20 Ultimate Holiday Ideas for Devon

Wistmans Wood, Dartmoor

Wistmans Wood, Dartmoor

20 IDEAS FOR A DEVON HOLIDAY


Suzy Bennett, owner of Moorland View and author of several travel guides to Devon, reveals her 20 all-time favourite things to do and places to visit on a holiday in Devon.

1. Have a spa treatment in a castle

Ok, so it’s not actually a castle, but what Bovey Castle lacks in heritage, it makes up for with quantity of facilities and sweeping views. Set on a private sporting estate just up the river from North Bovey, this luxury hotel has an 18-hole championship golf course, indoor swimming pool, tennis courts, fly-fishing lake, croquet lawn and archery arena. Huge stone fireplaces, soaring ceilings, ornate panelling, squishy sofas and terraces with epic views make it one of the grandest places on Dartmoor to whirl away a lazy afternoon. As a guest of Moorland View, you have complimentary membership, with up to 25% off spa treatments and 15% off food and drink. The 20-minute walk along the river, across old stone bridges and through woodlands, is beautiful.

Guests of Moorland View have membership of Bovey Castle Hotel

Guests of Moorland View have membership of Bovey Castle Hotel

2. Walk along a Dartmoor gorge

Taking in a fairytale castle, oak-lined gorge, ancient stone bridge and traditional pub, this two-hour walk along the Teign River is classic Dartmoor. Hunter’s Path runs higher up the valley, while Fisherman’s Path traces the spectacular wooded riverbank path, where kingfishers and woodpeckers dart between shaded pools, and trout, salmon and otters frolic in deep, clear waters. The small rocky beaches are perfect places for picnics and toe-dipping. Look out for glimpses of Prestonbury Castle Iron Age hill fort on the other side of the valley. At the bottom of the gorge is the age-old Fingle bridge, which has recessed buttresses for packhorses to pass. Behind it is Fingle Bridge Inn, which serves a mean cream tea and has a pretty terrace overlooking the river. In spring, the woodlands here are carpeted with bluebells and daffodils. Park at Castle Drogo, Drewsteignton, or by the Mill End Hotel and walk from the other direction. 

Fingle Gorge

Fingle Gorge

3. Have a pint in a pub garden

Our friendly village pub, the Ring of Bells, is a traditional thatched 13th century longhouse, complete with oak beams, wonky walls, log-burning stoves and a pub garden that’s one of the prettiest in Devon. The food is delicious, there's a great wine list and ales are poured straight from the barrel. The Cleave in nearby Lustleigh, is another great alternative. Inside, flagstone floors, wood-beamed walls and crackling log fires make it one of the cosiest places to hole up in winter. The food is hearty, delicious and generously portioned. You can walk there from North Bovey if you’re feeling energetic (it’s 2-3 hours).

4. Visit an ancient, dwarf-oak woodland

Wistman’s Wood is a vestige of the prehistoric dwarf oak trees that used to cover Dartmoor. Here, moss-covered, boulder-strewn woodland floor is dotted with stunted oaks furred with mosses and lichen. The easy one-hour walk starts from the Two Bridges Hotel, near Princetown. Stop in for a cream tea at Princehall for afters

5. Go antiquing, Ashburton

Dubbed the gateway to the moor, Ashburton is an elegant town whose fortunes were founded on cloth and mining. It is one of Dartmoor’s four stannary towns, where tin was bought to be taxed – and its fine slate-hung frontages house a well-to-do selection of antique shops, delis, cafes and restaurants. It’s where we purchased a lot of antiques for the cottage. Our favourite antiques shop is Alchemy Antiques, on East Street.

6. Eat fish and chips on the beach

The Beach House is beachfront clapboard shack sitting right on the beach and the South West Coastal path, making it a perfect pit stop for a hike. Dining is on rustic communal wooden tables, or outside on the terrace overlooking the sea. Stunning
South Milton Sands, Thurlestone

7. Take a road trip across Dartmoor

There’s no more romantic way to blow away the cobwebs than with a drive across the high moor. The circuit to Widecombe, Buckland and around to Ashburton takes in 14th century churches, clusters of granite and thatched cottages, gurgling brooks and ancient bridges.

8. Eat organic farm produce in a field kitchen

Food doesn’t get fresher or more local than at Riverford Field Kitchen, the organic farm that is home to the famous veg box scheme. Enormous bowls of hearty homespun fayre is served up on long tables in a wonderfully convivial atmosphere.

9. Have a fish lunch on a river

Our most romantic alternative-eats destination, at least on a sunny day, is the new River Exe Café a floating shed-cum-pontoon moored off Exmouth. Serving seafood dropped off by passing fishing boats, the sea-to-plate interval can be as little as five minutes. Get there on the new Topsham to Exmouth cycle path, then catch a water taxi to the café. Closed winter. Booking essential. 

10. Indulge in a traditional Devonshire cream tea

Our favourite Devon cream tea is at The Endsleigh, where supersized offerings are served in the sublime setting of an Elizabethan mansion house. Just-baked scones are served up with help-yourself quenelles of thick, clotted cream and gloopy strawberry jam, alongside fragrant loose-leaf tea in bone china cups. The wood-panelled drawing room has log fires and views of the Tamar Valley. Work up an appetite beforehand with a stroll around the stunning Grade-I listed gardens.

11. Go shopping in Totnes

Totnes is a place where the independent spirit is cherished – they even have their own currency, the Totnes pound. This is the place to shop for wholefoods, eco, ethical and organic stores. Me and East, Busby and Fox and Nkuku (in nearby Harberton) sell gorgeous homewares, Aromatika sells organic and natural skincare products made in Devon, the Wild Fig Deli specialises in gluten-free and vegetarian food and The Curator is our favourite cafe. Drift Records stock new music, with a policy that ranges from left field minimal tech house to home-recorded roots music from the Appalachian Mountains. Check out our guide to Totnes for more information.

12. Feel the sand between your toes

It’s hard to choose from the array of beach beauties that surround the yachtie town of Salcombe, but South Sands, a quick ferry ride or short walk from town, tops our list for being sheltered, seaweed-free and sun-kissed most of the day. It’s small – and smaller still at low tide – but has soft sand, safe, shallow swimming, blue seas and several excellent eating options, including South Sands Hotel and, at North Sands, rustic beach café the Winking Prawn. A quick ferry ride across the other side of the estuary takes you to Mill Bay and Sunny Cove, where there’s room to spread out. Salcombe itself is a gem of a town - check out our Salcombe guide for things to do. Another favourite beach is Blackpool sands, a mile-long, privately owned crescent can’t be far from heaven. Safe, sheltered swimming, a floating dock, lifeguards in summer, clean seas, shops selling beach essentials and the wonderful Venus Beach Café, which serves carefully sourced, locally-produced food, makes it one of Devon’s best beaches in summer. Although the name may be slightly misleading – the beach is actually made up of shingle – the claim that it’s ‘South Devon’s most picturesque beach’ certainly stands true.

Hope Cove, South Devon

Hope Cove, South Devon

13. Walk the South West Coastal Path

Britain’s longest footpath traces the north and south coasts of Devon, offering easy access to wild and windswept cliffs, secluded sandy coves and tiny hamlets. The three-hour walk from Bolt Tail, near Hope Cove, to Bolt Head, near Salcombe, is our favourite, offering perfect beaches and jagged headlands. For a longer walk, start further up the coast at Bantham, and stop off at The Beach House (www.beachhousedevon.com) at South Milton Sands for lunch en route.  Start Point is another popular coastal walk, with a characterful pub, the Pig’s Nose, at one end (see below).

14. Drink in an old pirate’s island haunt

The Pilchard Inn is a creaky, weather-beaten smugglers inn dating from 1336 oozing with swashbuckling history: ask about the pirates’ escape tunnel. Getting there is all part of the fun. Perched on the tiny, tidal outcrop of Burgh Island, surrounded by sandy beaches and choppy seas, it’s cut off from the mainland twice a day so you’ll need to consult a tide table when planning your visit. When the seas have parted, it’s a short walk across the spit. When the waters start coming in, a high-sided ‘sea tractor’ ferries passengers.

15. Stock up on local produce in Chagford

The pretty stannary town of Chagford is crammed with cafes, tea rooms, farm shops and delis. Check out Blacks Deli for local produce, Jaded Palates for fantastic wines and West Country gins and Artisan for locally-made leather goods and crafts. The town has half-day closing on Wednesday afternoons.

16. Visit Dartmouth

Undeniably pretty, this naval town on Devon's south coast is a gem, with ancient narrow streets, boutique shops, art galleries and delicatessens. A cobbled market place has colourful stalls and farmers markets supplying local produce. The county town of Dartmouth sits pretty on the River Dart estuary, and features a medieval castle, a museum housed in a 1640s merchant home, and a National Trust property – Agatha Christie’s home and walled garden Greenway. There’s no shortage of things to do in Dartmouth, including browsing its galleries, shopping in the one-off boutiques and eating at the acclaimed Seahorse restaurant on the waterfront.

Dartmouth

Dartmouth

17. Dine in a Michelin-standard restaurant

With its Michelin-standard restaurant, this imposing Tudor style house, overlooking 107 acres of private woodlands, has impeccable culinary credentials. Refined and formal, Gidleigh Park offers old-school charm and tip-top service. Gidleigh’s kitchen has been unsettled since the 2015 departure of long-standing head chef Michael Caines who, in his 21 years of service, won the restaurant two Michelin stars. Since then two chefs have come and gone, taking with them Gidleigh’s coveted Michelin stars, but the food is still excellent - a traditional, pared-down British menu that focuses on seasonal, locally sourced produce. Think Cornish turbot served with leeks, purple spouting broccoli and caviar hollandaise, and beef fillet with potato terrine and cauliflower purée. There’s a whopping wine list, with more than 9,000 choices which the charismatic sommelier has an encyclopaedic knowledge of.

Gidleigh Park

Gidleigh Park

18. Go stargazing

With clear, dark nights, Dartmoor is a fantastic place to view the night sky, with the Milky Way often clearly visible.  Grab a picnic rug (there’s one in the cottage), torch, blanket and bottle of wine and head to the top of Hound Tor, one of the most atmospheric and easily accessible spots to stargaze.

Stargazing on Hound Tor

Stargazing on Hound Tor

19. Have brunch at The Birdcage

One of our local favourites, this cheery and stylish bird-themed cafe on Chagford’s main square serves delicious all-day brunches in a cosy and friendly setting. The Birdcage’s options include a full English, bacon and egg muffin and smoked salmon with poached egg and avocado salsa. Bag the table outside for a spot in the morning sun. Closed Wednesdays.

20. Stay in a chocolate-box thatched cottage

Moorland View is one of Devon’s prettiest thatched holiday cottages, and has everything you want in a cosy cottage: a log fire, huge bath, epic views and wall-to-wall luxury.

 
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