Overlooking the pretty Babbacombe beach, The Cary Arms is reached via a rather steep single track road, it is not for the faint-hearted – but then you do not get special places without a special effort to reach them. We were greeted by Katie, who was warm and welcoming and she kindly informed us the car would be parked for us.
This was a reflection of feel of the hotel and it’s laidback seaside charm. Entering the traditional foyer with it’s low beams and traditional bar area was traditional yet immaculate, a cool contrast to the bright sunshine outside. Spread over several levels, at its core is a stone inn decorated with vintage nautical finds, including huge brass search lights and a ship’s compass, with eight New England-style rooms in the main building – all with sea views.
Walking through the hotel is almost like a chronological journey, through the beautiful reading rooms, windows framed abundantly with flowers, it gets lighter and more contemporary as you move through the hotel. The ever-expanding selection of accommodation comprises eight rooms in the main inn, two beach suites, six beach huts and five self-catering cottages – all different with retro red leather bed-heads, pretty wardrobes, sticks of rock on snow white pillows, and walls adorned with vintage posters advertising the delights of Devon and colourful yachting photographs. Rooms are close enough to the sea to nod off listening to the waves, and come with White Company toiletries.
We were booked in to ‘Beach Hut No. 2’ . A pastel blue take on a traditional beach hut over two floors. Offering heady views and hi tech features. The glass front of our hut over looked cliff tops and the sea views that spanned for miles. While the beach huts have floor-to-ceiling windows, remote-control gas fires and Sonos digital music systems. There are two suites, looking onto their own beach, afford the most privacy, this is probably top of their list of positives too, you would not know you were near a bustling seaside town in high season.
The interior was a calming mix of blues and creams with ample room via an oversized L shaped sofa in the lounge area, a stunning bathroom and a mezzanine bedroom, all of this facing seaward. There were small touches like the Smeg fridge, stocked with ice cold rose and chocolates, the super modern TV set up in our beach hut. We had images of winter storms and wrapped up warm in the colder months as well as making the most of the sunshine on our stay.
The sunshine, yes. The beach huts have the most wonderful terraces, clad in glass along the front with ample room to sun bathe on bleached wood decking and matching loungers. Totally private they perch above the swimmers and sunbathers on the beach below, providing a perfect aspect to watch the world go by. We arrived just after 4pm, and it was still a sun trap; changing into our bikinis and sipping on rose, one could have been mistaken for being in the South of France under clear blue skies.
We were having dinner at 8pm the first night, so we thought we’d get ready a little earlier and walk down the steps to the bay itself. The long-standing staff are perfectly tuned in to guests’ needs, with no weak links: all are effortlessly professional, and have an excellent knowledge of the area and there was one gentleman in particular Nigel, who not only made us welcome; he gave us an overview of the area right down to introducing us to the resident seal called Sammy.
We sat on the stone jetty looking up at the hotel and the cliff tops framing it with our toes in the water and Sammy swirling around in the shallows as the fishermen threw him the odd mackerel to his delight. The clear dappled water below us shone bright in the evening sun.
Boats can moor overnight and use the Cary Arms amenities, at dinner there were a mixture of visitors via boat, locals and guests of the hotel sipping on cold drinks that varied from local cider to their bespoke cocktails.
Having laid in the sun and done very little that evening we both decided on a starter and desert each, as we watch the sun dip over the hills past Torquay on the other side of the bay. The food was fresh, presented well by friendly and polite staff. The puddings were absolutely delicious; there was nothing to fault, as we made our way back to our beach hut to the sound of the waves in the twilight, it was the perfect end to the first day.
Day two was slightly overcast, we made our way to breakfast. In my eyes breakfast is always a winner at a great hotel and The Cary Arms did not disappoint. H had a full English and I had the vegetarian version (locally sourced – which is another massive plus in my eyes), this was accompanied with coffee and a variety of juices.
The portions were not shy in the slightest, for those of you who would like a slightly healthier / lighter start to the day there is a selection that makes up freshly made pancakes, eggs benedict and a buffet that comprised of chunky bread served with honeycomb and fruit preserves, crunchy granola with thick yoghurt and berry compote and freshly baked almond croissants, all neatly laid on a Gingham tablecloth.
Slightly full at this point we thought we would make the most of the spa and gym before our treatments.
The glass-fronted spa has a waterfall hydrotherapy pool overlooking the bay below us. There’s a steam room, sauna, as well as the small but well kitted out gym, with a soundtrack of tropical bird songs and thunderstorms, marine-based Thalgo facials and massages.
I opted for a Thalgo Facial with Nina, not only was she incredibly knowledgeable about the products she was using (we lost count) her relaxing manner meant I almost fell asleep. The choice of using Thalgo products which are marine based is the perfect choice for the spa and it’s surroundings. Nina also gave us some great directions for a cliff top walk that afternoon (once again, the staff are faultless in their service).
As is was a little cloudy but still warm, we set off for a walk along the coastal path. As I have family in Italy my heart is always taken a little with the clear blue seas of the Ligurian coast, however we did not expect the clear waters we looked down on that afternoon. Bright blues and turquoises were dotted with paddle boarders and small boats. Walking away from the bustle of Torquay and across fields and narrow paths we arrived two bays across from Babacombe with the sun breaking through the clouds, we stopped for glass of local cider each.
Granted, the weather was on our side by this point, however as we pointed out, The Cary Arms also has the potential for a winter hideaway to watch storms and cosy up in front of their log fires.
Back to the Hotel itself via a slightly longer amble back under what was now blue skies , we thought it would be rude not to use our sun terrace once more before dinner.
We chose a three course dinner this time. The dishes are balanced, seasonal and locally sourced, with a blackboard heralding suppliers. It is a menu of upscale pub classics such as fish and chips, chicken and mushroom pie, and Devon lamb.
We dined on the terrace, but I would suggest best of all, the Captain’s Table, a private, elevated platform overlooking the sea. We both chose a starter of local scallops; amazingly sweet and balanced along with the chorizo they were served with, H chose fish for main and I chose the steak. A fillet supplied by the local butcher that really didn’t require a steak knife it was so tender, served with double cooked skin on chips and mushrooms (a simple dish that can so easily go wrong) with a stunning peppercorn sauce.
Quite full at this point, we chose sticky toffee pudding which was the perfect end to the meal. Please do not expect to dine here and choose a low calorie option, their take on British classics is an absolute treat, but be warned the portions are not small…. It’s definitely a foodie get away.
We watched the sunset, sleepy and full we took our glasses of wine back to our beach hut, and in our pjs took advantage of the oversized cushions on the sofa, the large TV on the wall and watched re-runs of sex and the city until late.
The following morning was an earlier start than expected. The sound of a helicopter woke me at 5am not the ideal start to the day; however, wrapped in a knitted throw I watched the most beautiful sunrise from our loungers on the terrace. Breakfast was a lighter affair the second morning, still content from the three courses the previous night we sipped our coffees on the terrace, catching a glimpse of the seal in the bay below and wishing we’d stayed a week or even longer . . .
Cary Arms & Spa