It’s difficult to think of going on holiday to Torquay without worrying that you are about to walk into a place offering the same level of hospitality as Fawlty Towers. However, once you’ve braved the windy road that takes you down to the Cary Arms in the secluded Babbacombe Bay, Basil and Manuel will be pretty far from your mind.
Upon our arrival at the hotel, part of the de Savary chain of hotels, we were shown down to our “beach suite” cottage, which was as close to the water as you could get without wading right in.
The cottage’s private patio, complete with sun loungers, extends over the gently lapping water, giving you a panoramic view of a bay that was beautiful even in late November. Although we weren’t so lucky, this is apparently a good vantage point from which to see dolphins and seals playing at the edge of the water.
Inside our suite was a spacious sitting room with floor-to-ceiling French windows that look out on the bay, while the bedroom has a similarly impressive aspect, meaning you wake up to uninterrupted sea views. The staff left us to get ready for dinner, leaving behind a decanter full of extremely strong local sloe gin. Dinner that evening was served in the main hotel building, which has a traditional pub feel, helped along by an abundance of dark wood, low-beamed ceilings and a wood-burning stove. The menu is largely devoted to local seafood, featuring fresh oysters served with samphire and lemon, and mussels from the nearby River Exe.
The next day lent itself to a gentle walk along the coast to the main town of Torquay which, though it has seen better days, maintains a certain unpretentious charm. After sampling the delights of the local fish-and-chip shop, we strolled back to the Cary Arms and enjoyed some time in the cosy cottage while the weather raged outside. We could also have dropped by the hotel’s spa, which offers hydrotherapy and aromatherapy, among other treatments.
That evening we ventured out in the rain to the nearby Elephant Restaurant and Brasserie, a Michelin-starred restaurant overlooking Torbay harbour. Both food and service were exceptional, with plenty of options for a recently converted vegetarian. I started with beautifully presented heritage beetroot “samosas” stuffed with local goat’s cheese. To follow was rich cauliflower gnocchi, and finally a decadent sticky toffee pudding wrapped in shortcrust pastry.
On the Sunday morning, we headed for the historic Babbacombe Cliff Railway, one of the few working funicular railways left in the UK. The railway has been carrying visitors up and down the 240-foot cliff face since 1926. Thankfully, it felt reassuringly sturdy and gave us a fantastic view of Oddicombe Beach. Having decided that we could in fact manage the walk back down to the bottom, our very expensive train back to London was beckoning. Luckily there was just enough time for a cup of tea and a slice of carrot cake at the café overlooking the bay.
Overnight stays at the beach huts cost from £375 per night, beach suites from £475 and doubles in the main hotel from £245 per night. For bookings and further details, see CaryArms.co.uk or call 01803-327110.
A world-class diving spot
Admittedly, Devon in November doesn’t immediately conjure up images of people happily doing water sports. However, the Torbay area offers worldclass diving opportunities. Devon’s eastern coast is nicely sheltered from strong winds, which made it an ideal anchorage point for the Channel Fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. Nowadays the local diving school runs Padi open water diving courses to take advantage of the sheltered bay’s excellent visibility.
For divers with an interest in marine biology, Babbacombe Bay is the chosen destination of cuttlefish, who come here to mate and lay eggs in the shallow weed just off the coast. There are also several wrecks to explore, including a Dutch barge and a twin-engine aircraft. Thankfully, the water here benefits from the “relative warmth” of the Gulf Stream as it comes across the North Atlantic.