Short stay: Cary Arms and Spa, Babbacombe, Devon, UK
The upscale Cary Arms and Spa is nestled among rocks that are perched over Babbacombe Bay in south-east Devon, an area twice visited by Queen Victoria when she was in her late twenties and early thirties. Accommodation consists of 10 contemporary bedrooms and suites, 6 luxury beach huts and 2 beach suites, all with incredible sea views.
The inn also rents out a number of coastal cottages in the immediate vicinity and is a member of the international collection of de Savary Properties, that includes Mount Cinnamon in Grenada and a number of different UK properties, from the 16th Century The Merry Harriers in Surrey to the treehouses and shepherds huts of Dittisham Hideaway, also in Devon.
The descent down to the hotel is a steep one, but don’t be alarmed by this – there’s a valet parking service on hand that makes check-in a breeze. There are three parking spaces immediately outside the hotel entrance and a driver will kindly take your car to the hotel’s car park which is just a short distance back up the hill. You can collect it from there or have someone bring it to the entrance for you as and when you need. After parking outside the entrance and unloading our luggage (they’ll help if you need it), we were personally accompanied to our accommodation.
We stayed in beach hut number 4 – the huts have a mezzanine floor with a super-comfortable king-sized bed with a brightly-checked throw, TV and a porthole at pillow level that looks straight out to sea. A large propeller ceiling fan helps to keep the hut cool in the Summer months.
Back on the ground floor, a large bi-fold glass door lets in lots of natural light and a large sofa and colourful art add to the bright and airy atmosphere of this contemporary hut. There’s a Netflix-enabled smart TV, DVD player and Sonos music system, Smeg mini fridge, Nespresso machine, electric kettle and free WiFi.
Outside, a sundeck with two wooden loungers and footrests, plus a gorgeous sea view, gives guests the perfect setting to peacefully relax and keep an eye out for Sammy the seal (we saw him!) or dolphins that visit the bay.
Although we were visiting during the Summer, the beach hut is suitable year round, equipped with a contemporary, crackling effect, fireplace and underfloor heating.
Each hut, including its outdoor space, covers 560 sq ft (52 sq m) and is dog friendly.
The bathroom in our beach hut, also on the ground floor, has a large walk-in rainfall shower.
White Company toiletries are supplied, as are bathrobes, slippers and a hairdryer.
The Cary Arms operates an informal 1 AA Rosette pub-style restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, cream tea and dinner, led by Head Chef Steve Poyner. If the weather is favourable, as it was during our stay, you can dine al fresco on the delightful stony terraces that spill down into the sea.
The Captain’s Table – an elevated platform that signals the panoramic views around the bay – is available for private dining but must be reserved in advance. Next to it is a bell which you can ring if you spot dolphins, to alert others of your sighting.
There is a sun-lit conservatory for indoor dining, as well as a cosy residents lounge where guests can enjoy an aperitif or nightcap, with a fireplace, chess board and shelves full of books. The menu has a good range of classic dishes and seafood specialities. Anything special that is not on the menu (eg. lobster or a seafood platter or any other favourites) can be ordered by giving 24 hours’ notice.
We had the most delicious dinner during our stay. Our starters were the pan-seared Brixham scallops, beautifully-succulent and presented with a pea purée, basil pesto and chorizo, and the smoked duck breast, with peaches, rocket and toasted almond panzanella salad, and a balsamic glaze.
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For our mains, we had the West Country fillet of beef, cooked just to my liking (rare) with hand-cut chips, onion rings, tomato, mushrooms and peppercorn jus and, from the specials, a delicious battered monkfish burger with a chorizo jam, garlic mayonnaise, fries and a mixed leaf salad.
The dark chocolate brownie, chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream rounded off a lovely evening.
We didn’t use it on this visit but the hotel also has a spa with two treatment rooms that use the GAIA Skincare brand, as well as a sauna, steam room and hydrotherapy pool.
Scenically perched over Babbacombe Bay, and on the route of the South West Coastal Path, The Cary Arms lies 23 miles south of Exeter. It is only a one minute walk to Babbacombe beach below, or a 15-minute walk to Oddicombe beach situated on the opposite side of the bay. The town of Babbacombe has its own theatre and can be reached on foot from the hotel or via the funicular railway from Oddicombe beach.
The inn is just a short drive from the harbour towns of Torquay (8 mins), Paignton (20 mins), Brixham (30 mins) and Brixham (55 mins), whilst the edge of Dartmoor is around 30 minutes inland. Nearby attractions include Babbacome Model Village (4 mins), Torre Abbey (10 mins), Cockington Country Park (15 mins), Berry Pomeroy Castle (25 mins) and the National Trust’s Greenway (30 mins).
There’s also no end of activities to enjoy nearby – golf at Teignmouth Golf Club (20 mins), horse riding at Haldon Riding Stables (35 mins), watersports and river cruises. We were in the area to attend a national sailing competition run out of Royal Torbay Yacht Club in Torquay.
Although there is much to see and do in the area, your days could equally be spent simply soaking the immediate environs of the hotel. My son, who was competing in the sailing competition but also takes part in triathlons, enjoyed swimming across the bay and running along the coastline.
Other nice touches
A decanter of complimentary sloe gin, some snacks and a Smeg mini-fridge pre-loaded with a bottle of wine, soft drinks and water are just some of the litle extras we found in our hut. A turndown service is also available if you’d like one.
The hotel also has a selection of fishing rods available for complimentary use. The pier on Babbacombe Beach is a popular place to cast a rod with local fishermen tending to land a healthy catch of mackerel. If you are successful and wish to bring your mackerel back to the hotel, then the kitchen team will be more than happy to cook this for you. Lightly baked and served with butter, lemon and salad is their recommendation!
Luxury beach huts start from £475 per night, with breakfast included.
The best bit
Whilst there is much to admire about The Cary Arms, it’s hard to look beyond the inn’s stunning seaside location as the stand-out highlight. Couple this with the ability to dine al fresco in this stunning setting and you are left wondering whether there is ever a need to travel abroad.
The final verdict
The Cary Arms and Spa exudes a very special charm with a laidback atmosphere. Known as ‘the inn on the beach’, this five star property is informal and easygoing, but nevertheless professionally run with attentive staff – the perfect recipe for a relaxed getaway in the English Riviera.
Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by The Cary Arms and Spa.