The Country Life guide to South Devon: Where to go, what to see, where to stay and what to eat

Mile-upon-mile of coastline, England’s largest fish market and idyllic scenery make South Devon a fantastic staycation destination. Here’s our guide to what to do, where to stay and what to eat. 

South Devon is one of the UK’s 46 AONBs — a scone-shaped plump of land defined by its rolling hills; some home to sheep and cattle that sometimes frequent the beaches below, others to row upon row of quivering, golden crops. 

The area stretches for more than 130 square miles across the South Hams, covering a host of well-known spots, including Burgh Island (the inspiration behind Agatha Christie’s Soldier Island, Salcombe, Dartmouth (home to the oldest working steam train in the world) and Newton Ferrers — as well as 60 miles of the South West Coast Path. 

The six-plus miles of continuous, pre-Cambrian cliffs around Bolt Head, west of Salcombe, is one of the longest stretches in the National Trust’s possession and well worth exploring. 

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What to do


A list of South Devon’s walks requires a website of its own, but a loop starting in Kingston, heading down to Wonwell Beach and east along the coast path; Revelstoke Drive and Noss Mayo (above); and variations from East Soar car park (to Bolt Head, Soar Mill and beyond) all deserve special mention. Wherever you end up walking, please remember to close any gates behind you and keep your dog under control (especially during the lambing season). 


South Devon’s northerly counterpart takes gold for best surf beaches, but Bantham and Bigbury still put up a good fight. Surf can be non-existent on calm, summer days, so travel in the shoulder seasons (and when the RNLI lifeguards are on duty) if catching waves is high up on your agenda. In winter, the water is often populated with acrobatic wind-surfers. 

Greenway House 

Agatha Christie’s Georgian home is likely one of the only National Trust houses that can be reached on foot, by train, ferry, canoe, kayak and boat (contact Greenway Ferries if you want to moor at Greenway Quay). Visit the boathouse — scene of the crime in Dead Man’s Folly — the gun battery, a Napoleonic defence, built in the 1790s, and take a stroll around the walled gardens, woodland, fernery and camellia garden. 

Brixham Fish Market

One for early risers! Go behind the scenes at England’s largest fish market; witness the operational side of the daily fish auctions, learn more about the 40 different types of fish that pass through the market’s door and much more. Guides are unflinchingly honest about the effects that overfishing is having on the environment and what can be done about it, and the problems facing the fishing industry as a whole. 

Outside Devon

Outside is a multi-use space, comprising a cafe, pottery studio, surfboard shaping bay and skatepark — the perfect spot for entertaining children in. It’s also the brainchild of musician Ben Howard. Farm tours, ceramic courses and comedy nights are all available to book in advance. 

South Milton Flower Farm

Pick your own seasonal and organically-grown bouquet at South Milton’s beautiful flower farm. Just keep an eye on their Instagram page for opening days and hours. Wedding flowers, workshops and pre-made bouquets are also available upon request. 


The ancient stannary town of Ashburton, on the southern edge of Dartmoor National Park, has more than 10, excellent antique shops to peruse and plenty of places to eat and drink in (imagine a lesser-known Bruton). Look out for the adorable dogs watching over town proceedings from the shop windows. 

Mothecombe Gardens

Mothecombe gardens are open every Tuesday, between April and September, and occasionally for charity on other dates. Sheltered gardens run down to the sea, a cornucopia of camellias, magnolias and cherries; hellebores, primroses and, in the spring, a carpet of bluebells. The house itself, a Queen Anne design with additions by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is part of the privately-owned Flete Estate. Her Majesty The Queen has been spotted swimming off the beach below.

Where to stay

Gara Rock, East Portlemouth, nr Salcombe 

One of South Devon’s newest hotels with unbeatable panoramic views out to sea. If you’re travelling as a family of four, splash out on the Signal House, a self-catering bolthole on site which has its own hot tub and living space. 

Bowcombe Boathouse, Kingsbridge 

This bohemian, waterside retreat is best for couples (there’s one double bed). If possible, bring a paddleboard or kayak and spend some time exploring the Kingsbridge Estuary (actually a drowned valley, caused by rising sea levels at the end of the last glacial period, carpeted in eelgrass which supports a rare seahorse population). 

The Bull Inn, Totnes

This self-described ‘organic and ethical pub’ boasts stylish rooms and a no-nonsense menu that puts an emphasis on seasonal, local produce and minimal waste. The majority of South Devon is served by Totnes train station (the former Saxon town has more listed buildings per head than any other town in Britain) so The Bull Inn is well-placed for people travelling without a car. 

Hotel Endsleigh, Tavistock

Hotel Endsleigh (above and main image) — part of Olga Polizzi’s The Polizzi Collection — is on the western fringes of Dartmoor, close to the border with Cornwall. It’s a proper English country house hotel; the former home of Georgina Russell, Duchess of Bedford (married to the incomparably rich John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford, and the lover of Edwin Landseer) and famous for its 100-acre, Humphrey Repton-designed garden.  

Hope Cove House, Hope Cove

A seaside restaurant-and-rooms that has been simply, but effectively designed. Its proximity to the water cannot really be beaten and, to make the most of this, there are no TVs in the bedrooms. Perfect for couples in need of a mid-week or long weekend getaway. 

Where to eat 

The Crab Shed, Salcombe

A no-frills restaurant, perched on the edge of Salcombe’s busy quay. The crab linguine is nothing short of legendary — sustainably harvested by local fisherman and delivered to the very same quay, and handpicked on site. Booking ahead is advised, although it’s always worth dropping in at lunchtime (for a crab sandwich of course) to see if you can nab a no-show’s table. 

Rockfish, Dartmouth

Mitch Tonks’ seminal restaurant looks out across the River Dart and sources its seafood from Brixham Fish Market. Country Life contributor Tom Parker Bowles is amongst its biggest fans. 

Britannia @ The Beach, Beesands

This is Britain’s best fish and chips (in my opinion at least). If you don’t fancy some humble battered haddock, choose between scallops, moules-frites and tiger prawns. Whatever you order, it’s best eaten on the beach.  

Emilia, Ashburton

A teeny-tiny Italian eatery and wine bar in Ashburton (see ‘What to do’). Dishes are designed to share, but you’ll soon find yourself warily guarding plates and ordering more. 

The Millbrook Inn, South Pool 

On a high tide it’s possible to arrive at The Millbrook by boat (please check tide times ahead; this writer takes no responsibility for beached boats). The menu is impressive (a kedgeree risotto and sauce Bretonne; bangers and mash reimagined with smoked bone marrow) and there’s an overwhelming focus on nose-to-tail eating, but service can slip during busier periods so come for lunch or in the off-season.