Review by Fiona Duncan, published 6th April 2010.
I like the story of how Jen, who manages the Cary Arms and masterminded its reopening last summer, found herself unexpectedly abandoning London for life at the bottom of a Devon cliff. For seven years she had run the packed Anglesea Arms in Chelsea where among her regulars were a bubbly couple called de Savary who kept telling her about a place they'd bought on a beach near Torquay and how they'd like her to manage it. "I just used to laugh," she says. "For a start, the name Peter de Savary didn't mean anything to me."
At least come and look at the place," pleaded Peter's wife, Lana, "and if you don't fall instantly in love with it, then we won't mention the subject again."
Jen did, of course, fall instantly in love with the Cary Arms, now the only hotel (more a pub with rooms) that de Savary, late of St James's Club, Skibo and Bovey Castle, owns in this country. So did we and so will you: its location is nothing short of spectacular, even if its approach, via an alarmingly steep single-track road, is not for the faint-hearted – but then, you don't get special places without a special effort to reach them.
Once ensconced you will find the Cary Arms a delightful haven, like a setting from a Mills and Boon romance and a Famous Five adventure rolled into one, though the massive landslide that occurred a few weeks ago across the bay is a constant reminder of the fragility of the fiery red cliffs that encircle it. Some 150 years ago, Queen Victoria was equally enchanted, rowing ashore with Prince Albert from the Royal Yacht on several occasions. The present hotel was built in the late 1880s, a solid, reassuring building with a stone-walled, slate-floored bar at its core.
Today there are eight bedrooms and three self-catering cottages, all delightful, with retro red leather bedheads, pretty wardrobes, sticks of rock on snow white pillows, and walls adorned by old posters advertising the delights of Devon and colourful photographs (recalling de Savary's passion) of racing yachts. In the sitting room arched windows overlook the bay, while in the convivial bar superior gastropub dishes, including Devon beef and Lyme Bay lobster, are served.
In summer, food from the outdoor pizza oven and barbecue is also served on the hotel's pretty terraces that hang over the bay and lead down to the public jetty, where there's always a fisherman or two trying his luck. On its own promontory sits the circular Captains Table, which can be booked for six to dine in style.
Turn a corner and you find the Cary Arms's best bedrooms, quietly facing not the bay, but the open, shining sea. Here too, sitting on the lawn, is a spaceship, or rather a transparent pod that swivels around and makes a perfect all-weather private dining room for two. You can even marry in the pod: how enchanting that would be.
- Babbacombe Beach (01803 327110; www.caryarms.co.uk) Doubles from £145 to £350 per night, including breakfast. Cottages from £750 to £2,500 per week. Access difficult for guests with disabilities