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Good Holiday Ideas | August 19, 2022

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Hat’s off to England’s Riviera

Hat’s off to England’s Riviera
Paula Hill

Devon’s English Riviera is famous for its mild climate and stunning touristic history – as many of the good and great of England’s past have lived or holidayed here – from master builder Brunel, authors Rudyard Kipling, Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie and even TV’s famous detective Hercule Poirot was – and still is – a huge fan of the area, which is regularly featured on his programmes.

And the good news is that the whole of Devon is cleaning up its cheap and cheerful, kiss-me-quick and fish and chippy image. Everywhere you go there are signs of the Fawlty Towers hotels and service attitudes are being booted out and towns such as Torquay are being upgraded, beautified and brought up to 21st Century scratch.

Nowhere is more typical of this transformation than the classy Orestone Manor at Maidencombe, a ten-minute drive from downtown Torquay, and sitting quietly well above the sea, atop a hill with stunning views from its flower-filled grounds.

We arrived at Orestone at the end of a gruelling West Country tour in an under-powered Renault eco car and were so happy to arrive at the Manor and enter a world of luxury and tranquillity and the very best of British welcome, and into a classic period bedroom with sensational views. One of them to Agatha Christie’s mansion down the way on the coast. And right next door is the home of author Rudyard Kipling.

Our host, Craig D’Allen, revelled in explaining how the whole region is undergoing an extensive gastronomic and cultural transformation, with exciting new food markets, eateries, and al-fresco picnic spots, all celebrating Devon’s renowned, locally- reared lamb and beef to the famous Brixham crab, shellfish and local, fresh daily fish catches; or simply the incredible array of stock at Brixham’s new dishmarket, and everywhere you will find locally-picked vegetables and summer fruits.

It was a blazingly-hot afternoon and we took afternoon tea on the terrace as the dining room filled up with holidaymakers escaping the sun. This followed by a walk downhill to the sea, and a gentle stroll back in time for cocktails and then the most sumptuous dinner our West Country tour, served up in Orestone’s fine dining rooms…starter of smoked salmon, followed by a chilled gazpacho soup, then salad, and a main course of delicious, fresh-caught sea bream. I hardly had room for the dessert, so settled for a delightfully light sorbet trio.

THAT sorbet

THAT sorbet

We stayed ages talking to the proprietors who proudly mentioned Orestone’s rich and colourful history and how the world’s first Christmas Card was invented at Orestone back in the 1850s – by then owner John Calcott Horsley. At that time their next-door neighbour was Rudyard Kipling.

The Agatha Christie Greenway Experience
Orestone Manor is working with their knowledgeable tour guide, Alex Graeme, of Unique Devon Tours, who can organise full, tailor-made day packages of private guided tours of Greenway, home to Agatha Christie and where she wrote many of her books. These trips have the option of taking the ferry from Dartmouth, and then fine-dining. Alex’s Orestone Manor Agatha Christie tours

Torquay’s Gleneagles Hotel a few miles away is the infamous hotel the Monty Python cast stayed in 1970, when they encountered eccentric manager Donald Sinclair, who inspired John Cleese to create Basil Fawlty, the famous star of Fawlty Towers. Orestone plays host to award-winning Fawlty Towers pastiche evenings.

But believe me, apart from these fun evenings, there is nothing Fawlty about outstanding Orestone Manor – well worth visiting. Rooms with breakfast from around £150 a night peak season. Or dinner, bed and breakfast from £216.