With its prime position above Babbacombe Bay near Torquay, The Cary Arms is understandably a popular holiday spot during the summer months. But during winter, it’s a peaceful sanctuary with excellent local seafood, open fires and a brand-new spa.
My train down from London passes through misty fields before hugging the coast from Dawlish to Torquay. A short taxi ride down a near-vertical slope, and I’m deposited at the serene doorstep of Babbacombe beach. The sun is already beginning to set, and South Devon’s rugged red cliffs are all aglow. In summer, these waters are teeming with boats, bathers and fishermen – it’s also a diver’s paradise, with some of the clearest visibility in the British Isles. But today I have it almost all to myself.
I check into my room – one of the six new duplex beach huts on the hillside, with views of the bay. A small living area, kitchenette and shower room are on the ground floor, and a double bed on the mezzanine, with terrace and porthole looking out to sea.
As well as the beach huts, there are 10 ocean-facing guest rooms and suites, and three beautifully restored fisherman’s cottages – great for families. This year will also see the arrival of two new self-catering cottages.
Designed by Kathleen Fraser, the decor is all New England seaside chic, with whitewashed walls and candy stripes. Rooms have huge, comfy beds, crisp white linens, fluffy towels and waffle bathrobes, and a complimentary decanter of sloe gin to come home to. Pet-friendly rooms are also available, where dogs are greeted with their own little bed and bowl. The beach is dog-friendly, too.
The South West coast path passes right outside the door, so, bags unpacked, I head out to explore. After a long train journey, it’s great to use the legs and get lungfuls of this fresh briny air. The path joins part of the Devon Jurassic Coastline, and the wooded cliffs are dotted with all manner of birds.
I come back to a well-earned cocktail in the private saloon. The Christmas Refresher is a mix of vodka, Cointreau, Stone’s ginger wine and lemon, and it’s seriously good. The hotel also has its own signature cocktail, The Cary – white rum, lime, coconut water, almond and creme de violette. Those who prefer the grain over the grape will enjoy the local ales such as Otter Bay and Bays Gold.
Dinner is served in the cosy restaurant, in front of the woodburner, looking out to sea. Local and seasonal ingredients are the bedrock of the menu – Brixham crab, Devonshire beef, locally caught fish. “Gastro food cooked simply” is how it’s described, and that’s exactly what it is.
I start with a plate of pan-seared Brixham scallops with cauliflower puree and star anise jus. This is followed by an excellent fillet of Brixham plaice on crushed new potatoes and samphire, and a small bowl of mussels on the side. Meat eaters will love the fillet of West Country beef or the venison haunch steak. And there’s a separate menu for vegetarians and vegans, which includes wild mushroom pappardelle, grilled goat’s cheese with red onion jam and vegan sorbets from Yarde Farm.
The wine list features the usual European and New World wines, but the whiskey, digestif and dessert wine selection is more impressive. I try the 2011 Sauternes, but there’s also Valveran Iced Cider Wine and a 2007 Vin Santo, as well as nightcap cocktails and many single malts to savour by the fire.
The space-age pods are a genius addition, so you can dine while watching the weather roll in, or in summer, there’s the captain’s table outside overlooking the ocean.
The following day I relax in the spa and enjoy a wonderful Thalgo massage. Amazingly I’m the only one here, so I can fully relax in the space, flitting between the hydrotherapy pool, steam room and sauna.
All too soon and I’m back on the train home, carrying with me the sense of peace and quiet and solitude. It’s somewhere I’ll definitely return to, perhaps next time with a four-legged friend in tow.
The Cary Arms, Babbacombe Beach, South Devon (01803 327110; ). Rooms from £245 per night B&B. For more information, visit www.caryarms.co.uk.