In the winter months our collective weekend attention turns to the one thing us Brits really go crazy for at this time of year – the cosy country pub. A warm welcome, a glass or two of something special and a roaring log fire, ideally over a long weekend out of town. Combine this timeless classic with a New England style sensibility, a fresh hotel and spa offering with a young and dynamic team, as the Cary Arms in Devon have done, and you have a winning formula.
The Cary Arms on the UK’s south-west coast is a storied and highly popular spot, visited for centuries by stay-cationing Brits (Queen Victoria was a regular) and international quaint hunters alike. It’s been hovering over Babbacombe bay since 1662 so it’s not like it’s a new spot on the scene, but, as place to rest one’s head and heart, it has recently been transformed into something worthy of both its history and its future.
De Savary Hotels, a boutique yet burgeoning collection of re-invigorated country-side bolt holes by husband and wife team, Peter and Lana De Savary, has breathed new life into this a delightful cove. They’ve added modern yet oh-so-tasteful sea front cabins and lux beach huts to the ancient bones of the wild promontory, a spa which could rival any up-scale brand-name hotel, food and drink to please on repeat and a young, helpful and affable team of locals to run the show.
Arriving on a windswept night via the 7pm from London (circa 3 hours’ journey time) we were greeted with a welcome sloe gin, a De Savary signature we’ve since learnt, and settled in to decompression mode. Our beach-front suite, a tastefully Hamptons-contemporary style cabin at the foot of the cliffs below the main house, was situated on an enormous deck perched over the tumultuous winter waves. The three-room cabin, hugely well-appointed with all the trappings of a five star stay (acres of fluffy towels, White Company products, a full decanter of the gin) was the definition of chrysalism as the great British weather thundered outside.
Waking the next morning we truly appreciated how sea-front our home for the weekend was. French windows adorn the breadth of each cabin and it was a true joy to lay in the cosy confines of bed, sipping a morning coffee, with these wide open to the elements. One can imagine that in the heady days of summer this feature and the acres of private deck outside it would be similarly glorious.
A rather epic breakfast followed. Whilst in room dining is of course an option, the main pub-come-dining-room has an ever-crackling log fire which is a rare treat at breakfast not to be missed. The Breakfast offering was of an unquestionable level. A crisp newspaper and barista-worthy coffee appeared in a flash (always a great sign) and compendious offering of authentic Full English style options was presented to us, accompanied by selection of cheeses, hams, breads, fruits, cereals and juices which the term “breakfast buffet” is just not good enough for. It was all we could ask for. Smoked Kippers, oft awol on today’s menus, were truly welcome; highly recommended and a perfect refrain to the cracking fire and salty sea air.
Babbacombe and its surrounds is really defined by its spectacular coastline. Towering cliffs which frame epic seascapes mean that the simple pleasure of a bracing walk should be the first thing on any visitor’s to do list. However, there’s more than plenty to do nearby too – the team at the hotel can arrange deep sea fishing, horse trekking on nearby Dartmoor national park, golf, sailing, diving…the list goes on. There’s more than enough there to keep any weekender happy and the pay-off in returning to the cocoon of the hotel, windswept and rosy-cheeked, is a delight.
During the wilds of winter weather though, guests would be foolish to miss the Cary Arms Spa. Serious investment has clearly been lavished here and it’s disarmingly easy to lose hours lounging in the giant and sparkling hydrotherapy pool and solarium. Steam, Sauna and tropical rainforest showers further complement and treatment rooms offer anything the modern spa-lover could want. We opted for a one hour therapeutic deep tissue massage which was transformative; the investment in the space is certainly matched by the spa team itself. A small but well-formed fitness space adjoins the spa and a high sun-deck outside would be incredible in the warmer months, if not just for the view alone.
In addition to breakfast, we ate twice more during our stay; an ambitious but delightful evening dinner in the hotel’s slightly more formal dining space. It was a solid menu from a solid chef who is delivering exactly as needed. This is most notable when you stick with the pescatarian options, which, given you can see the fisherman line-catching from the dock below, you’d be stupid not too. The wine list could have done with just a little more oomph, but that’s really the only the fault we could find and, following the recent upgrades elsewhere in the hotel, we’re sure the cellar will follow soon.
Sunday was rounded out by yet another breakfast for the ages, a windy walk and a ride on the bay’s iron-behemoth of a funicular railway (the kids and big kids will love this this) and a totally unnecessary but hugely appreciated classic British roast. Rested, repleat and really quite content it was a total wrench to leave, even with one last Sloe Gin for the road.