Right on the estuary in Salcombe, South Devon, is the Harbour Hotel – a modern five-star hideaway, with some of the best views in the country. After a recent multi-million pound renovation, it’s been transformed into a glistening coastal retreat, and is as wonderful in the winter as it is in summer.
My room is on the estuary side, at the top of the hotel, and has a Juliette balcony that overlooks the water. In summer this is a great spot to sunbathe, but even in winter it’s warm enough to sit out under a blanket and enjoy the fresh air and views – which are unparalleled. I can see all the way up the river in one direction, and out to sea in the other.
The hotel’s decor is British nautical, with vintage seaside pictures and cool, coastal colours. My room has a collection of Thomas Hardy classics, a pair of binoculars, a pashmina to keep me warm on the terrace, and decanters of gin and sherry on the sideboard.
On chilly days, the hotel has a cosy cinema room downstairs, which shows three films a day, and even has a little popcorn machine. Or there’s the ground-floor spa, which has a heated indoor pool, steam room, sauna and private cabanas with glossy magazines and fresh fruit. I enjoy a heavenly Swedish massage, and feel like I’ve been away for a week already.
I take a wander into the village. Salcombe draws an upmarket crowd. The preppy shop Jack Wills University Outfitters was founded here, and a string of similar-looking boutiques line along the narrow high street. I stop in at a lovely looking cafe called Sailor V for a hot chocolate.
Back at the hotel, it’s a quick freshen up before cocktail hour. By now the lounge has a roaring fire going, so I sink into a big comfy sofa and order a Marmalade Mule, which is tangy and sensational, followed by an equally good Rhubarb Cosmopolitan. Oh I do love this place.
Head chef Alex Aitken (formerly of Lime Wood) does a stirling job of heading up the Jetty Restaurant and Crustacean Bar. Everything I eat is first class, with an upmarket twist on a British classic.
Dinner is taken on the terrace – and is rightly centred around the wonderful local seafood. A plate of locally caught scallops is followed by a fillet of sea bass with ceps and broad beans. All this comes with a glass or two of excellent Bacchus by Dorset winemaker Farleys. “Notes of nettles and hedgerows” is how it’s described, and it doesn’t disappoint. A typically English wine in a typically English setting. Marvellous.
The next morning, after a breakfast of smoked salmon, scrambled egg and Cornish yarg, I take the ferry around the bay to South Sands. From here you can see all the big houses sequestered into the hillside. Some have their own private beaches, some have little jetties and boats. Property here is said to be the most expensive in the UK – more expensive, even, than in London, leading to Salcombe being dubbed Chelsea-by-Sea.
Acacias dot the copper-coloured cliffs, and there are excellent walks to be taken in all directions.
At South Sands, it’s possible to hire kayaks and paddle boards, or you could borrow wellies, buckets and spades from the hotel and go crabbing instead.
I opt for a quick dip in the sea followed by coffee at the Winking Prawn at North Sands – a fabulous outdoor bar and restaurant right next to the beach, and one of the most popular hangouts in the area. Then it’s back to the hotel for yet more fabulous food and drink.
Eat, sleep, walk to the beach – I could get used to this routine. Salcombe: I will be back.
Salcombe Harbour Hotel, Cliff Road, Salcombe, South Devon. A two-night autumn escape costs £375. For more information, visit www.salcombe-harbour-hotel.co.uk.