A Boutique Bolt Hole
Riddle winds its way down to a Devon beach getaway
Article by Oliver Barnham
The ‘wow factor’ doesn’t hit much harder than on one’s first sight of The Cary Arms at Babbacombe. Quite simply, the place is stunningly beautiful. Our approach was along the winding coast road (the B3199) from Teignmouth, along the top of the hills that surround Babbacombe Bay on the way to Torquay. There is a warm micro climate at work here, hence palm trees and lush vegetation. Babbacombe itself is an old-world seaside resort with Victorian and Edwardian hotels along the cliff top, and to get to our destination, we followed a steep, narrow lane down the cliff to the beach. And there at the bottom, right on the water, is the Cary Arms…. in splendid isolation, facing a totally unspoilt sea vista. We were reminded of Repulse Bay on the south side of Hong Kong Island, before the developers spoilt it.
The Cary Arms has been an inn since Victorian times. For many years accommodation was not offered, but under the hands of the de Savary family (who have created more than 30 top-notch hotels and clubs) a comprehensive refurbishment was recently carried out and in 2009 the Cary Arms reopened as an elegant ‘five star’ boutique hotel. The decor is Old England and New England. The core of the original building boasts low ceilings, dark wood and large fireplaces. The 20th century additions are reminiscent of comfortable hostelries in Maine and New Hampshire, with their light cream and blue decor.
There are a number of quiet terraces outside the hotel, stretching along the hillside, where visitors can eat, drink or just sit and enjoy the extraordinary view. There is a BBQ area … and even a weather-proof plexiglass ‘pod’ offering very private dining for four.
Back in the main building, the restaurant and bar are popular with locals, and at the time of our visit were comfortably full of people (At peak times, hotel residents are protected from being ‘squeezed out’ by a private lounge and reserved dining areas, should they need them).
The food is excellent, and makes the most of the wide variety of superb local meats, fish, dairy products and vegetables that are available in this part of Devon. From an imaginative menu of ten main dishes (fully supported with entrées and desserts) we chose the Monkfish and the Steak & Ale Pie (both at £15). Helpings were generous and beautifully cooked, and we washed them down with local ‘Bays’ and ‘Otter’ beers; which didn’t hurt a bit.
The bedrooms are charming and comfortable with well appointed ‘en-suites’ (complete with huge roll top baths). It was wonderful to be able to lie in bed – or in the bath – and look out over the South Devon seascape. The water was ‘millpond calm’ on the day of our visit, and dolphins could be seen in the bay. For those who need further help to de-compress and relax, pampering is available at the fully equipped sauna down the passage from the bedrooms.
The Cary Arms is a well run operation. The place ‘feels right’. Staff are friendly and well trained. The decor is elegant and restrained. The general level of service is high and everything is kept in excellent condition. These things don’t happen by accident, and represent sustained hard work by all concerned.
Away from the hotel, there is no shortage of things to do. There are walks which vary from the gentle to the seriously challenging. There is fishing on the doorstep; golf just down the road and touring for those who want to go further afield. Devon offers a good selection of windswept moors, ancient monuments, pretty villages and Agatha Christie and Rosamunde Pilcher book and film locations. And, of course, for those who feel lazy, the hotel is a wonderful place to simply relax and do nothing.
The Cary Arms deserves its reputation as a five star boutique bolt hole. Prices range from about £200 a night for a bedroom for two without a balcony, to £300 with balcony… and £400 for a four bedroom cottage. The hotel caters to a wide variety of visitors: families with children (and dogs), wedding parties, business people and social groups. They are open all year round and offer periodic special events. A discrete expansion programme is under way; and as from June 2016, the hotel expand from 8 to 17 rooms.
Enquiries: Cary Arms, Beach Road, Babbacombe, Devon, TQ1 3LX/ 01803 327110/ firstname.lastname@example.org/ www.caryarms.co.uk
How to get there – by air: to Exeter International Airport. By train: to Newton Abbot (then taxi). By car: M4 and M5 from London to Exeter, then Teignmouth and Babbacombe using the A 380, the B 3192 and the B 3199. Access by car is straightforward from the Channel ports for French, Dutch and German visitors.