Looking for places to stay near Salcombe? Want a rustic-chic hotel in Devon? Read our review of Gara Rock in South Devon.
Gara Rock in a nutshell
Devon’s hippest new hotel, perched on the bluff of a cliff near Salcombe, has 12 rustic-chic bedrooms, a relaxed restaurant with sun terrace, indoor and outdoor heated pools, and a clutch of stylish self-catering family-friendly cottages – all of which are cleverly positioned to make the most of magnificent coastal views.
Set on the South West Coastal Path, at the end of a tangle of narrow high-hedged country lanes, Gara Rock has an edge-of-the-world feel, where zero mobile signal and patchy internet lends it a refreshingly low-fi, analogue vibe. Clean-cut families, couples, hikers and dog-walkers are drawn by its laid-back, beachy atmosphere, staying for leg-pumping rambles, beach picnics, coastal cuisine and spa treatments – or just to gawp at the epic views.
Interiors have an earthy, ethnic bent and are furnished with artisan products from Devon-based store, Nkuku (hand-loomed Rajasthani block-print jute rugs and armchairs, rattan lampshades handwoven in Indonesia, and Cambodian seagrass baskets).
Which room should I book?
There are no bad choices, with all rooms sharing the same cosy feel, and most enjoying sea views from balconies, terraces or gardens. Loft suite 5 is the most impressive, with an open-plan living area, freestanding bath, contemporary wood-burning stove, and a super king bed and terrace facing the sunset.
Bathrooms have powerful walk-in showers, fluffy towels and bespoke organic toiletries. Fresh milk is provided for a morning brew, but there’s no mini bar. The new penthouse and signal house are geared for large groups, while the uber-romantic secret suite is a luxurious, hidden-away option for lovebirds.
The food and drink
Gara Rock’s restaurant and terrace is its main draw, offering a relaxed vibe, a limited but reliable menu that caters for all culinary persuasions, and panoramic vistas through floor-to-ceiling windows (tables 115 or 117 have uninterrupted views). The kitchen was in a state of flux during my visit, with the arrival of head chef Chris Warwick, but Lancashire-born Chris promises coastal cooking with a northern twist, weaving in personal favourites such as Ampleforth Abbey cider, Lancashire Bomb cheddar, black pudding, and sweets including Bakewell Tart, Eccles and lardy cakes.
Dishes are still in development, but look out for the rump of lamb with ricotta, wild garlic, turnip tops and shepherd's pie sauce; or smoked Cornish lobster with mashed potato and lobster claw gravy. Local suppliers include Riverford Farm and Rusty Pig charcuterie. The hotel’s small kitchen garden provides herbs, salad leaves and summer fruits, while flowering rosemary is foraged from cliffs. There are two bars stocked with West Country gins, including Salcombe Gin (distilled in a former sail loft in town), Luscombe fruit juices, Devonshire ciders and Dartmoor ales. For an on-the-go lunch, the ‘Garavan’ – a retro Citroën van parked on Gara’s cliff edge – serves fortifying takeaways such as pasties and sausage rolls.
Also in the throes of change, but a forthcoming menu promises all the favourites, as well as more imaginative offerings including ricotta and honey toast with nutmeg, corned beef hash with fried egg and Worcestershire sauce, and an English breakfast tartine. The already excellent buffet will be jazzed up further with homemade heather-honey granolas and conserves, foraged cordials and Devon-made charcuterie.
What else can foodies do?
Work up an appetite with a 45-minute coastal walk to sandy Mill Bay beach, refuel at the cute little Venus beach café, then hop on the jaunty passenger ferry from East Portlemouth to Salcombe, where you can make your own gin at Salcombe Gin, watch ice-cream being made at Salcombe Dairy, and tuck into chargrilled scallops at cheery, bunting-garlanded beach café, The Winking Prawn. Overbeck’s, a National Trust property, serves a mean cream tea in tropical gardens overlooking the estuary. Gara Rock offers complimentary Land Rover pick-ups from East Portlemouth dock for those who overindulge and can’t face the walk home.
Is it family friendly?
Five self-catering cottages are geared for families, comprising three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an open plan kitchen and small garden. There are two heated pools – one indoor and one outdoor – and several sandy beaches nearby with shallow swimming (though no lifeguards). There’s a crowd-pleasing children’s menu and a relaxed attitude to tearaways in the restaurant. A private cinema shows daily child-friendly films, as well as those for a more grown-up audience. The hotel’s proximity to cliff edges rules out allowing young children to roam free.
Don’t miss the sunrise clifftop yoga sessions in summer, which are followed by brunch.
Words by Suzy Bennett, April 2019