Boasting beautiful beaches and some of the most rural landscapes in the UK, East Devon may just be the ideal spot for a country break.
With its rolling hills, picturesque villages, big bold ridges, forests and clear fast-flowing streams, the region is open again and accessible within a three-hour drive of key cities in the south of England.
Ruud Jansen Venneboer, co-founder of East Devon Excellence, gives his tips on where to go, the hotels to stay at, the best food and the attractions to visit.
Walking and hiking: take the less travelled path
Enjoy breathtaking scenes along the South West Coast Path from beautiful Branscombe to Beer, or venture further along the Jurassic Coast to Exmouth.
Take the short walk from Colyton to Smallicombe Farm, where all manner of rural pursuits are on hand to enjoy.
Explore Fire Beacon Hill – one of ten East Devon nature reserves. It’s a ten-minute stroll between Sidmouth and Sidbury and those who make it are rewarded with stunning panoramas from the place where the ridge terminates in a dramatic summit. This was the ideal place to light warning beacons in times of yore. Managed with nature conservation as a priority, the nature reserves are free to visit and explore and range from ancient woodlands to stunning heathland and wetland havens.
Located inland of Exmouth and neighbouring Budleigh, you’ll find the beautiful and unique East Devon Pebblebed Heaths. These scenic heathlands offer superb walking opportunities – try one of the many way marked walks on Woodbury Common as a taster.
Restaurants: dining with a view
Only accessible by boat, River Exe Cafe is a floating oasis, located on a pontoon in the middle of the Exe Estuary. Serving the freshest seafood (with something delicious for all diners), alongside an exceptional wine list the entire experience becomes an unforgettable event.
The Pig at Combe is bursting with character and countryside charm. Lose yourself in the 3,500-acre grounds, and explore the three-walled gardens before consuming the best the region has to offer thanks to the chefs’ 25-mile radius menu and “obsessive commitment to home-grown local produce”.
The Hideaway in Seaton is a fabulous seaside cafe tucked – as its name suggests – safely away from the more populated main town.
Attractions: things to see
At the head of the River Exe, lies the quaint and historic estuary port town Topsham. A haven for independent food and drink obsessives with a family-run butcher, cheese shop, wine emporium, green grocers with flowers spilling out onto the pavement, cake crafters, seafood restaurants and excellent coffee houses.
Pay a visit to Honiton’s Thelma Hulbert Gallery, an award-winning public art space which hosts an acclaimed programme of contemporary art and craft exhibitions. At present the gallery is featuring work by the famous landscape artist and sculptor Richard Long, called Being in the Moment. The exhibition is kick-starting East Devon District Council’s programme of cultural recovery.
Dart’s Farm – one of the best known farm shops in southern England – is less than a mile from Topsham and offers a one-stop destination where there’s something for everyone.
Activities for the family
Hire traditional wooden self-drive boats and set sail for an hour’s mackerel fishing in Beer – recently named BBC Countryfile’s Best Picnic Spot 2020.
Seaton Jurassic, Devon Wildlife Trust’s flagship visitor centre, is a dynamic new attraction which tells the amazing story of the remarkable coastline.
Voyage along the Jurassic Coast with Stuart Line Cruises based in Exmouth. The company has been sailing along the coast and up the Exe estuary for more than 50 years. A voyage to Sidmouth and beyond is one of the best maritime experiences available in the entire West Country.
A narrow gauge line takes the wonderful old trams on Seaton’s historic tramway on a half-hour journey up through the scenic estuarine valley alongside the River Axe and the award-winning Seaton Wetlands Nature Reserve (a must for nature-lovers) to Colyton. Here a 20-minute stroll to walk off lunch will take you into one of the most picturesque villages in Devon.
Join Wild East Devon rangers at Seaton Wetlands for a family fun-packed hour of exploring, discovering wildlife and getting creative. You can also have a personalised guided trail of discovery, well away from any crowds, to behind-the-scenes places where you can feel completely isolated and at ease.
Hotels and places to stay
Andrewshayes Holiday Park, near Axminster: an award-winning holiday park set in beautiful countryside overlooking the valleys and hills around the pretty village of Dalwood.
Mazzard Farm holiday cottages: offers six contemporary and luxury holiday cottages, situated around a pretty, cobbled courtyard near Ottery St Mary.
Higher Wiscombe: luxury self-catering accommodation near Colyton, for parties from six to 32 people.
Cadhay House: historic Tudor manor house offers luxurious self-catering accommodation for up to 22 people, with three holiday cottages on-site providing additional accommodation for 12-14.
Ladram Bay: multi-award winning holiday park nestled on the Jurassic Coast between Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton.
Deer Park Country House: the ultimate destination for large family groups – book the entire Georgian house, or spend a night in a luxury tree house.