Soar Mill Cove

“Old fashioned family hotel in a stunning, totally unspoilt setting on the south Devon coast.”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 3rd September 2006.

What a view! Whether under skies that are sheet blue or gun-metal grey, it's hard to imagine a more stunning or unspoilt setting, particularly one that's just three miles from busy Salcombe.

'Soar Mill Cove Hotel has a lot of things going for it'

The hotel is tucked into a fold of a private valley as it descends between gorse-covered hills to Soar Mill Cove, a beach that's straight from childhood. Owned by the National Trust, its sheltered sand, caves and pools are fringed by a dramatic jumble of rocks. There's not a building in sight.

If my ludicrously youthful octogenarian mother had not been able to manage the 10-minute trot down to the beach, then the hotel's Land Rover would have taken her. We were drawn there as if by a magnet as soon as we arrived, before we'd even set foot in the hotel: it's that sort of view.

Only as we walked back did we take in the hotel building, a long, single-storey construction that began its life on a naval base before being transported here and refurbished by hoteliers Keith and Norma Makepeace in the 1970s. It's got a slate roof now, and stone walls dividing one patio from the next, but it doesn't have much charm, and the prominent AA and RAC plaques at the entrance make it feel more petrol station than luxury hotel.

As for the sitting room, with panoramic views, it made my mother think of something quite different. The room was crammed with 20 large, identical damask-covered armchairs and sofas, on one of which an elderly couple were sipping tea. "It's all a trick," she said, "this isn't a hotel. It's a seaside retirement home. You're going to leave me here."

Soar Mill Cove Hotel has a lot of things going for it, but its passé decoration isn't one of them. Our bedroom, like the sitting room, was frozen in time, spacious, spotlessly clean, thoughtfully equipped but dated in a way that was more suburban than chic. A trouser press stood to attention. A china figurine sat in an alcove, framed by curtains of green silk edged in a yellow frill. Everything, even the tea cosy, matched. For me, and for my mother, who may be young for her age but is hardly hip, it was far too passé for the very high price. I wanted to run back to the beach.

The hotel is meant for families as well as couples seeking quiet. Children are welcomed, with activities - a games room and play area (both elderly), a grass tennis court, small indoor (elderly) and outdoor pools - plus high tea and knickerbocker glories in the Castaways café. The owners' naturalness (Keith Makepeace junior and his family now run the hotel) has made for an excellent core staff; head waiter Luis, from Spain, has been there for 17 years, Polish Sylvester, who can't believe his luck in finding this slice of heaven, for five. Everyone was helpful, and there were amusing touches. Ask for a boiled egg at breakfast and see what comes.

It's back to the view. In the dining room, to the strains of a creaky duo on guitar and sax, Mum and I watched the sun set over the cove. With a lobster on my plate and a sea bass on hers, the setting worked its magic.

We'd been somewhere special and were glad we'd come. And, despite her fears, I would be taking her away again.

Near Salcombe, Devon (01548 561566; www.soarmillcove.co.uk). Doubles £240 per night (high season); £160 per night (low season).

The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
2 out of 5

Desperately need updating, but great views

Service
5 out of 5

Couldn't be faulted; long-serving staff and hands-on owners keep standards high

Character
2 out of 5

High marks for the view, low marks for the building

Food and drink
3 out of 5

Better than expected, with amusing touches; old-fashioned dining room

Value for money
2 out of 5

Hoteliers can't rely on the view alone for their tariffs

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