes across South Devon, we had coffee and delicious carrot cake at the Strand Cafe in Dawlish. We managed to bag the window seat so we could have a morning of coffee drinking and people watching in this quaint little town. There are also many little local coffee shops near the South West Coast path, so you can have a jaunty seaside walk with a brew and a takeaway flapjack. We had a rather lovely coffee from the Exe Trail Cycle Hire shop, which as you can guess, does bike hire and brews, should you fancy getting on two wheels in Dawlish Warren.
This small seaside town has had a spotlight shone on it recently with the release of the Colin Firth’s new film ‘The Mercy’. The film is the true story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst and his brave, solo attempt to circumnavigate the globe right from Teignmouth. The film has gorgeous, sweeping shots of the cliffs, the Grand Pier and the frothing waves.
It’s easy to write off Teignmouth as just another faded seaside town, with its best days long behind it, but if you actually take the time to properly explore, there are some real gems here. The architecture here includes highly Instagrammable, historic Georgian buildings, dotted with pretty palm trees. You can also walk along the gorgeous coastline with a bag of chips and listen to the sound of the ocean as a wonderful way to pass a few hours.
There is a mix of retro fun as well as modern attractions in Teignmouth. You can stroll along the historic Grand Pier and drop some coins into the arcade games, or visit the Heritage centre, or have an artsy afternoon at the Lenkiewicz Art Gallery. There are also many coffee shops, restaurants and sea view pubs to enjoy a cheeky glass of wine from.
We visited the snazzy looking Pavillion Theatre, to watch ‘The Mercy’, on its opening day and the showing was absolutely packed. There’s something to be said about going to watch a movie, right where it was filmed. Whilst parts of Teignmouth can appear to be a bit jaded and perhaps in need of some love, this quintessentially English seaside town seems to be on the up and hopefully the attention that ‘The Mercy’ gives Teignmouth will result in more visitors coming to explore this little seaside haven.
Catch the Ferry from Teignmouth to Sheldon
If you are in the Teignmouth area I would recommend catching the ferry to the pretty village of Shaldon. There is a daily passenger ferry [and by ferry, they mean adorable fishing boat, operated by a weathered Devonshire sailor], that runs between the two towns. Whilst the skies were unseasonable blue for February, the sea was choppy and the wind was whipping around our faces as we made the short crossing, it certainly was a bracing day to be at sea.
My favourite part of the experience was the negotiation of the return journey, “What time do you go back to Teignmouth?’ Luke innocently enquired. This was met with a look of total bafflement, “When the sign is out of course” said the captain, gesturing to a sandwich board sign, “If the sign is out, then the boat is running.” Obviously, we were unfamiliar with the Devonshire method of ferry scheduling.
Travel through Smuggler’s Tunnel
Your inner child demands that you visit Smuggler’s Tunnel, a historic passageway in Sheldon that leads you to the hidden Ness Cove, a unique beach only accessible by foot. Walk through a long, bricked tunnel that runs through the headland and comes out at the pretty sheltered cove.
There are several theories about how the tunnel came to be, with many locals having their own particular take on what the tunnel was used for. It’s a well-lit tunnel and it only takes a few minutes to walk through. The real challenge is trying to stop one’s husbands from shouting a series of rude words in the tunnel ‘to hear them echo’. Thank god he is cute.
It’s definitely worth making your way over to Shaldon to traverse the tunnel and admire Ness Cove, it’s lovely for a little afternoon walk and is incredibly photogenic.
Walk the Dawlish coast path
The South West Coast path runs along a seawall and offers spectacular views as you potter along. Part of this walk goes underneath the railway and is impassable at high tide, unless you fancy getting your feet wet, so be sure to check the tide times before you set off.
We started in Dawlish Warren and followed the path all the way to the town of Dawlish. We had perfect winter weather that day, with bright blue skies but with a frosty chill in the air. The walk is also next to the railway line, so every few minutes a train will rush by, prompting Luke to excitedly shout “Choo-choo” at every train. This got rather trying after the 15th train, so I had to distract him with discussions of what pub we would visit in Dawlish.
You can go all the way to Teignmouth on this walk, however, we decided to spend a little time exploring the pretty town of Dawlish before heading back to our cottage for a BBQ and hot tub session. Dawlish is a traditional seaside town, with a sandy beach, amusement arcades, fish and chip shows and a has beautiful lawn and brook which is home to the famous black swans.
There are fantastic views of Dawlish as you walk up the cliffs and you can take beautiful photographs of the town, the sea and railway line from above, especially if the weather is being particularly kind to you that day.
We had such a lovely week in this pretty part of the UK. I would really recommend taking some time to explore South Devon and having a proper seaside break like the ones you may have had as a child. what are your top experiences in South Devon? What else should be added to this list? Let me know in the comments below and check out South Devon for more information about holiday ideas and tips on exploring the area.
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