Talisa Dean 17/08/23
Sandy beaches, views across the estuary, and the rolling hills of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty just behind it…
…Salcombe would have to work quite hard not to be totally idyllic.
It’s one of the most popular staycation destinations in the UK, and we suspect it might be something to do with the rolling waves, the independent shops lining the seafront, the clifftop walks, the pubs (with roaring fires in winter), the ice cream, and the oldest sweet shop in Devon.
To get there, take a three hour train to the charming town of Totnes (they depart regularly from both Paddington and Waterloo), then you’re looking at just over a half hour cab ride to Salcombe. And if that sounds a little remote, just remember that’s exactly what makes it such a glorious escape from the capital.
So without further ado: here’s what to eat, where to stay and how to spend your time on a weekend in Salcombe…
Gara Rock Hotel & Spa
Atop a cliff, overlooking the ocean, five minutes from the nearest beach; it doesn’t take too much brain power to figure out exactly why this place rocks. Throw in an all-day restaurant; two bars; an indoor pool and jacuzzi for the winter; an outdoor pool with sun loungers for summer; a spa offering seven types of facials (as well as the chance to be rubbed, scrubbed, and wrapped); plus a 12-seater cinema stocked with snacks and available for private screenings – well, you do the maths.
Details: Gara Rock Hotel & Spa, East Portlemouth, Near Salcombe, Devon, TQ8 8FA | Doubles from £220 | Book here
A relaxed pop-up restaurant from Guardian columnist and ex-River Cafe chef Jane Baxter and her dear friend (conveniently a former events manager), Samantha Miller. Forget starters, main courses, and desserts: here you feast, on whatever delicious, Modern European fare the seasons (with a little help of the kitchen) have rustled up for you that evening – things like truffle arancini, or duck liver choux buns, closely followed by grilled lamb with peperonata, salsa verde, and white beans; or baked mussels with capers, peppers, and courgettes. It’s ‘memorable, real and always, always delicious’ says Yotam Ottolenghi. Which, considering his, what – eight restaurants, countless books, and personal table linen collection – probably means something.
Details: Unit 1, Centurion Works, Lower Union Road, Kingsbridge, TQ7 1EF | Open sporadic nights throughout the year – book ahead here
No trip to Salcombe would be complete without a little crab, fresh off the boat. Funnily enough, you can get that at The Crab Shed, a no-frills quayside restaurant serving some of the best seafood Devon has to offer.
Details: Gould Road, Salcombe, TQ8 8DU | Book here
The Braai Guy
After two incredibly successful years popping up in the Port Waterhouse car park, these guys have finally bagged themselves a permanent spot, and boy will you be glad they did when you sink your teeth in to their South African braai dishes – everything from locally-sourced lamb chops to melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork, not to mention a little BBQ fish plucked fresh from the sea.
Details: 6-7 Russell Court, Fore Street Salcombe, Devon, TQ8 8BS
43 years. That’s how long Salcombe Dairy has been sweetening the smiles of locals and tourists alike with their award-winning Devonshire ice cream. It all starts with milk brought in fresh from the local farm, before they add in a whole load of other 100% natural ingredients to make everything from your classic vanilla to your coconut, raspberry ripple, chocolate and honeycomb, banoffee, toffee, and rainforest nectar… of course.
Details: Salcombe Dairy, Shadycombe Road, Salcombe, Devon, TQ8 8DX | Find out more
The Victoria Inn
Sat just back from the banks of Kingsbury Estuary is this handsome pub and restaurant, also boasting two bright, modern bedrooms, should you need place to lay your head at night. They’ve got a massive pub garden overlooking the water for summer, and a roaring fire for winter. Plus, if you turn up on the right night you’ll have The Old Gaffer serenading you with sea shanties into the wee hours.
Details: Fore Street, Salcombe, TQ8 8BU | Open daily
The Boathouse at Salcome Distillery
Credit: Jim Stephenson
This handsome waterside distillery and bar is home to five award-winning small-batch gins, all which you can enjoy as part of a guided tour and tasting, or independently in the form of their signature gin & tonics (plus a whole load of other gin-based cocktails). The bar also acts as a testing site for some of their new, experimental stuff, tried here before a potential wider release. If none of that does it for you, you’re probably going to want to adjust your standards before checking in to their award-winning gin school, where you can develop and distill your own gin, enjoyed (of course) in the bar afterwards.
Details: The Boathouse, 28 Island St, Salcombe TQ8 8DP | Find out more
There’s only one scenario in life where where catching crabs feels like a good thing, and this is it. Head to Victoria Quay at high tide, with a tinnie or two if you’re smart, and here you’ll find adults and children alike patiently dangling bits of bacon into the water in the hope of a bite. You’re going to want a crabbing kit, available all over Salcombe town centre, as well as a bucket filled with some sea water to keep your pincer friends pleasant. Sure, it’s a little odd, seeing as you’re only catching them to release them (shore crabs aren’t edible), but it sparks joy nonetheless, particularly when your crab wins the race back in to the water at the end. Loser buys the next round.
Details: Victoria Quay, Salcombe, Devon
Have A Beach-Off
North Sands – iStock/Andy Roland
In the blue corner, Salcombe North Sands: a dog-friendly beach that’s a scenic hike away, with a sheltered bay perfect for swimming in. In the red corner, Salcombe South Sands: accessible by a short ferry ride (indulge in a little fantasy house-hunting as you pass the houses carved into the cliffside) that’s a glorious sun-trap with crystal blue waters, and plenty of water sports to get involved in.
If surfing is a notch above your ability levels, dial it down with stand-up paddleboarding. Regrettably, it still requires some core strength, but at least you won’t have to contend with the waves – instead, you’ll (theoretically) be able to steer yourself across the water at your own pace and take in the surrounding views and fresh, salt-speckled air. Take the ferry over to East Portlemouth to rent a board or take a lesson at Salcombe Watersports, then explore the beachy coves.
Details: Port Waterhouse, East Portlemouth, Salcombe, TQ8 8PA
Explore The Town
Salcombe is the definition of a quaint harbour-side town, with narrow lanes of cottages framing scenic glimpses of the sea beyond. Take a look at the pastel-coloured houses on Courtenay Street and the sea-facing cottages on Victoria Quay, then hit the town’s independent shops, cafés and galleries. Build your own pick ‘n’ mix at Cranch’s – you can’t miss it, it’s bright pink – and dip into whatever takes your fancy as you stroll along Fore Street and Island Street, whether it’s the Drang Gallery (stocking Damien Hirst artwork) or picking up some locally roasted coffee at the Gin Factory.
Stroll Through Overbeck’s Gardens
© National Trust – Chris Lacey
Otto Overbeck was an Edwardian inventor & collector who, in his spare time, was apparently a keen gardener. The sprawling grounds surrounding his old house on the clifftops is a miniature jungle, full of weirdly tropical plants that thrive in the estuary’s sheltered microclimate. Tramp through exotic woodland, olive groves and banana trees, and be rewarded with some of the area’s most impressive views over the water at the top.
Details: Sharpitor, Salcombe, Devon, TQ8 8LW | £9.40
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