It sounds unlikely, English Riviera, but it honestly does have some of those much-admired attributes of its French counterpart. We think of smart restaurants, sand, yachts and palms, and yes, our home-grown version has all that plus a few advantages that the Continental one doesn’t. It’s not so far from home, the waiters aren’t as rude and it’s a lot cheaper.
The Torbay area has been inhabited since Palaeolithic times and Roman soldiers are known to have visited Torquay during the period when Britain was a part of the Roman Empire, leaving offerings at the rock formation in Kents Cavern known as “The Face”. Both Brixham and Paignton appear in the Domesday Book, and Paignton was given the status of a borough having a market and fair in 1294. There is a statue in Brixham to William Prince of Orange (afterwards King William III) who landed there on 5 November 1688.
Torbay hosted the sailing events for the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, the first Olympics after the war, and the organisers couldn’t have found a better spot. The English Riviera lies along a 22 mile stretch of South Devon’s coastline. It encompasses the three main towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham and has international Geopark status (a territory encompassing one or more sites of scientific importance, not only for geological reasons but also by virtue of its archaeological, ecological or cultural value). It has that celebrated mild climate which allows the cultivation of palms and other exotic plants.
Some of the very best West Country produce can be found on the English Riviera and there is even a dedicated Food and Drink Trail. One can find home-made ciders, beers, wines and cheeses as well as the freshest of fish and farm produce. Every visitor would have heard of the famous Devon Cream Tea and the English Riviera offers lots of venues for a nice sit-down, a cuppa and a plate of warm scones. These are served with cream and jam, but traditional cakes of all kinds can be found in cafés and tearooms the length of the coast.
Torquay has an attractive and sophisticated waterfront with pavement cafés reminiscent of those on that other Riviera, and chic seafood restaurants, and there is a selection of boutiques to gladden the heart of anyone in need of retail therapy. You will find much more to buy here than a bucket and spade. At night you have theatres and bars. Food and drink events in Torquay showcase the very best in local produce but its restaurants are open all year to allow the visitor to taste the local seafood.
One of the most iconic of smart hotels in Torquay is The Palace. It stands on 25 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens extending to the sea. It’s one of the largest hotels in Torquay and boasts classically comfy rooms and public spaces as well as sports facilities. One can swim and play golf and, naturally, croquet. Those aforementioned caverns are only a short walk from the hotel, for those who want to spend a more leisurely few hours.
Paignton remained a small fishing village until the early 19th century when a new harbour was built in 1837. Paignton has five attractive beaches including Goodrington Sands which has the UK’s only outdoor waterpark. Occombe Farm and Cookery School near Paignton provides fresh, local and organic produce and cookery workshops. Chocolatier Tony Fagan runs Cockington Court Café. Hunts Cider of Paignton will give you a taste of that traditional amber apple beverage, but if beer is your preferred tipple then you can visit Bays Brewery in Paignton and sample their famous Devon Dumpling brew. Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust offers food related events including the unique ‘Mussels by Moonlight’ and ‘Sea to Plate’ boat trips.
Brixham is both a tourist resort and a working fishing port and has a new fish market with a restaurant and deli, Crab Quay House. Fishstock, the seafood and music festival on the new fish quay is popular with locals and visitors. Brixham’s life revolves around its picturesque harbour with its fishing boats and the regular ferries which offer crossings to Torquay and other ports around Torbay for just a couple of pounds. For kids with lively imaginations there is a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, and during the summer they can take part in Pirate Thursday when the majority of the town sports a patch over one eye and carries a cutlass instead of an iPhone. Two of the world’s best loved and most popular hymns, Abide with Me and Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven were written at the Berry Head Hotel in Brixham by the Reverend Henry Lyte.
I had not been to Torbay for half a century and I had few memories but they were all fond. Yes, it has changed but it still offers polished elegance as well as traditional seaside fun. The prices are very reasonable so now is an ideal time to visit. You will enjoy a warm welcome along with those warm scones and that warm sun.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018