Share this page:
Follow Choice on Social Media:
Get the most out of life

Enjoy Life

That English Riviera Touch

Norman Wright and photographer Clive Nicholls discover the delights of Torbay at Daish’s The Devonshire Hotel

Toby_Graham_gets_everyone_rocking_at_the_DevonshireAfter the first few echoing guitar notes of The Shadows’ legendary number one hit Apache, the room was back in 1960 again, with 150 or so “war babies” and “baby boomers” reliving their youth and generally having a great time.

Guitar playing vocalist Toby Graham with his trusty backing track machine played a seemingly endless selection of well-known hits, mainly from the 50s, 60s and 70s, that got the Devonshire Hotel’s residents dancing or rocking along to the beat.

The guests at the Devonshire, one of the group of hotels owned and serviced by Daish’s coach company, had already enjoyed their three- course evening meal, a quiz and a session of Bingo.

Guests_can_arrive_by_luxury_coachWith coach pickup from most areas of the country, proper breakfast, three-course evening meal and entertainment every night it was an excellent way of enjoying the English Riviera – views over the shimmering waters of Torbay were just a street away.

Many of that week’s guests on five-night holidays compared it to a cruise on dry land. It certainly had all the elements, – en-suite rooms, coffee shop, tv and games lounge, a convivial bar and an outdoor pool in the summer months and of course nightly entertainment.

Room_at_the_Devonshire_HotelCoffee_shop_at_the_Devonshire

Devonshire_dining_room_ready_for_serviceDevonshires_tv_and_games_lounge

A lot of the guests we chatted to are frequent visitors. Dorothy and Terry who sat at the next dining room table said they were here four weeks ago. They were looking forward to their 65th wedding anniversary.

In the middle of March, as you would expect, we had seasonal mixed weather over the four days we were there but the hotel was full as it is every week of the year. Daish’s must be doing coach breaks right to achieve this. Torbay is a popular destination the company have another hotel in Torquay, the Abbey Lawn Hotel.

Their 12 hotels in ten locations also include the Lake District, Blackpool, Scarborough, Llandudno, Newquay, two hotels in Weymouth, Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight, and Eastbourne. The hotels are serviced by a fleet of 35 coaches and guests can opt for transport via the coaches or arrive with their own vehicle.

Vegetable tart - Dinner at the Devonshire HotelAt the Devonshire breakfast is served at 8.30 and dinner at 6.30 you make your dinner choices for that evening at breakfast. The service is very well organised, necessary for a single sitting – the key is that every guest has an allocated table plus the pre-ordering.

For many the highlight of the holiday is the after-dinner entertainment. In the week we stayed, as well as Toby Graham, a comedian, a female vocalist and a Ratpack style crooner featured – pretty much something for everyone.

Brixham HarbourThere’s also something for everyone in Torbay, long described as the English Riviera. The hotel runs excursions, there’s a bus stop outside the entrance with access to Torquay itself and the towns of Paignton and Brixham that nestle together around the bay and make up the English Riviera as well as to the coastal towns of Dartmouth, Teignmouth and Dawlish or inland to Totness and Newton Abbot.

 

The_charming_harbour_at_DartmouthNew_sea_defences_protect_the_station_at_Dawlish

To continue the cruise on dry land analogy, a break at the Devonshire has all the elements of a holiday afloat. It’s true that you don’t wake up every morning in a new place but you certainly can wake up to a new place to visit and different things to do every day.

The_bust_of_Agatha_Christie_by_Dutch_artist_Carol_Van_Den_Boom-CairnsTorquay’s most famous daughter, featured on all the town signs, is Agatha Christie born Agatha Miller in the town in 1890. She remains the world’s best-selling novelist of all time with 66 novels 14 collections of short stories and seven radio plays and 16 plays produced mainly in the West End and New York including The Mousetrap which ran continuously after its premiere in 1952 until the present, save for just over a year in 2020/21 due to Covid. It recently celebrated its 29,500th performance.

Welcome_to_Torquay_signFor real aficionados there’s the Agatha Christie mile around the seafront of Torquay but we picked out a few of the more tangible places you can visit.

In the town itself there’s the memorial bust on Palk Street close by the Edwardian Pavilion. Created by Dutch sculptor Carol Van Den Boom-Cairns it was unveiled by Christie’s daughter Rosalind Hicks to mark her mother’s centenary in 1990. Christie died in 1976.

The only permanent exhibition about Christie is at the Torquay Museum in Babbacombe Road (www.torquaymuseum.org). The Christie gallery features items and images from the family collection as well as books, memorabilia and papers owned by the museum. In addition, there’s Poirot’s office from the ITV series and an outfit worn by David Suchet in the series as he portrayed the enigmatic Belgian detective. The museum has other local exhibitions including one celebrating D-Day in the build-up to the 80th anniversary this summer. Opening times and admission prices are on the website.

Greenway_House_peeps_between_the_trees_on_our_Dart_River_CruiseGreenway House set on the slopes above the eastern banks of the River Dart estuary near Brixham was Agatha Christie’s retreat. She bought it in 1938 and spent most summers and Christmases there. She described it as “the loveliest place in the world.”

Greenway is now a National Trust property (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) it is open every day but if you want to go by car you need to book a car parking space. You can access this impressive house and garden by river from Dartmouth to the property’s own Greenway Quay.

Visitors can see some of the main rooms in their 1950s arrangement and décor along with a collection of rare first editions of her books. Also on display is her Steinway grand piano. Christie was really a polymath, she trained as a concert pianist but was too shy to perform, she had the limited education that girls in the Edwardian era received but as well as her writing volunteered as a pharmacy dispenser during the two world wars and was involved in archaeological work over many years in the Middle East with her second husband.

As well as the places you can visit there are many that were used thinly disguised in the books. Greenway itself was one of them its great white Georgian profile visible through the trees from the river.

Further west along the coast is another big white building the art deco hotel on the inshore Burgh Island. Known as the white palace the hotel was the setting for two of her novels. And she stayed there to write several times. The island is cut off by the tide when a sea tractor on stilts transports guests across. Otherwise, you can stroll across on the hard sand.

Kents Caverns (www.kents-cavern.co.uk) has also appeared in print. Christie knew the prehistoric caves from childhood, her father was a member of the society in 1894. Guided tours of the lit cave system cover 400 million years of history.

Babbington_Model_Village_building_siteTorbay has much else to offer. Close to the Caverns is Babbacombe Model Village (www.model-village.co.uk) although it might be more accurately described as a model Britain. Set in four acres of a valley there are more than 400 beautifully crafted buildings and more than 13,000 figures populating various scenes of British life as well as national icons like Stonehenge and The Globe Theatre. A rail network loops around the site.  The village is in a valley and the paths do swoop up and down but it is worth the effort and by taking it slowly you can get the most from the exquisite models and the humour built in to the names on the buildings and the vans of the various tradesmen depicted working on the sites.

Just_stop_oil_protestThere’s even a Just Stop Oil protest shown but the village’s commitment to accuracy is bent a bit as the police are shown dragging the protesters out of the road – not something you would see in real life!

This really is a highlight of a visit to Torbay a few hours of the highest standard of entertainment.  New models, costing thousands to make, are often added and the gardens, also diminutive, are well worth a visit in their own right. Evening illuminations add to the attraction.

A_curious_inhabitant_at_the_excellent_Paignton_ZooPaignton Zoo (www.paigntonzoo.org.uk) is another day out attraction with pretty flat walking (mobility scooters for hire, too) and animals in roomy enclosures.

The zoo is looking after some very rare species including Black Rhinos, Sumatran Tigers and Bornean Orangutans.

The_memorial_at_Slapton_Sands.With the 80th anniversary of D-Day coming up in June we drove a short way along the coast towards Teignmouth to visit Slapton Sands scene of one of the great tragedies of the build-up to the invasion. As part of the preparation for D-Day US troops staged an exercise (Exercise Tiger) to practice for the landings on the night of April 27/28, 1944. They were units earmarked for the eventual assault on Utah Beach.

German intelligence organisations were on high alert for such training exercises and some fast torpedo boats powered across the channel and made a devastating surprise attack on two cumbersome tank landing ships. Several hundred American soldiers lost their lives in the inferno or in the icy waters.

Today only a monument remembering the tragedy and thanking the local villages for their support during the time the Americans were in the area before D-Day remains. The beach itself curves round peaceful in a calm sea – a complete contrast to the fiery hell of that night in April 80 years ago.

As the fireman opened the doors of the firebox with a clang exposing a roaring inferno which he fed with a couple of hefty shovelfuls of coal the party of primary schoolchildren stood transfixed. Most had probably never seen a fire in action before, let alone in a mighty steam locomotive, probably coal itself was new to them.

Goliath_at_Paignton_StationThat’s one of the reasons why Britain’s preserved steam railways are important. Railways are so much a part of our recent history it would be impossible to really understand why unless you could experience a train trip pulled by a steam locomotive and saw for yourself what makes it go.

These primary children were then soon streaming aboard the carriages at Paignton Station for the Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company’s (www.dartmouthrailriver.co.uk) first train of the day to Kingswear Station and then the short ferry trip across the estuary to Dartmouth.

The locomotive which so intrigued the class was 5239 Goliath in its 100th year of service.

Goliath spent all its working time from leaving the Swindon works in August 2024 until 1963 hauling coal in South Wales. As part of British Rail’s transition away from Steam it was sent to the scrapyard where it was rescued by the Dart Valley Railway and restored, entering service at Paignton in 1978. And what a restoration job was done augmented by an overhaul in 2020 – the locomotive positively gleams and strains at the leash to take the coaches, packed with enthusiastic passengers, even in early March, on a scenic trip past beaches and cliffs through to Kingswear opposite Dartmouth. From there a short ferry hop Dartmouth_Ferrytakes you to the Devon town where since 1863 Britain’s naval officers have been trained. We took a one-hour river cruise run by the company which takes you out to the mouth of the estuary then back up river past the Britannia Naval College to Dittisham and past Greenway where you get a glimpse of Agatha Christie’s white mansion through the trees. Their most popular trip is the Round Robin leaving Paignton Station on the train, across the Dart on the ferry and cruising up the river to Totness and back to Paignton by bus or go round in the opposite direction.

It's easy to understand why Daish’s customers come back to Torbay regularly and not just because of the excellent Devonshire Hotel, there’s so much to see and do on the Riviera you need to visit often to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Looking_across_the_Dart_Estuart_from_Dartmouth_to_KingswearLow_water_at_Shaldon_on_the_Teign_estuary

Find out more:

Devonshire Hotel,Park Hill Road, Torquay, Devon, TQ1 2DY Telephone: 01803 291123  (www.daishs.com/torquay/devonshire-hotel www.facebook.com/daishs)

Devonshire Hotel in Torquay is part of the independent family-owned coach holiday group Daish’s

Awarded a TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Award in 2023 for the 8th year running, the Devonshire is an ideal choice for a relaxing stay on the English Riviera. The hotel occupies a beautiful 1900's building set atop a hill overlooking the Tor Bay and the hotel gardens.

The hotel has 76 bedrooms and boasts an outdoor heated pool which is available in the summer (open May-Sept). While the peaceful lounges and garden terrace provide a choice of relaxing spaces

to unwind after a day’s sightseeing.

Devonshire Hotel hosts a programme of live entertainment every evening which includes cabaret and dancing, bingo, quizzes and games. There is also the option to book excursions and day trips via the hotel.

What’s included in a Daish’s Holiday package:

  • Luxury coach travel or free hotel guest parking on-site
  • Convenient pickup and drop-off along popular routes
  • Breakfast and three-course evening meal every day
  • On-site entertainment

The hotel is open to guests all year round

Tariff 2024 (as of March 2024), based on two people sharing a standard room:

Price from £139 to £499 self-drive and £159 to £519 for the coach. Early Booking and Kid’s Go Free discounts also apply.

For more information on Torbay visit (www.englishriviera.co.uk)

Current Issue

What's new

Walks by the sea

Fred Olsen's Cruise lines for 2025

Christmas books reviews

DVD reviews

Doctor Who

Our new website - Enjoy Britain online www.enjoybritainonline.co.uk/

New CD releases

Discover Knightsbridge, London

Birdwatching and more