Luxury is waiting for you at Babbacombe Bay in Devon
Article by Lara Protheroe
As the extreme incline increases on the brake-clenchingly steep and winding road down to Babbacombe Bay, there is a mounting sense of anticipation and excitement as to what may be revealed at the bottom. And lo, what awaits is a pocket of true English Riviera perfection. The bay is small and exquisite, with a timeless quality such that only the modernity of visitors’ vehicles gives a clue as to what century one is visiting. Nestled almost at the water’s edge is The Cary Arms which looks out over the harbour across an expanse of sea and in two directions along the quaintly meandering coastline.
Arriving at Babbacombe Bay with my husband, small son and new baby had an undeniable poignancy, as my mother and aunt had holidayed there as children and it felt like the continuation of a family tradition. I love to arrive at a destination and have literally nowhere else to go. The road stops, you have no choice but to disembark the car, you can allow your mind to relax.
The Cary Arms has a deeply English charm. Although fully modern in all ways that one might wish, it is nevertheless but a small feat of imagination to transport oneself back to a bygone era when pirates stalked the bay and candlelight was the only illumination. On the South Devon coast a short hop from Torquay, the atmospheric inn looks exactly as you’d want it to, with beams, flag stone floors, ships brasses, nautical pictures and dark wood panelling. It is a place to pour a whiskey and watch a storm. It has 10 sea facing rooms and suites, four fishermen’s cottages and eight beach huts and suites.
A few steep stone steps up the outside of the inn led to the Pebble Suite, our quaint yet well-appointed stone cottage with its cosy living quarters and little sea view garden, where you could just imagine fishing nets laid out for mending.
The Pebble Suite has a larger master bedroom up three steps from the sitting/dining room, made cosy by a small but highly efficient wood burner. The bathroom is fresh and bright with a walk-in shower and freestanding bath in front of the window looking out over the sea. The kitchen is neat and, although not over-equipped has everything you need for a few days of happy self-catering.
As a family with little ones we always enjoy the flexibility of being able to cater to our various selves at whatever hour(s) the prevailing nap schedule dictates; but that didn’t stop us taking full advantage of the proximity of the inn itself, where the provender is first rate. Breakfasts are a leisurely affair with pastries, cereals, juices and freshly cooked offerings all enjoyed in turn whilst our little boy chatted to guests, staff and sundry dogs, popping in and out at will to the beach then returning to the table. I noticed my other half, normally possessed of remarkable self-restraint, making seemingly endless return trips to the breakfast buffet, unable to resist the array of sumptuous treats.
Lunch and dinner are similarly enticing affairs. A frequently changing and well-curated menu of high-end gastro pub fayre can cater to all tastes and offers plenty of variety. The dining area offers intimate corners within the inn itself or lighter and brighter tables in a conservatory with bay views. For an aperitif and/or post-prandial tipple, the lounge parlour is another timeless delight, in which I could gladly lose myself for hours on end at the fireside in the company of an Agatha Christie novel, a decanter of Plymouth sloe gin and the ever-changing seascape.
Given the very traditional vibe of the former fishermen’s cottage and the inn itself, I was more than a little surprised when confronted by the strikingly modern glass-fronted structure of the spa, set behind and slightly above the main body of the inn. Some more traditional inns and hotels try to shoehorn a spa into their existing infrastructure, which can at times yield decidedly mixed results. I salute the Cary Arms for letting the inn do what it does best, and investing in this excellent ancillary facility.
The waterfall hydrotherapy pool looks out over the Jurassic Coastline on the opposite shore. There is a steam room, sauna, gym and treatment rooms: enough to lose yourself for hours on end. My massage treatment was heavenly, and was the first time I have had alone (masseuse notwithstanding) since having my second baby. It felt deliciously decadent and could hardly have been more welcome.
Much as the inn and the bay could provide a happy retreat for several days without the need for any outing further afield, we fancied some modest exploration and so took the short walk along the wooded cliff path from Babbacombe to Oddicombe Beach. A short walk not without a sense of real adventure for our 3-year-old, however, as we encountered a waterfall and picked our way along wooden cliffside walkways.
The delightful historic Babbacombe Cliff Railway conveyed us in idiosyncratic style up from the beach to Babbacombe Downs, where a fabulous miniature model village awaits but a few minutes’ walk away. We spent hours here looking at the vast array of lovingly recreated scenes of local and British life (not to mention a fire-breathing dragon, a cast of superheroes and a full reconstruction of the Great British Bake Off), all peppered with clever detailing and quirky humour.
The Cary Arms oozes laid back old world charm. Staff are uniformly welcoming, friendly and go out of their way to assist wherever possible. The pebble beach held endless delight for us all and husband and toddler even managed a spontaneous dip in their underpants, much to the amusement of warm-coated dog walkers. The harbour wall was frequently strolled and the fishermen observed with great curiosity. All manner of small diversions were found in and around the inn and the bay, which between them truly are a pocket of maritime paradise.