With its secluded beach and breathtaking coastline, Soar Mill Cove is a staycation getaway to rival the best of them
By Cheryl Caira
As an avid childhood reader, I often imagined myself in one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories, binoculars aloft searching for smugglers, row boat ready for expeditions at sea, and tattered map in hand to navigate secret trails and mysterious underground tunnels.
The beach at Soar Mill Cove and its surrounding weathered cliffs and crashing waves were scenic inspiration for some of Blyton’s famous adventure stories, and at first glimpse of the small, sandy inlet, it does feel like you’ve stumbled onto a well-kept secret perfect for a novel. At sunset, heading down to the sheltered beach is a little bit heart-stirring – a detail that had not gone unnoticed by the couple we witnessed braving the chilly sea to have pictures taken there before their wedding.
Located in the South Hams in Devon, the cove is only accessible by boat or foot, but if you’re looking for some bonafide tranquility away from the madness of the city, staying at the hotel that presides over the beach could be the way to go. The boutique Soar Mill Cove Hotel is situated with a show-stopper of a seaside view across a peaceful meadow, scattered with heather and foxgloves. The hotel is family-owned so it feels homely and relaxed, but has all the right conveniences – and setting – to make a stay there feel like a luxury experience.
Dogs are more than welcome at Soar Mill – the pooches I saw nosing around the coastal walks and grassy hills were obviously in their element. Whether it’s during the day with the sea view laid out in front of you, or at night with the stars shimmering in time with the lighthouse visible in the distance, there’s something soul soothing about this place. Anything that might have been causing you stress at home suddenly feels very far away.
Rooms are spacious, with a calming, nature-inspired palette and modern bathrooms perfect for a muscle-relaxing soak – the pleasingly scented Molton Brown products don’t go wrong either. You can hunker down in the room and make use of the TV and DVD player if the aim of your stay is simply to rest up. The wee pair of binoculars laid out in case you want to go dolphin spotting are also a nice touch. If the weather’s in your favour, you can sit on the terrace outside the room, drink in the sea views and lie back and read a book on the sun loungers. There are also three self-catering eco-retreats you can stay in if you’re looking for a holiday of complete privacy.
Food-wise, you have the advantage of being in an area where fresh, amazingly tasty seafood is in abundance. The local speciality is crab, served in Soar Mill’s laid-back restaurant as a starter of hand-picked meat and cucumber velouté or as a linguini main, but you can also get your mitts around some lobster served with garlic and herb butter, or tuck into the ‘Fruit de Mer’ – a grand platter comprising of a whole lobster, king prawns, smoked salmon and mussels.
It can be tempting just to kick back and dine in the room or order breakfast in bed, but it’s worth getting the most out of those views by booking in for dinner. It really is a lovely way to wind down the evening, and the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows make it picture-perfect. The menu is seasonal and hearty with a sophisticated flourish. Three sizeable and juicy Start Bay scallops went well with the diverse flavours of hog’s pudding, pear and celeriac as a starter, while Cornish hake with rainbow chard, mashed potatoes, parmesan sauce and soft poached egg was a creamy, attractively presented treat.
Talking of treats – try the puddings if you have room. There are a lot of classics, but who can beat the killer taste combination of sticky toffee pudding, salted caramel and honeycomb ice cream? You’re also not short of cocktail and wine options to keep you sated throughout your meal, discerningly selected by the hotel’s owner, Keith Makepeace. As a dessert aside, Audrey Hepburn once stayed at Soar Mill and sampled – and gave the thumbs up to – a pavlova made by the original Mrs Makepeace.
Of course, any good trip-for-relaxation is made even better if you can add some spa time to your breezy schedule. There’s a heated saltwater swimming pool and the small but perfectly formed Discovery Spa, where the treatment options include facials using Dead Sea minerals and organic plant extracts, a full body exfoliation with Dead Sea salt, Vitamin E and coconut oil and a range of massages. I went for a 35-minute back, neck and shoulder massage, where the tight knots in my back (definitely a laptop occupational hazard) were expertly loosened before breakfast, giving me a revitalised start to the day.
Following the path that leads to the beach from the hotel will take you about ten minutes, but if you’re in the mood for a longer walk, you can ask for a map and follow one of the stunning trails along the South West Coast Path. You can opt to dip down into Salcombe, the nearest town to Soar Mill, or meander along to Hope Cove, a pretty seaside village which makes for a pleasing reward after a slightly hilly ten-mile walk.
It’s pretty well signposted, but you’ll want to stop and gape at cove after boulder scattered beach after dramatic cliff en route. Once you’ve passed the jagged and impressive rocks of Bolt Head, just follow the coastal path (once you’re a bit higher up, you’ll get a smashing view of Bolt Head marking its sea space with a ‘lion’s paw’) and eventually the chalky cliffs and cottages of Hope Cove will emerge, sheep casually observing from above.
A classic, well-heeled resort town and a haven for yachties, popular Salcombe – although inevitably touristy – has an inescapable charm. While away the day slowly with some pub-hopping, easygoing strolling and ever more seafood sampling.
Botanicals: If discovering new gins is your bag, look no further than Salcombe Gin, distilled in South Devon. Their gin bar on Island Street serves up their excellent signature ‘Salcombe & Tonic’ with a grapefruit slice.
Nautical: Sitting on the terrace at The Ferry Inn will give you some of the best harbour views in Salcombe – watch the colourful boats and their various owners bobbing around the estuary as you sip on a pint.
Sustenance: Just off the main thoroughfare of Fore Street, down a cobbled alley next to an antiques shop, you’ll find the atmospheric Boatswain’s Brasserie. The owners are charming and the seafood dishes are locally sourced, diverse and top-notch.
To check out Soar Mill Cove, go to soarmillcove.co.uk. Prices start from £199 for a Classic Double with breakfast included