Living in a city like London with it’s twenty four-seven lifestyle, heavy pollution and hoards of people, escaping every so often is not so much of a luxury as a necessity. There’s hardly a better place to do this, than the beautiful Devon countryside. The very southern counties of the country are just blissful and a sunny day on a Devon beach is better than a sunny day anywhere else in the world. The quaint seaside culture that we have maintained and built up over the years is unique to Britain and one we should cherish. But the beaches are just one attraction to Devon; the beautiful national park, the farm shops filled with delicious organic produce and the gorgeous little towns and villages that make up the county are all big draws for a summer staycation.
Dartmoor National Park covers over 954 square kilometres of land and is an area renowned for its outstanding natural beauty. It is perfect for getting away from it all, taking long country walks and detoxing from a hectic city lifestyle. Driving the windy roads up to the Ilsington Country House Hotel, the feeling of escaping from civilization crept up on us and as we pulled into the beautiful grounds of the hotel, we knew immediately that this would be the perfect spot to unwind in for a few days. We were shown to our room, which had a stunning view over Dartmoor park and the comfiest bed to take lazy lie-ins and long afternoon naps in. The spacious bathroom was also luxurious with a huge egg-shaped bathtub and a separate shower.
After a short country walk we wasted no time in exploring the hotel’s new state-of-the-art spa. The design was outstanding; with a large pool in the center, there was also a sauna, steam room and a hydrotherapy pool, with various massaging water jets around it. We spent several hours enjoying the facilities and even dared to stand under the bucket of ice-cold water, which cascaded down on you when you pulled the rope. The sun loungers situated around the pool were perfect for reading, relaxing and taking breaks in-between sauna visits.
We had sufficiently worked up an appetite for our meal at the Orestone Manor Hotel, a short drive from the Ilsington. We were to enjoy dinner in the double rosette awarded hotel restaurant, which was set in an intimate and beautiful dining room but not before enjoying a leisurely drink on their terrace which boasted idyllic views of the countryside. The food was truly exceptional. Being so close to the ocean, we both went for seafood starters; I had the freshest, most delicious scallops, which were served with a pea puree and fresh garden peas. It’s a classic combination but one that works extremely well. My sister enjoyed a crab and mango cocktail, served in a tall, elegant glass.
On to the mains; I enjoyed a beautiful piece of fresh haddock, served on a bed of samphire and crushed new potatoes, with a butter sauce. It was creamy, satisfying but at the same time not too heavy. A pig from the Devon countryside was sacrificed for my sister’s main of pork belly, dauphinoise potatoes and root veg. With a crispy, thick crackling skin, the pork underneath fell apart at the fork. I couldn’t resist the banoffee plate for dessert, which involved a coffee pannacotta, salted caramel ice-cream and flambéed bananas. It was rich, sweet and comforting, everything a dessert should be. The service here was also faultless, with staff who really knew the food and wine list well. Even if you’re not staying in their highly rated hotel, do stop by for a meal at the Orestone Manor, as the food is every bit worth the journey.
The next day, to walk off our indulgent meal from the previous evening and prepare for our next, we planned a long walk in the national park. Admittedly neither of our navigational skills were up to the challenge but despite getting lost several times, we were still blown away by the stunning views we were offered by the park; deep valleys, unusual rock formations, pretty running streams and covered woodland walks. At times we felt light-years away from civilization, a remoteness that is often hard to find on our densely populated island.
Our second evening we were to dine in the lovely Ilsington Hotel restaurant. Again, awarded with two rosettes, the food was outstanding. My starter of ricotta gnocci was served on a bed of butternut squash puree and was beautifully plated, scattered with micro-herbs, girolles and a topped off with a light foam. For my main, I selected the fillet of beef, which was meaty, rich and generous as a beef dish should be. It was served with a meaty croquette and garden vegetables. The beef was locally sourced and a clearly came from one of the happy cows that roams the beautiful countryside nearby. That’s one of the many delights of dining in Devon, which is such a foodie haven; so many of the restaurants are intent on using only locally sourced produce. The county is in abundance of free-range meats, vegetables and fruit, most of which are organic. My sister enjoyed a light piece of white fish with crispy skin, which was served on a bed of spring veg. I finished with a very delicious dessert of apple panna cotta, baked apple slices and a gorgeous, refreshing apple sorbet to finish it off. I managed to steal a few slithers of cheese from my sisters cheese board, which enjoyed with the the chutney and crackers, was lovely. Luckily we only had to drag ourselves a short distance up to our room after our indulgent meal.
We spent the next morning, exploring the nearby farm shops. The South Devon chilli farm was a highlight where we enjoyed chilli mochas, chilli chocolate and purchased various types of chillis, dips and sauces. We also visited the Ullacombe farm shop where we indulged in freshly baked cakes and coffees. The afternoon was spent in Salcombe, a pretty little beach town on the Southern coast of Devon. It was absolutely stunning and with the sun beating down, we could have easily been in the Mediterranean. Yachts bobbed around on the turquoise waters and children played on the light yellow sands. The town itself is lined with ice cream and fudge shops along with places to grab a drink, coffee or some classic fish and chips. Salcombe makes a perfect day trip from Dartmoor, with a pretty drive to get there.
Devon is a county full of beautiful food, outstanding natural landscapes and idyllic little beach towns. It was a great reminder of the treasures we have waiting on our doorstop and while jetting off to warmer climates is just fine, sometimes there’s nothing better than a great British staycation.
A two-night stay at the Ilsington Country House Hotel starts at £220.
Three-course dinner for two at the Orestone Manor starts at £70.