Much of The South Hams is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and its stunning landscape, with all its rivers and rias, coves and creeks, has plenty to appreciate and explore. Amongst the rolling green hills and blue coastal towns, there are exciting pockets of artisan producers, independent shops and passionate makers to discover…
If you’re willing to set aside a day for wild swimming, pootle down the estuary on South Devon’s River Avon and let the current gently carry you down to sandy Bantham Beach (pictured below right). There’s a car park in Aveton Gifford – start here and slide into the river. Enjoy its steady pull as you drift downstream, floating on your back as the landscape passes by you. The sandy riverbed makes for clear waters and a soft ground underfoot. Wearing a wetsuit and boots is best for the walk back, and it goes without saying that you should always consult the tide times before setting off and make sure someone on dry land knows what you’re doing.
When you arrive at Bantham Beach why not brush up on your surfing, SUP, or kayaking on its pristine sands? South Devon’s most renowned surf spot. Qualified instructors from Bantham Surfing Academy can offer guidance – and patience – taking you up the River Avon on a paddleboard or improving your surfing in a couple of hours. Otherwise, there are boards for hire on the beach. For something a little different, one of their adventure kayak tours will take you to Burgh Island and its snorkelling coves.
Burgh Island is a private, secluded tidal island that’s home to famed Art Deco hotel built in 1929. Burgh Island Hotel still boasts many of its original interiors and has a fascinating history sprinkled with tales of legendary guests. Adding to the ‘Great Gatsby’ vibe is its impressive Grand Ballroom (below left), where tasting menus are accompanied by live piano music and black tie is encouraged. Next to the hotel you’ll find The Pilchard Inn: a weather- beaten smugglers inn with over 700 years of history. Find a cosy corner by an open fire and sample a host of locally brewed craft beers, wines and local ciders.
No visit to the South Hams would be complete without a trip to the enchanting waterside town of Dartmouth. Its sweeping hillside is covered in candy coloured houses that lead down to the banks of the River Dart. A trek up to the top of Jawbone Hill offers a beautiful panoramic vista at the top, but it’s worth taking a day to explore the town itself. Its ancient narrow streets are home to a myriad of boutique shops, delicatessens and art galleries. Spend an afternoon milling in and out of colourful backstreet galleries (mostly selling affordable art and gifts geared toward tourists) or stroll along the embankment and watch the boats bobbing on the water.
Dartmouth’s foodie credentials are top notch. To experience the best seafood in town book a table at The Seahorse Restaurant (below left). It’s an elegant bistro with leather banquettes, white tablecloths and flickering candles. Breathe in the intoxicating aromas of the open charcoal grill and finish off your evening with a bottle of Seahorse Rosé in adjoining Joe’s Bar.
Head to ANDRIA for exquisitely presented Modern European cuisine. Head chef Luca Berardino was born in Paris and raised on five generations of Italian home cooking (so you just know his food is next level). Bar 1620 is a sophisticated yet laidback venue that serves an excellent range of cocktails. Sit by the wood-burner and enjoy a drink in their ‘cosy corner’ or head over on a Thursday night for live music sessions.
You’ll find that the best views of Dartmouth are from the water itself, so you could always hire a boat from Dartmouth Boat Hire Company. Their self-steer boats let you explore the River Dart at your own pace. Cruise along the water to the idyllic village of Dittisham, a popular spot for locals thanks to its unspoilt beauty and a sense that it operates outside of normal time. Sink a pint of traditional ale at the characterful Ferry Boat Inn (you won’t miss its bright pink exterior) or feast on freshly caught crab at The Anchor Stone Café.
A short drive – or a brisk walk – from Dartmouth town centre gets you to Dartmouth Castle. The castle, which has origins dating back to 1388, is managed by English Heritage and allows its visitors to explore its ancient passageways and climb to the top of its turrets for unbeatable estuary views. Visit their onsite cafe to enjoy an authentic Devonshire cream tea in the sunshine and watch as sailing boats drift by.
Close to the castle is Gallants Bower – a medieval fort built during the English Civil War. In May, the whole area is carpeted by beautiful bluebells and is a truly idyllic spot for a stroll. Walk a little further along the coastline and you’ll arrive at one of South Devon’s most photogenic places: Sugary Cove Beach. It’s largely hidden by woodland, so it’s easy to miss – especially since there are no signs. Follow the steep rock steps down to this remote shingle beach and see if you can nab one of the three picnic benches. It’s a lovely spot to picnic in the sun or take a dip in the water.
On a sunny day, South Milton Sands is glorious. It’s perfectly positioned for the golden hour, catching the sun as it hazily sets over the glittering sea and iconic Thurlestone Rock. The Beachhouse is a foodie hotspot that soaks up these views and satisfies all seafood cravings in the process. Although it’s a beachside café – and has all the relaxed vibes of one – the price tag is more akin to a typical restaurant. However, the food is so good we’re sure you won’t mind. Expect overflowing platters of freshly caught and simply cooked seafood, such as meaty crab claws and plump mussels.
Pleasantly full, head back to a darling self-catering property like Bowcombe Boathouse on the Kingsbridge Estuary (pictured above right). What was once the disused storage shed of a traditional Salcombe Yawl, has now been lovingly restored in dark teak and aged brass, and decorated with found and foraged materials. Curl up with a blanket on the decking and watch the ever-changing views of the estuary.
Lead photo Burgh Island by Mark Naylor. Bantham Beach by Jim Catlin / Shutterstock. Bowcombe Beachhouse by Alie Victoria.
Want more Devon ideas? Get your hands on a copy of The Maverick Guide to Devon Vol 2