Published on Friday, February 17, 2017
Emma Russell discovers you don't have to wait for summer to enjoy a Beach Hut break on the Devon coast.
The Cary Arms sits in a peaceful bay, tucked in to the bottom of the cliffs on Babbacombe Beach, just north of Torquay in South Devon. This five-star inn shares the bay with a few fishermen's cottages, a small pebbly beach, car park and café and has beautiful sea views across the red rocks of Lyme Bay. What's striking is how the area has been so well preserved, with no English Riviera eyesores, almost as if time has stood still. It wasn't too difficult to imagine Queen Victoria being taken close to the shore in a rowing boat, so that she could admire and sketch the scenery. Yes, she came to this bay a couple of times, apparently, as does Sammy the seal, and the odd dolphin if you time it right. Oddicombe, the red sandy beach opposite the inn, is worth a walk, via the wooden foot bridge.
Ah the warmth! Everything about the inn was cosy and welcoming after a long journey. The entrance is via the original 19th century inn, which is home to the dining area, with beamed ceilings, stone walls, open fires and broad views of the bay. The Beach Huts can be reached from outside, via decking and pretty coastal gardens. Perched up over the beach were four huts next to each other, traditionally decorated in blue and white wood cladding, glass doors along the width of the front, and a port hole up in the eaves, with the sea just a few metres away. After incessant talking in the car, my six-year-old daughter fell silent when we were shown in. Not like the Brighton beach huts at all! In fact, so much bigger, and with electricity. There was a lounge and bathroom downstairs, and a bedroom upstairs on the mezzanine level. The interior was very slick - white walls, large, bold seaside art, and stylish and bright furnishings. Looking up there was a glass-fronted balcony on the bedroom level. Eve had her eye on the enormous sofa perfectly positioned opposite the large flat screen TV, and was soon to discover yet another TV up in the bedroom, which caused even more delight. Each beach hut was carefully designed to get the maximum sea view but not be overlooked. The contemporary design and colours inside were impressive, but the sea views were the main attraction. It didn't matter what the weather was doing outside, it was wonderful to be up so close to the sea and yet warm and cosy.
The new spa houses a glass-fronted hydrotherapy pool with coastal views, a steam and sauna room, treatment rooms, and mini gym. The residents' lounge in the main inn is a lovely place to relax, with its wall-to-wall nautical memorabilia and huge semi-circular windows facing the sea. A large open fire can warm your cockles while you help yourself to the odd chocolate (box left open). Just off the lounge is a small games room with a billiards table, chessboard and other board games.
You can sip tea in the morning from a big comfy bed, looking out of the large porthole opposite, watching seagulls fly in and out of the frame. On our big white pillows were sticks of rock, which was a nice touch, and the decor followed the seaside theme with prints of underwater life on the walls and shell-filled lamps. With a walk-in power shower, stylish natural stone on the walls, contemporary white suite, and fluffy towels, it felt very luxurious. Other highlights were discovering the Tassimo drinks machine, a Smeg fridge, Sonos digital music system and White Company toiletries. There were other thoughtful touches too, such as an umbrella by the door in case of a shower.
Children are made very welcome with games to choose from in the residents' lounge, fishing rods and tackle, and even buckets and spades left on their beds on arrival. There's a choice of two beautifully clean beaches in the bay, a cafe, and the old Babbacombe Cliff Railway can take you from the beach all the way to the top of the cliff if you don't fancy the hike. Babbacombe Model Village is worth a visit for little ones and Bygones, the wax museum, is also local. Paighton Zoo, Crealy Adventure Park, Castles and National Trust Gardens are all nearby.
Wining and dining:
The emphasis is on high quality local Devon produce that's fresh and reflects the seasons. With recommendations in The Good Food Guide and in the Michelin Eating out Guide, the restaurant isn't short of good reviews. Dining was in the main inn or conservatory, which was relaxed, and the staff were chatty and informal.
Breakfast was a full-on feast of fruit, yoghurt, pastries, and juices followed by a choice of an English breakfast, eggs benedict, scrambled eggs, salmon, kippers, or pancakes and syrup. If you're too darn lazy to get out of bed you can have a Devon breakfast hamper delivered to your door. There's a choice of dishes for lunch, or you can pre order lobster, oysters, or a seafood platter. Then give it half an hour and it's time for afternoon tea, which means scones, jam and clotted cream. My favourite dinner was grilled goats cheese on crostini with red onion jam, pan fried sea bass with crushed potatoes, seasonal veg, and a cream and dill sauce, followed by a baileys and vanilla crème brulé. It was exceptional. The children's menu had all the favourites, with chips of course. Eve's verdict was 'This is the best food ever!'. And for canine friends there was even a dog's special on offer - turkey and rice this particular week.
The sea views, the peaceful location, and the luxuriousness of the beach huts were the main highs. The kindness of the staff also made our stay very special. Nothing was too much trouble.
It's a pretty hair-raising journey to the car park at the bottom of the cliff on arrival - a white knuckle, single track, virtually vertical drop to the bottom. So for those who are not used to rally driving, it's probably best to park at the top and walk.
An exceptional place to stay, and great for a special, cosy treat especially in winter.
Beach Huts, sleeping two, cost from £375 per night, including full English breakfast and VAT.
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