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Dartmouth – Heaven on Earth in Devon
“Ruby’s going to Heaven for her holiday” announced my young daughter, not registering my look of shocked concern. Further probing clarified that rather than departing to a celestial paradise, Ruby (our trusty motor) was hitting the highway and heading to Devon, a destination which, as I recently discovered on a trip to Dartmouth, could potentially be described as the next best thing to a heaven on earth.
Locals say that once visitors come to Dartmouth, they always come back and it’s easy to see why – it’s not just the beautiful setting: not far from the sea on the lower section of the attractive, bobbing boat filled River Dart surrounded by green hills sprinkled with colourful houses. It’s also the choice of attractions, experiences, accommodation and restaurants on offer that means this small town is big in terms of reasons to book a short break or long stay.
Arriving by ferry from Kingswear, we drove straight into the car park of the very smart Dart Marina Hotel and moments later were sitting on our personal terrace with a harbourside view, watching the comings and goings on the river, drinking coffee and planning a long, leisurely day ahead.
Having recently completed a £2.8m programme of refurbishment, the Dart Marina Hotel and Spa offers the perfect base to discover Dartmouth. Behind the functional exterior are contemporary, light, comfortable public areas and fresh bedrooms decorated in delightful, blues, white and beige with bleached wood adding a quasi- nautical feel. Every room looks out onto the water, the overall atmosphere is welcoming and uplifting and totally ship-shape. The River Restaurant is top notch and the bar offers an extensive range of gins and the deliciously more-ish, Distinctly Dartmouth local brew. For those preferring to self-cater, the hotel has its own apartments (it also has its own Yacht Harbour) and all residents can enjoy the spa complete with treatments and a small but perfectly formed pool and fitness room.
For something more historic, the Royal Castle Hotel on the quay was built in 1639 and has hosted royalty in different guises: real princes Charles and Andrew; sailing princes Sir Francis Chichester and Chay Blyth; and Hollywood princes, Cary Grant and Donald Sutherland. The Royal Castle can offer a right-royal four-poster bed,if you want, reached by the hotel’s delightful Hogwarts-ian staircase. We dined at its award-winning restaurant, The Grill Room, where the local fish and seafood specialities were truly excellent.
The town is popular with day-trippers from the resorts on the English Riviera (such as Torquay), but rather than arriving like us in a boring old car, many come chugging on the rather more fun Dartmouth Steam Railway from Paignton. Or by river cruiser from Totnes, a relaxing 90-minute scenic trip along nine miles of a pretty stretch of the Dart. Along the way you can take in Agatha Christie’s holiday home on the Greenway Estate which she called ‘the loveliest place in the world’. You can see it just as the best-selling author and her family left it and hear of its role in WWII when the US Coast Guard requisitioned it prior to the D-day Landings when 4,000 American troops were living in the Dartmouth area.
As befits its maritime heritage, Dartmouth is home to some wonderful historic pubs with a plethora of restaurants and cafés to choose from including The Cherub Inn, a back street 15th century pub; The Seahorse, a riverfront seafood restaurant; the bistro-style Rock Fish and the lovely Bayards Cove Inn where we ate a perfect Sunday lunch with a choice of vegetable Wellington and traditional roast beef both served with all the Sunday trimmings.
Dartmouth is a town that loves to celebrate and there is always something to look forward to. It is known for the annual Dartmouth Royal Regatta which although based around a programme of rowing and sailing events, the busy programme includes air displays, fireworks, a large fair, and many other smaller events in and around the town centre. Advance booking is required as nearly 100,000 people come each year to enjoy this historic maritime festival which first took place in 1834. If the crowds are not for you then Dartmouth offers food festivals, music festivals, arts and crafts, markets and gallery open days as well as theatre shows, there are events taking place throughout the year.
Dartmouth is one of the eleven towns participating in the National Mayflower Partnership commemorating the 400-year anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620 with a series of exciting events. Taking place over 12 months from November 2019 the programme currently includes a Mayflower opening event, Illuminate Dartmouth’s Night of 400 Candles; a Grand Dart River Pageant; The Mayflower Market; visiting warships, Tall Ships, a Mayflower Replica and a Mayflower Son et Lumiere.
After 24 hours we agreed with the locals – Dartmouth demanded a return visit. And gazing across the mouth of the river from Henry VIII’s Dartmouth Castle we spied Kingswear Castle, now in the care of the Landmark Trust and one of many river-facing lodgings available along this lovely stretch. With the prospect of food, festivals and fun to come, we knew this was going to be our perfect place to stay.
Is Dartmouth and the English Riviera on your list now? If so, why not pin this post for later
For more information about places to stay in Dartmouth and the annual programme of events visit www.discoverdartmouth.com
For more information about the Mayflower 400 commemorations visit www.mayflower400uk.org