Ginny Weeks discovers real charm and fantastic food at this boutique Devon hotel by the sea, during a stay in one of their new luxury beach huts.
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The Cary Arms & Spa is located at the bottom of a steep and winding lane, set in a remarkable position amongst pastel coloured houses overlooking Babbacombe Bay. The view of the Jurassic coastline is magnificent; sparkling turquoise water (complete with resident dolphins), stretches all the way across to Exmouth with lush, green forests and manicured fields forming the backdrop. It’s not called the English Riviera for nothing.
Affluent Victorians had a liking for this part of Devon, building grand seaside villas to appreciate the mild climate and fresh air. Nowadays these are regal residential homes, painted in a palette from sherbet lemon to candy floss pink, sat regally on the cliff tops. Further down Babbacombe Bay you’ll find the Victorian funicular railway (still in use today) to transport walkers up the cliff side to the village.
If you like walking you are in for a treat – from the hotel, you can access the South West Coastal Path, a 630-mile walk from Somerset’s Minehead to Poole Harbour in Dorset. En route, you’ll find quaint seaside villages for tea, ice cream or fish and chips.
In the evenings the Victorian seaside town of Torquay is only a few minutes away by car for Michelin-starred restaurants and a theatre. Or try Dartmouth with its pretty harbour, pubs and sailing culture. For shopping (and the excellent restaurant Circa 1924) the Cathedral city of Exeter is a 45-minute drive away.
After arriving wet and cold from horizontal rain and freezing wind (and with a manic dog in tow), we were greeted with cosy, English Inn style decor, crackling fires and the smell of something delicious from the kitchen. A few minutes later we settled into our luxurious beach hut a minute walk from the hotel, the dog on her specially provided bed, and us collapsing onto the huge sofa with a glass of complimentary sloe gin. Later, we headed to the hotel restaurant for local mussels and freshly baked bread with a delicious white wine sauce.
The Cary Arms & Spa has a super relaxed, welcoming vibe that cleverly blends luxury touches with home comforts. On warmer days you can chill out over a meal, drink or post-spa treatment on one of the many terraces overlooking the sea. Alternatively, have a picnic on the little beach below. In the winter you can spend your time inside the welcoming lounge by the fire or in the billiards room, perfect for hiding from harsh weather with a G+T.
Head Chef Steve Poyner has created a deservedly popular menu of gastropub dishes that emphasise fantastic local produce, from Devon beef to Lyme Bay lobster. Everything we sampled was delicious, including the full Devon breakfast and smoked salmon & dill sandwiches.
The friendly staff, many of whom have worked at the hotel for decades, were a real highlight. They are helpful and passionate about what they do and a genuine family feel permeates the whole place.
The Beach Hut
Our whitewashed beach hut, set on a sheltered, sunny spot overlooking the sea, had a lovely understated luxury feel. You enter via the sunbathing deck, through the full height glass doors to a large chill out area with contemporary art, vintage seaside posters, retro furniture and a mini kitchenette (with complimentary locally made snacks and drinks).
The bathroom has a waterfall walk-in shower and White Company toiletries. Upstairs you’ll find the mezzanine bedroom area with a great sea view and a huge bed with crisp white linen.
Tucked away at the top of the hotel you’ll find the Cary Arms Thalgo spa, an expansive, glass-fronted space with a wrap around sunbathing deck and views out to sea. Inside is equally impressive with a waterfall hydrotherapy pool, steam and sauna room, gym, chill out area and three Thalgo treatment rooms. For a small boutique hotel, a state-of-the-art spa like this one is a rarity and a huge plus.