Devon is often the overlooked younger sibling to Cornwall. Everyone passes through it on the way down to the country’s end without stopping to experience the beautiful county next door.
Sure, Cornwall is fantastic but Devon has just as much to boast about, from stunning cliff walks to Devonshire cream teams (cream on the scone first, then jam), sublime local produce including cheese, lamb and steak, and beautiful sandy beaches.
So I headed to Soar Mill Cove Hotel to discover a Devonshire coastline to rival anything its next door neighbours have to offer.
The hotel is a luxe family-run hotel nestled between undulating hills a couple of hundred metres from the sea. The low rise rooms spread out across the cliffs to afford every guest a fantastic view of the coastline, with stunning sunsets and powerful sea storms regular occurrences that keep you glued to the windows year-round.
Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the room, head straight for the lounge where you can grab a drink and a snack and watch the sea in all its glory from the warmth of the sofas and hanging basket seats.
To get there, the drive can be long and a little tricky, but that in itself is part of the charm – to really escape you have to make the journey. And when you emerge like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from the narrow, winding country lanes, you burst into a watercolour of blues and greens. The sea lies before you as you turn into Soar Mill and park up amid tennis courts and manicured lawns
You could stay at Soar Mill for your entire Devon break if you wanted. The Makepeace family, who have run the place for three generations and are very much on-hand should guests need anything, have created a complete escape. From the moment we arrived we felt ensconced in Devonshire hospitality, buoyed by the fresh air, and didn’t even feel the need to explore outside for at least the first day.
Though small, the spa has everything you need, including a Swedish sauna and a wonderful salt-water pool that leaves your skin feeling smooth and healthy and treatments including massages and facials can be booked in advance.
But one of the highlights of your stay will be pampering yourself in a different way – with the food.
For lunch we braved the chilly air to sit outside and enjoyed the sound of crashing waves hitting the cliffs, and fresh salty air hitting our faces. You absolutely must try the crab baguette (and most definitely with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc). The crab is local, hand picked and utterly delicious.
It’s clear food at Soar Mill is a big deal and if you’re staying a few nights, be sure to spend at least one evening in the restaurant.
Seafood is dominant on the menu, as you would expect, with a spectacular Soar Clam Chowder to end all clam chowders our favourite fish dish.
But being Devon – land of dairy farms, beef animals and lambing – there’s plenty of field options too. I opted for a steak, cooked rare, which was beautiful, succulent and perfectly paired with seasonal vegetables and Soar Mill’s famous (and delicious) thrice-cooked chips.
Breakfast is a similarly lush affair with a wonderfully non-greasy Full English and healthier choices including smoked salmon and kippers as well as the usual cereal options.
Top tip: Don’t forget to order cream tea in your room one afternoon and enjoy it by the French doors (to stay warm while you admire the sea).
If you do manage to escape from the cosy clutches of the Makepeaces, there’s plenty to do in the local area.
Though it makes a romantic getaway for couples, Soar Mill, and Devon in general, is a great family location too, with surfing, sea canoeing and other water sports there for the trying – weather dependent of course.
We embarked on a long coastal walk from Soar Mill (there are several so ask at reception for maps and advice) and just managed to dodge the rain.
Particularly coming from London or any big city, the chance to head out on a blustery day, breathe in the fresh sea air and admire nature at her finest is something not to be missed. And with walks ranging from just a mile or two, to long, all-day affairs, there’s somewhere for everyone to go.
Nearby Salcombe is also a must-visit. A cute fishing town with higgledy-piggledy houses, it’s picturesque and packed with history.
Head first to the Salcombe Information Centre, staffed by locals well-versed in the town, who can give you a steer on what to do based on your interests (and the weather!).
One thing that’s not to be missed, though, is the Salcombe Maritime Museum. Small but fascinating, you can lose at least an hour in this little place. It’s packed with relics, incredible shipwreck survivors’ stories and lost treasures. And learning about the West Country’s battles during the World Wars is quite an education.
On your way in or out of Salcombe stop for a break at The Winking Prawn, a cute seaside cafe that serves cream teas or an excellent seafood menu with views over the beach.
Another unmissable experience is dining at the Crab Shed – a new restaurant near The Fish Quay. It’s an offshoot of the The Crab Factory – a wholesale family seafood business - and has a delectable menu of the freshest seafood and of course hand-picked local crab.
Like Soar Mill, the Crab Shed is a family affair – we meet the owners who then leave us in the capable hands of their daughter, waitressing her way to a backpack trip around South America.
It’s a new building, decked out with driftwood decorations and artwork by the owner himself, and selection of wines, beers and soft drinks are all top quality and mostly local – which is always great to see.
Treat yourself to The Crab Shed Fruits De Mer (£65 to share between two) – it’s a rather impressive two-tiered platter of crab, lobster, mussels, scallops, prawns and other shellfish, paired with fresh bread and a selection of dips. Absolute seafood heaven.
The lobsters are practically twitching they’re so fresh, and I’d absolutely recommend you pair it with a local wine - the Sharpham Estate Selection, from Totnes, South Devon (£25) for a 100 per cent Devonshire dinner.
Get a cab back to Soar Mill to enjoy the secluded silence and stare at the stars in your hidey-hole by the sea, with one of its signature cocktails (the gin creation is to die for).
Just one warning: That ‘ohh’ moment when you realise the holiday’s over is a painful one in this part of the world!
Rooms at Soar Mill Cove Hotel start from £169 per night for a double. It is based near Salcombe, Devon, TQ7 3DS. Head to the website to book, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01548 516566.
Check with National Trust Overbecks for more information on the local area. And if you fancy some watersports, head to Sea Kayak & SUP Salcombe, located at South Sands beach.