BOUTIQUE HOTEL THE DEVON CREAM
Agatha Christie buff ANDREA McVEIGH headed to Devon in search of some cream teas, fresh seafood and a pint of scrumpy…
IT’S NO no mystery to understand why crime writer Agatha Christie loved Devon – it’s simply beautiful. And Agatha, who was born in the seaside town of Torquay in a stretch of the county known as the English Rivera, featured the area as a setting in many of her books.
Perhaps because I was a bit of a Christie buff as a teenager, Devon has always been on my to-do list. But it wasn’t until I found myself benefitting from a few free days plus cheap train fares from London that I was able to visit the county famous for its cream teas, fresh seafood and scrumpy – all of which I’m very partial to!
Arriving by train from London to Torquay, my husband and I spent the morning on a 90-minute sightseeing tour of the seaside town and its neighbours from the top deck of a vintage sightseeing bus, with commentary on locations with charming names such as Babbacombe, Meadfoot, Daddyfoot Cove, Preston Sands and Paignton.
But our real destination was Orestone Manor, a luxury boutique country house hotel located a few miles away from the Kiss Me Quick hats and sticks of rock of Torquay, in a mature location just off the coast road between Torquay and Teignmouth and overlooking the peaceful village of Maidencombe. A short taxi ride brought us to the sort of hotel we thought only existed in novels – a stunning manor house with a fascinating history.
Gazing out over the well-kept lawns and sub-tropical gardens from the serenity of our Coach House balcony with its outdoor hot tub (more on that later!) I could easily imagine myself as the sort of mid-19th century lady of leisure whose most pressing social engagement was an afternoon Devon cream tea before a gentle game of croquet on the lawn. It’s the kind of setting that would feature in one of Mrs Christie’s novels, and indeed, the hotel occasionally hosts popular Murder Mystery nights where you can test your sleuthing powers and see if you measure up to the likes of Hercule Poirot.
Built in 1830, Orestone Manor was the former home of painter John Callcott Horsley, the designer of the very first commercial Christmas card and brother-in-law to the great Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. A portrait of Brunel that was painted by Callcott in Orestone Lodge (as it was known then) now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery while Rudyard Kipling was a next door neighbour during this time – so you can image the sort of high-brow get-togethers that must have taken place!
But for all its impressive heritage, Orestone Manor isn’t stuck in the past. With a modern emphasis on fantastic service and great food, as well as two lovely new Coach House suites, the family-run hotel is a great base from which to explore south Devon.
There are 14 individually designed rooms to choose from, the two newest of which are in the self-contained, two-storey, Coach House – one of which we stayed in - which feature a separate lounge, private balcony and kitchenette.
A ten-minute walk downhill (but a steep half-hour uphill walk back) brings you to the striking red sands of Maidencombe beach, where on a good day you might be lucky enough to spot seals and dolphins pass by.
As for the outdoor hot tub that I promised more information on, well, it was on one of the balconies of our suite and the natural positioning of the Coach House meant that I could sit in the hot tub and enjoy a private view of mature trees, yet no-one could see me.
Since Orestone Manor is run by two chefs, we had high hopes for our evening meal in the award-winning restaurant and we weren’t disappointed, with treats such as Brixham crab, Torquay King Scallops and pigeon breast on the starters menu, followed by mains including Torquay lobster and duck breast (there’s also a full non-meat menu) followed by indulgent desserts including artisan West country cheeses or an assiette of miniature desserts. Local produce is a special feature on the menu, with fresh in-season fruit and veg even grown in the hotel’s own kitchen gardens – a treat that sees guests returning again and again to this historic hideaway.
Flybe fly from George Best Belfast City Airport to Exeter, where you can hire a car to travel the 24 miles to Maidencombe. Or you can take a train from London to Newton Abbot, 10 minutes away by car or taxi to the hotel. A taxi from Torquay centre to Orestone Manor took around 15 minutes and cost £10.
Run by two trained chefs, Neil and Catherine D'Allen, the family owned Orestone Manor in Maidencombe, Devon, has double rooms from £110 including breakfast. For more details please visit www.orestonemanor.com or call 01803 897 511.