Digital Editor, Millie Walton drives down to Devon to rediscover the charming imperfections of the English coastline, from the cosy luxury of a cliff-side beach hut
English coastal towns have been forgotten. Flights are now so cheap that it’s just as easy (consider traffic, extortionate British railway prices, inevitable delays) to hop on a plane to France for the weekend, as it is to make your way to Devon. Take a turn around Torquay and you’ll be able to see the desperate attempts to lure in tourists.
This is not how it used to be, though; the Babbacombe Cliff Railway is living evidence of a more vibrant past. Built in 1926, the railway (which is actually an old-fashioned kind of cable car) has shuttled thousands of holidaymakers to and from Devon’s Oddicombe Beach in its time. Antique photographs in the makeshift museum cum visitor centre show crowded scenes of men in suits on deck chairs, women in hats and 1920s style swimsuits. You can barely see the sand for well-oiled bodies soaking up rays of English sunshine.
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Babbacombe Bay is as staggeringly beautiful as it would have been back then. Red cliffs covered in green forest drop down into turquoise waters. If it wasn’t for the slight chill in the air, this could be Croatia. The real appeal though is exactly that: this isn’t Croatia. This is England and when you go to the beach, you will turn red either from an unexpected heat wave or from the biting cold winds. It’s rustic, makeshift and never predictable, but what makes Babbacombe better than all the rest? It’s got a little slice of luxury.
The Cary Arms, reached by a very treacherous, steep drive down the cliff-side, is a de Savary hotel (part of a small exclusive group of properties that dot the globe) and delivers a homely kind of high-end indulgence. It’s been poised on its rocky perch since 2009, but – and here’s the game changer –it has recently opened six private beach huts and suites, with a new spa currently under (quiet) construction. The huts are painted in nautical colours as you’d expect of these shores, reached by a little walkway through the hotel and out the other side. They are built around the view; with glass doors that fold open onto the balcony for especially balmy days and a porthole window upstairs so that the first thing you see when you open your eyes is the sea.
The details are what makes these huts extra special; champagne in a cool box with a glass bowl of strawberries awaits new arrivals, along with a stick of rock (what else?) on each pillow, a well stocked and complimentary mini-bar with snacks, juices and a bottle of rose, as well as a decanter of sloe gin that’s re-filled when you run dry. It’s generous, but not flashy or intrusive, which is important in this wild setting and a theme that runs throughout the hotel.
The restaurant is also excellent and a destination in itself. The menu changes according to the catch of the day and the season. For us, the highlights were a half pint of cold prawns that came with a little pot of garlicky mayonnaise and crusty bread, and the best Monkfish I’ve ever tasted (cooked whole in butter and herbs), served simply with new potatoes and green beans. We washed it down with a glass of Baileys on ice, in the study over a game of scrabble. It was all delightfully British.
Overnight stays at the beach huts cost from £375 per night, beach suites from £475 and luxury doubles in the main hotel from £245 per night. For bookings and further details: www.caryarms.co.uk 01803 327 110