Digital Editor Millie Walton rediscovers the charming imperfections of the English coastline from the cosy luxury of a cliffside beach hut at five-star boutique hotel The Cary Arms
Many of English coastal towns have fallen off the tourist map. Flights are now so cheap that it’s just as easy, if not easier (consider traffic, extortionate British railway prices, inevitable delays) to hop on a plane to France for the weekend as it is to drive down 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. Antique photographs in the makeshift museum/visitor centre show crowded scenes of men in suits on deck chairs, women in wide-brimmed sun hats and 1920s style swimsuits. You can barely see the sand between the well-oiled bodies, supine on rows of pastel coloured towels.
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Babbacombe Bay is as staggeringly beautiful as it would have been back then. Red cliffs covered in dark green forest drop down into deep, clear waters. If it weren’t for the slight chill in the air, this could be Croatia or the South of France. The real appeal though is exactly that: this isn’t Croatia or the South of France. This is England and when you go to the beach, it’s rustic, makeshift and quite often, a little bit blustery. That’s not to say, however, that English seaside holidays can’t be luxurious. Babbacombe Bay, in fact, is home to one of Devon’s most charming coastal boutique hotels: The Cary Arms.
Reached by a treacherously steep drive down the cliffside, The Cary Arms sits poised right on the ocean’s edge. The hotel belongs to the exclusive de Savary group and it provides a homely kind of luxury where wellingtons and dogs are welcome (even in some of the rooms). The hotel has been poised on its rocky perch since 2009, but it has recently opened six private beach huts and suites, with a new spa currently under 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 to maximise the natural light and views with glass doors that fold open onto the balcony for especially balmy days and porthole windows upstairs so that the first thing you see when you open your eyes is the sea. The interiors are cheerful, bright and quirky with a spacious living room downstairs and the bedroom on the mezzanine floor.
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 on each pillow, a well-stocked, complimentary mini fridge with snacks and a decanter of sloe gin. It’s generous, but not flashy, befitting of the British coastal lifestyle.
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 Monkfish cooked whole in butter and herbs, served 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 visit: caryarms.co.uk