Review by Fiona Duncan, published 21st September 2010.
Gosh, it's ever so posh in Salcombe. Walking into the buzzing South Sands Hotel feels like entering a cross between a yacht club and a branch of Crew Clothing – those stores for upmarket outdoor types, full of salmon-coloured polo shirts and pinstripe Oxford cottons, complete with discreet logo. Docksiders feature large among the guests; Boden definitely had a hand in the cardigan and frock department.
It's the sort of place where receptionists and waiters are indistinguishable from the guests. Henrietta, who used to do the ski season, shows me to my room and tells me that she's not just duty receptionist and events manager these days, but the hotel's interior designer as well. I'm impressed. The decoration in my room, I note, is just right for the lovely view across Salcombe Estuary, if a tad on the bland and brand-new side, with plantation shutters, sea-coral curtains and a most attractive bathroom complete with porthole.
Henrietta is not trained in the art of introducing the guest to the bedroom. She points out the television and the DVD player, and tells me that it's rather complicated, indicates the (somewhat boring) hotel information folder and leaves. I change and descend the glamorous spiral staircase, only to find that to get a drink in this trendy and expensive new hotel I have to queue at the bar.
What's the story here, I wonder? South Sands has a great atmosphere, and is evidently hugely popular among the natives and people who holiday in and around Salcombe year after year, but it seems arranged more as a restaurant (the entire ground floor plus sea-facing terrace are given over to eating) than a fully fledged hotel. There's no guest sitting room, for example, no games room for children, no table service for drinks, no wet room – at least, not yet.
A friendly young man in shorts, flip-flops and a leg brace (torn ligaments caused by playing football on the beach) swings by on his crutches and introduces himself as Jeff Gillard, the manager and, together with a business partner, the man behind the whole venture.
The story unfolds and I instantly warm to his enterprise.
A third-generation Salcombe devotee (he's just spotted his 88-year-old grandmother dragging a kayak into the sea), Jeff gave up university in favour of running local pubs and indulging in his passion for watersports ("anything and everything, as long as it happens on the water," as he puts it).
When the rundown South Sands hotel came up for sale, he couldn't resist. He and his business partner took the place back to a shell, then rebuilt it and now he's a first time hotelier "on a learning curve".
He is enthusiastic, hard-working and I'm sure will put right missing elements. He has already saved thousands of pounds by employing his friend Henrietta as the hotel's designer, instead of a bespoke company, and she's done a great job – the New England look works here – and all in all South Sands is a hugely appreciated and needed addition to the handful of south-west coast hotels that are fun and happy places to stay.
The upshot is, if you love walking or watersports (South Sands Sailing, based in a converted Methodist chapel, is next door and offers everything from sups – stand-up boards – to powerboats), then look no farther than this hotel, if not yet perfect, then very definitely on its way.
- Bolt Head, Salcombe (01548 859000; www.southsandshotel.co.uk) Doubles from £120 per night, including breakfast. There is one bedroom for guests with disabilitiies
WHAT TO SEE
Well, there's a National Trust property, Overbecks, just up the hill with a tropical garden, but really this place is all about activity: walking and watersports. Everything and anything can be arranged (the hotel will help) from powerboating and waterskiing to stand-up boards (sups), kayaks and all kinds of sailing from lasers to yachts.
The hotel works with the South Sands Sailing (www.southsandssailing.co.uk) next door (based in an old waterfront chapel), and the Island Cruising Club (www.icc-salcombe.co.uk), whose sail training courses (great for children) are based on a retired, permanently moored Mersey Ferry. The hotel also organises shooting in winter, at very reasonable cost
PUBS AND SUNDAY LUNCH
In summer, if the tide is right, don't miss a trip by boat to the Millbrook at South Pool (01548 531581; www.millbrookinnsouthpool.co.uk), winner – among several other awards – of West Country "Community Pub of the Year" last year. Great food (invariably locally sourced), beams, fires, scenery, local Red Rock Brewery beer – the works. In winter head for the Sloop Inn (01548 560489; www.thesloop.co.uk), a 14th-century pub a short walk from the beach at Bantham in the unspoilt South Hams: it's a lovely spot: all traditional log fires and cosiness and walks on the surf-crashed sands.
There's a fabulous walk from the hotel door along the coast path to Soar Mill Cove and Bigbury Bay. South Sands is the last populated cove before you hit open country and unpopulated ones only reached by foot.