A sanctuary from city life in Babbacombe Bay
It’s the middle of winter, and I’m feeling blue. London is cold, and everyone’s skint and even more miserable than usual. A weekend away is just what I need – so when an opportunity to get out of the city and fill my lungs with sea air comes knocking – I’m there.
Just two hours from the capital by train, Babbacombe is a sleepy seaside village on the English Riviera, famed for its model village, dramatic sea views and fish and chips. Described as South Devon’s most beautiful bay, we’re excited to see what it has to offer. My wife and I arrive late on a Friday evening, so it’s too dark to make much out as we make our way in a cab from Torquay station, but as our taxi snakes its way down the cliff-side to our hotel, I make a note to make sure I’m up early enough to catch the sunrise.
We’re staying at the Cary Arms and Spa, a gorgeous de Savary boutique hotel on the water in the peaceful and secluded bay. The manager takes our bags when we arrive, showing us to our home for the weekend – one of their highly sought-after beach huts. As soon as the key turns in the lock and we step inside this sanctuary, I know I never want to leave.
Fitted with all mod cons, including a Sonos system, underfloor heating and a smart TV, these stylish beach huts are environmentally friendly and cool, cosy and chic. Each one is uniquely decorated to the highest standard and there are plenty of little touches that make it feel really special including a decanter of sloe gin that’s refilled in the evening, a fully stocked complimentary mini bar and a stick of rock on your pillow.
We somehow manage to tear ourselves away from our new home, and up to the hotel bar, where despite missing dinner, the kitchen have prepared a delicious midnight feast for us of salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, crisps and salad, washed down with a lovely glass of Chilean merlot. Back in the beach hut, we have a little gin whilst listening to the crackling of the fire (not a real fire but a digital one, we realise, after an embarrassingly long amount of time), and very soon we head up to bed to
CARRIE LYELL FINDS SANCTUARY FROM CITY LIFE IN BABBACOMBE BAY
find another surprise waiting for us – a hot water bottle.
After the best night’s sleep in I can’t even remember when, I’m woken by light streaming in through the small porthole style window in front of the bed, and realise I’ve missed the sunrise. But once I catch a glimpse of the sandstone cliffs and the sea, all is forgotten. I run downstairs like a kid at Christmas and fling open the doors, inhaling deeply and taking in all the sea air my body can handle. The views from our deck are nothing short of breathtaking, blues and greens dancing together, and I sit a while, feeling time slow down as I watch the waves come and go. In the summer, it’s quite common to spot a variety of wildlife in the bay, including dolphins, seals and seabirds, but despite watching intently, I don’t see more than a fisherman and a couple of seagulls.
I manage to tear myself away from dolphin-surveillance for a quick shower, and then Sarah and I head to the main building for breakfast, stopping to take a few pictures along the way. We fill our bellies with hot coffee and toast and butter, but save room for the main event – the classic full English, minus the mushrooms for me and black pudding for her.
Once breakfast has settled, Sarah heads up to the newly- opened spa for a tailored full-body massage with Hannah, while I sit in the lounge listening to Devon-born singer-songwriter Soak and catching up on some reading. I don’t often get time these days to read for pleasure, so this feels like a real treat. Sarah, a massage connoisseur, looks blissful when she returns, and says it’s one of the best she’s had. Suitably relaxed, we head back to our hut to get changed, then set off to explore the sights and sounds of Babbacombe.
A short 15-minute walk along the coastal path takes us to Oddicombe Beach, where we skim stones across the water and try to decide which dog we’d like to steal. The beach itself is busy with families and couples enjoying the winter sun, and there are even some brave souls out on the water paddle boarding.
There’s a cliff railway here, built in 1926, to take visitors up and down the 240 feet from Babbacombe Downs but it’s closed for the winter, so we brave the rather steep climb to the top, stopping to admire the views (and catch our breath) several times on the way.
After a stroll around Babbacombe itself, admiring its colourful promenade, shops and tearooms, we decide to walk to Torquay, which takes about 30 minutes. The town is very different to Babbacombe, bustling with shoppers and tourists, despite being out of season, and we enjoy pottering around the marina and the arcades, but it doesn’t take long before we’re robbed of all our small change, and we leave, poorer than when we went in but certainly cheerful.
For lunch, we head back to Babbacombe to try the fish and chips we’ve heard so much about, but Hanbury’s – the most famous in town – is closed. Down but not out, we try Drakes on Babbacombe Road, and we’re not disappointed. We find a spot on the nearby Downs, overlooking Oddicombe Beach and tuck in, shielding our chips from the noisy seagulls who circle overhead.
The glorious sunshine from the morning has been replaced with a light drizzle, so we finish up our food and head past Babbacombe Theatre and down the cliff-side, back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Because all of this relaxing is mighty tiring!
The hotel restaurant is bustling when we go along for dinner, and there’s a great atmosphere as a table beside us celebrates a 60th birthday, everyone joining in when it comes time to sing happy birthday. Sarah and I study the menu intently, and discussions over whether we’ll be able to try each other’s dishes is more fraught than Brexit negotiations. But eventually we decide on scallops and ham terrine to start (delish), followed by guinea fowl for her and duck for me (also delish). Decisions over pudding are just as tough, but Sarah has the panna cotta, while I go for the earl grey creme brûlée, both equally dreamy.
Happily stuffed, we wander back to our beach hut, where we curl up on the sofa to watch a film with a glass of sloe gin. It’s not the most rock and roll weekend I’ve ever had, but it was certainly one of the best.
Time slows down as I watch the waves come and go from our beach hut deck
Everything’s beachy: Devon’s Cary Arms hotel offers guests a fresh take on seaside chic