Is Devon returning the ‘English Riviera’ to its former glory?
Tempus explores Orestone Manor, a jewel in the heart of picturesque south Devon
There was a time when British seaside resorts such as Eastbourne and Torquay were the Ibiza of their day. Granted, glitter cannons, all-night parties and lithe, gym-cut young things swigging magnums of rosé were in short supply, but these trad towns used to be seriously fashionable. Now, things have come full circle, led by the early adopter that is cosmopolitan Brighton and, more recently, the unlikely hipster enclave of Margate. On the strength of a recent visit to Torbay’s Orestone Manor, only four miles from Torquay, it’s clear that the ‘English Riviera’ could be in vogue sooner than you might imagine.
On first glance, the hotel is solidly traditional. A Georgian pile built by an acclaimed painter, who was also brother-in-law of Isambard Kingdom Brunel whose portrait, now in the National Portrait Gallery, he painted in this house. Independently owned by a husband and wife who are former chefs, it offers beautiful views of Lyme Bay and the tranquil, verdant surrounding countryside, plus the delights of nearby Maidencombe Beach. A word to the wise – there’s a steepish hike back up from the beach so take a load off half way at the lovely local pub, The Thatched Tavern. Grab a table in the sunny garden for Sunday lunch if you can.
In truth, though, you’d be forgiven for spending most of your time at the hotel, such is its loveliness. Our room was one of the new split level cottages with modern fittings, a king size bed, a flat screen TV and funky mood lighting in the downstairs section. Upstairs offered a kitchenette (with a smart coffee machine), a freestanding bath and a sun terrace. The winning aspect? This accolade goes to the hot tub on the bigger balcony below, which also featured mood lighting and varying jet speeds, providing a perfect massage for my legs following that big hike up from the beach below.
Dinner that evening in the double AA Rosette-awarded restaurant was similarly impressive, and reasonably priced given the quality of food on offer. No less than you’d expect, however, from a hotel run by two chefs. South Devon is also known as a great centre for quality produce, and the menu reflected this with a ‘source local’ approach.
From the splendidly named (and delicious) Brixham crab Martini, which combined avocado, mango ice, crab meat and poppy seed straw to brilliant effect, to the pan roasted sirloin of Fluder Farm Dexter beef, everything was spot on. The latter, for the uninitiated (as I was) is a hardy, miniature native breed that travels just three miles from field to plate. This, I concluded, was a happy cow.
Happiness is in abundance at this place. From the person who checked us in, to the cheery landlord eager to explain the site’s history, there is a delightful energy and spirit about Orestone Manor. One that’s entirely fitting with the phoenix-like rise of the English Riviera.