We discover the vibrant town of Totnes, Devon

The ancient market town of Totnes is renowned as a magnet for artists, ‘alternative types’ and London expats seeking the simplicity of rural life. Its colourful High Street is built into a steep hillside that threads its way upward from the River Dart. It’s home to an eclectic range of independent shops, quirky cafes and galleries, as well as a thriving market scene.

At the base of the hill sits The Curator Café. It’s no secret that these guys serve the best flat white in town. So grab yourself one of their speciality wood roasted coffees and nibble on some handmade biscotti as you flick through their collection of vintage books and magazines. Upstairs – almost hidden – you’ll find The Curator Kitchen. The menu here changes weekly but one thing remains consistent: Italian flavours are king. Expect fresh antipasti, delicious homemade pasta dishes and a variety of natural wines.

As you climb the hill, don’t miss Studio Nine on the right. It’s an ever-changing pop-up space conceived of by local entrepreneur, Lucie Cast. The studio gives local makers, designers and artists the rare opportunity to take over a prime retail space on a week-by-week basis. The results have been varied and exciting, with the studio hosting everything from up-and-coming fashion designers to art exhibitions. Elsewhere, The Old Bakehouse follows a similar ethos. Housed in a former bakery, the building is a sight to see – featuring its original 1907 bread oven, as well as a gorgeous flagstone floor and beautifully aged subway tiles. Lucie Cast saved the site from the hands of developers and now hosts various foodie pop-up events within its walls. 

Closeby is Rumour Wine Bar. This popular spot is usually packed with locals. It’s housed in a 14th-century building that once served as a toffee factory and a jazz club (sadly not at the same time). The atmosphere here is warm and the service is relaxed but it’s the food that keeps us coming back for more. Portions are seriously generous and their epic Sunday roasts take some beating. 

Love Frankie, a fabulous homeware and interiors shop. Lovers of all things kitsch, they’re on a mission to bring a slice of fun back into interior styling, with made-to-order lampshades, eye-popping prints and playful home accessories.

Totnes Market Square is a thriving hub of activity. Every Friday and Saturday you can catch a busy market, with stalls selling food, clothes, plants and bric-a-brac. Friday is flea market day and if you arrive early enough you can often nab yourself an antique or some pre-loved furniture.

Totnes Market Square is a thriving hub of activity. Every Friday and Saturday you can catch a busy market, with stalls selling food, clothes, plants and bric-a-brac. Friday is flea market day and if you arrive early enough you can often nab yourself an antique or some pre-loved furniture.

Get your fashion fix at independent retailers Fifty5a. Both their men’s and women’s stores are situated side-by-side and their gentlemen’s shop has a real rock n’ roll vibe to it, with vintage New York inspired interiors and modern classic clothing. Meanwhile, their ladies’ shop is dedicated to all things stylish and unique, with beautiful scents and jewellery. 

Nkuku Lifestyle Store

Take a trip back in time at Totnes Castle. Managed by English Heritage, this classic Norman motte and bailey castle was founded soon after the Conquest to overawe the Saxon town. Climb to the very top of the castle keep and soak in the far-reaching views over the town and across to the River Dart. On a summers day we recommend bringing your own picnic to enjoy in grounds under the shelter of the ancient trees.

The Totnes Brewing Co is situated at the bottom of the castle. These guys brew their own craft beers and stock a huge range of guest craft ales & ciders (there’s usually about 80 to try). Their beer garden is a great spot from which to take in the Castle and inside the bar has a warm rustic vibe that’s completed by an open fire on cold days.

Further uphill still is The Hairy Barista. You’ll have to mind your step on the way – the coffee shop is a little tight on space. But they serve some of the best coffee in town, from aeropress to cold-brew, lattes and espressos.

Once you reach the very top of the High Street, you’ll find The Bull Organic Inn (above right). This fabulous pub with rooms serves deliciously simple dishes cooked from scratch. Upstairs, each of its eight rooms features super comfy beds and eclectic handpicked furniture. 

Around the corner is a real hidden gem of a shop: Me & East. With an aim to keep the independent British high street alive, they stock a myriad of handmade gifts, clothing, jewellery, ceramics and more, all created by British makers. Owner Chloe is a also a trained jeweller and keeps her work bench within the shop. So, if you have something specific in mind, you can order a bespoke piece of handmade jewellery.

Just a stone’s throw from Totnes town is one of our favourite Devon businesses: Nkuku (above left). This beautifully curated shop and café is brimming with artisan homewares, as well as handcrafted furniture, Indian antiques and gifts. Borrowing its name from a hut in Zambia, Nkuku works with designers and small businesses from all over the world; with a focus on recycled materials and sustainable production methods. At the heart of Nkuku lies their café, which will welcome you with the aroma of wood-roasted coffee and fresh pastries.  

Riverford Field Kitchen ticks all the right boxes for us. Organic, plough-to-plate food is the name of the game, with an emphasis on dishes that elevate the humble vegetable. Menus change daily, depending on what’s growing in the surrounding fields and polytunnels, even the most committed carnivores will find themselves in awe of what these guys can do with their 5-a-day. 

Sharpham Estate is well worth a visit. Nestled in a beautiful valley, this 1000-year-old farm houses its own vineyard and produces award-winning cheese. Their alfresco café space is the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of vino during the summer months, but to truly appreciate their craft we recommend booking a guided wine and cheese tasting, followed by a walk along the vineyard trail.

Lead image Totnes Highstreet by RogerMechan / Shutterstock. Get more ideas for your next trip to Devon in The Maverick Guide to Devon Vol 2.