Babbacombe is the kind of place Agatha Christie might have sent a recuperating character to: there’s Devon sunshine, blue seas, charming Oddicombe beach (made private by the shelter of a steep, tree-lined cliff) and even an art deco funicular railway linking the beach to Babbacombe’s pretty clifftop green. Standing sentinel over all of this is the Cary Arms, squeezed inside the curve of the bay directly above the beach.
Sleep: The Cary Arms dates back to the 1800s and feels custom-designed to embrace the view. Bedrooms (some dog-friendly) have a fresh, coastal feel. If there are more of you than two, rent one of the adjoining blue-and-white fisherman’s cottages that come with log fires and fancy bathrooms.
Or, for a romantic weekend, book one of the inn’s new beach huts. Inside these duplex suites is a private sitting room and bathroom with a mezzanine bedroom upstairs and nothing but the sparkling English Channel in front.
Eat: This must be the most tranquil place for a pint in Devon; the view stretches to Portland Bill in Dorset and takes in the pink-soil cliffs of the English Riviera and an old pier where both seals and locals like to fish.
The panorama changes with where you sit – tables inside the conservatory and the circular ‘captain’s table’ outside are particularly lovely. Also outside is a series of terraces separated by rock gardens while, inside, it’s all log fire cosiness, with tables pointing seawards and shiny nautical brassware.
For breakfast, try grilled kippers or the Devon full English, for lunch a succulent local white crab meat and lemon mayonnaise bloomer. Dinner centres around fish – pick one of the chef’s specials for the freshest catch, delicately poached John Dory with basil pesto and seasonal vegetables, perhaps, or Lyme Bay lobster. The wine list is extensive and each week the De Savary family (the inn’s owners) choose a different house white and red.
Do: Walk along Oddicombe beach via a wooden walkway to reach the funicular (look out for crabs skirting the rock pools below) and catch your ride up the cliffs.
Double rooms at The Cary Arms start from £195, b&b. More info: visitdevon.co.uk
Tell someone you’re going to Aberdovey and the reply tends to be “Abu Dhabi? Lucky you!” It’s not so much visitors in the Arabian Gulf who are fortunate, however, but those who make a beeline for this picturesque estuary village in Snowdonia, on the west coast of Wales.
Whether in bright sunshine or under dishwater skies, the coastline always seems picture-perfect. For walkers and dog-owners there are miles of wind-whipped sand and dunes to wander (often deserted outside the peak summer months) and, directly behind the village, rolling green hills leading off towards the sky. You can try your hand at all manner of watersports. And Aberdovey itself is a creative little place, with art galleries, cafés and a deli.
Sleep: For a mixed generation get-together, book one of the handful of cottages at the Trefeddian Hotel. A classic family-friendly retreat with a bit of old-fashioned grandeur, it’s in a quiet position just outside the village, separated from the sand dunes by a golf course (visit off-season and you can watch its greens being dutifully nibbled by sheep).
Cottage guests can use all the hotel facilities, which include a great children’s games room and swimming pool. There is a restaurant but, if you’re staying in a cottage, you can eat both in and (if you have babysitting-willing grandparents in tow) out.
Eat: Aberdovey has a fish restaurant, pubs and a decent fish and chip shop, but it’s worth booking a table at the Salt Marsh Kitchen in neighbouring Tywyn. This small bistro is particularly good on fish and local meat; check the specials board for adeptly-cooked scallops, hake or bouillabaisse.
Or, for fine dining, drive half an hour around the coast to Michelin-starred Ynyshir Hall for chef Gareth Ward’s elegant tasting menus. One of the Good Food Guide’s top 50 restaurants in the UK this year, expect stellar service and Japanese-influenced cooking: lamb rib with mint and soy, or a deconstructed tiramisu.
Do: It’s all about the shoreline here, whether you want to paint it, sail it or walk it. If you really don’t want to step outside, hunker down at the Trefeddian with a Welsh afternoon tea: buttered bara brith, homemade Welsh cakes and tea or coffee.
Cottage rental at the Trefeddian Hotel starts from £285 for six people for a week. More info: visitsnowdonia.info
Imagine Cornwall, only quieter. Much of The Kingdom of Fife, just over the Forth Bridge from Edinburgh, is neat farmland and its coastline is peppered with sand and old stone villages. Harbours team with fishing trawlers unloading creels of langoustine and lobster, and lanes are lined with fancy farm shops and Italian ice-cream cafés (check out Jannettas in St Andrews): in summer Fife feels like a giant picnic hamper.
In the heart of it, in the village of Elie, is The Ship Inn. A local institution, it’s recently been taken over by Graham and Rachel Bucknall and they’ve revamped it, opening an upstairs restaurant and six contemporary bedrooms. In the pub, dogs lie in front of a roaring fire, seafaring photos hang on the walls and a beer garden just above the beach is perfect for a sundowner (try a local Eden Mill gin and tonic). This is old-fashioned bucket-and-spade territory. Go cockling on the shore, build sandcastles, tuck into a pub barbecue or walk out along Fife’s Coastal Path.
Sleep: The Ship’s new bedrooms are decked out in fresh, coastal style with a smattering of junk-shop finds. Bedside tables are made from stacks of old suitcases. Walls are clad with aquamarine tongue-and-groove and the seaside vibe is accentuated by old wooden oars, rope ladders and glass buoys. Contemporary comfort comes from roll-top baths, monsoon showers, flat-screen TVs, espresso machines and free WiFi. From the window seat of the top-floor ‘Admiral’ room you can gaze down on dog-walkers weaving across the village’s broad, sandy beach.
Eat: Famous for its fish and chips, the inn champions Scottish seafood and local shellfish (the crab, lobster and langoustine are landed at nearby Pittenweem). You can tuck into pub grub, bangers and mash-style, or opt for home-cured salmon with samphire, confit fennel and saffron dressing followed by seared sea bream with cauliflower and samphire, tempura oyster and crispy capers.
Do: Watch a game of cricket from the beer garden. The inn is the only pub in Britain to have a cricket team with a pitch on the beach; this year’s cricket festival takes place from 12-14 August.
Double rooms at The Ship Inn start from £90, including breakfast. More info: foodfromfife.co.uk
ISLE OF WIGHT
Brits have been holidaying in the Isle of Wight’s resorts since Victorian times and it’s partly that traditional charm that attracts us today. On the island’s southern tip you can stay in a hotel (The Royal) that the Michelin Guide has recommended every year since it was first published in 1911. But skip over to Newport or Cowes and you’ll find ambitious young restaurateurs using island produce in modern sleek recipes.
Sleep: Afternoon tea served on manicured lawns and a lofty dining room that looks as if it once doubled as a ballroom show that The Royal hasn’t lost its Victorian feel. Bedrooms enjoy the same ambience and most are painted sky blue to complement the views of Ventnor Bay, a five-minute walk away.
At the opposite end of the scale, The Little Gloster, in Cowes, takes inspiration from co-owner Ben Cooke’s Danish grandmother. Set against The Solent, a stretch of water usually peppered with sailboats, it looks like an unfussy little bungalow from the outside, but inside, its clean, white interiors are illuminated, Scandinavian-style, by candlelight. The three suites here are chic but cosy; lounge on squashy cushions on your veranda and watch the yachts.
Eat: The Royal’s traditional dining room belies the kitchen’s clever, delicate cooking. Cheese soufflés made from the island’s gallybagger cheese (similar to cheddar) are so light that they evaporate on the tongue; and pearly white lemon sole has just the right level of bite. For a more modern menu, head to Thompson’s in Newport.
Chef Robert Thompson’s first solo venture, you can watch him in his tiny open-plan kitchen producing dishes such as smoked wood pigeon carpaccio – velvety soft and dramatically presented under a smoky glass globe – and skate wing served with rich, porky black pudding balls. Not surprisingly, The Little Gloster offers a subtly Scandinavian-inspired menu – try house-cured gravadlax with a shot of homemade aquavit, or catch-of-the-day with punchy pickled cockles and vegetal seaweed mash.
Do: Take in the beauty of Tennyson Down (the poet lived on the island for over a decade) on a walk from The Needles to Freshwater Bay, stopping off at Dimbola Lodge for fat scones with jam and cream.
Double rooms at The Royal start from £190, b&b and at The Little Gloster from £120, b&b. Return vehicle ferry crossings from Southampton to East Cowes cost from £51 (redfunnel.co.uk).
More info: visitisleofwight.co.uk
With its cinematic beaches and big skies, the North Norfolk coast has long drawn walkers, cocklers, twitchers and bucket-and-spaders. But, increasingly, visitors are lured there by food. Norfolk’s north-west is especially flavour-intense. Thornham is home to the Orange Tree (Norfolk Dining Pub of the Year 2016), tiny Titchwell has its award-winning Manor (more on that later).
At mast-clanking Brancaster Staithe, the freshest mussels and local smoked fish are stuffed into baguettes at the Crab Hut. And, amongst the pretty flint-and-brick cottages of Burnham Market, you can buy potted shrimp from Gurneys Fishmonger and Norfolk pork pies from Humble Pie Deli.
Sleep: Handsome redbrick Titchwell Manor gazes across the marshes to The Wash. Formerly a farmhouse, built by Oxford’s Magdalen College in 1897, it’s now a smart 27-room hotel that marries Victorian stateliness with bold, modern brio. The manor guestrooms are a riot of statement wallpaper, vintage pieces and acid colours. There are calmer blue-white or neutral retreats in the converted outbuildings, arranged around the herb garden; best is The Potting Shed, a standalone hideaway with log burner, veranda and roll-top bath.
Eat: Head chef Eric Snaith, whose family bought Titchwell Manor when he was a boy, learned on the job. Like its rooms, Titchwell’s kitchen caters for all tastes. Robust bar staples in the hotel’s Eating Rooms offer counterpoint to the Conservatory’s inventive tasting menus (poached cod, beer broth and inky squid crackers) and monthly supper clubs – 15 June is Crab Shack night. Snaith does foraging, too: sea purslane, stonecrop, sea buckthorn to infuse vodka.
In nearby Thornham, Eric’s Fish & Chips, opened by Snaith in 2015, elevates the old coastal faves: sustainable fish in beer batter, pickled quails’ eggs, homemade black garlic aïoli.
Do: Hire binoculars and explore Titchwell Marsh RSPB Reserve – trails run alongside the wetlands to the beach and state-of-the-art hides. In summer, look for marsh harriers gliding over the reeds and avocets on the lagoons.
Double rooms at Titchwell Manor start from £125, b&b, or £185, dinner, b&b. More info: visitnorthnorfolk.com
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