Torbay was feted as the English Riviera by the Great Western Railway to encourage London punters to spend their holidays there during the inter-war years.
Since then, it has gained a notoriety as a kiss me quick destination, with donkeys rides, Punch ‘n’ Judy shows, and late night boozing. Like Brighton, but further away from the capital, and with slightly better weather.
However, a £16.75m inward investment package hopes to put the resort back on the tourism map, so I decided to check it out with the other half, spending a blissful two days in the sumptuous elegance of the Orestone Manor Hotel in Maidencombe, Torquay.
The 19th century building looks as if it has emerged from the pages of an Agatha Christie novel. Rather appropriate, since the English Riviera celebrates the author’s 125th birthday from September 11-19 at Torre Abbey, Torquay.
We stayed in Orestone Manor’s largest bedroom, named after the building’s famous former owner, John Callcott Horsley, an artist who designed the world’s first Christmas card.
The suite had a king-size brass, four poster bed, with stylish art deco furnishings and his and hers sinks. The view of Torbay, as one would expect, was to die for, once the mist had been burnt off by the mid-morning sun.
The food included the usual West Country delicacies, including freshly caught crab. But I take local produce, and well-balanced dishes, as a given in this part of the world. Where the Orestone Manor restaurant excels is the chefs’ understanding of texture in food.
The result is impeccable and delightful, providing dishes that make your heart want to sing. So I am not surprised that the restaurant boasts two AA rosettes. Actually, I think the inspector might have had an off day. I would rate the food as worthy of three stars.
You can walk off the excess calories with a ten minute stroll to Maidencombe beach. Watch out for the local bird life nesting in the densely woven hedges, adorned with wild flowers; the bucolic working dairy farm and a picturesque thatched country pub – but be warned, it will probably take you half an hour to get back up the hill to the hotel.
Nevertheless, the stroll is worth it, as the secluded, sandy beach offers beautiful views towards the Dorset coast on a clear day.
Overall, Orestone Manor offers an oasis of calm from which to retreat from the busy 9-5 world. So far, so good.
Downside? Frankly, I am dubious that the promised improvements to the A380 will do much more than shift the traditional traffic jams further down the highway, which in peak season can resemble an exodus of refugees fleeing Paris after the 1940 Nazi invasion, while dodging Stuka dive-bombers.
And, sadly, given the hotel’s provenance, it does not have a lift or extra resources for disabled people, as the original architects qualified a few lifetimes before the strictures of building control and the Equality Act.
Their modern successors, however, are drawing up plans to build more rooms and these will be disabled-friendly. The improvements will be the last brick in the wall, in more than one context.
Initially, the £280 a night stay might seem expensive for half-board for a couple. It surely is, compared with a Travelodge. But, up against a similar quality billet in the Home Counties, it is great value – compared with what one would expect to pay in Buckinghamshire, for example.
Of course, I would like to flaunt my West Country knowledge, by relating how I picked my way around the fish market in the heart of Brixham – the quayside village seeking to emulate the success of its foodie Cornish neighbour, Padstow – boarded a preserved steam train on the banks of the River Dart (more shades of Agatha Christie), or yomped across Dartmoor sampling the scrumpy in romantic hostelries.
Sadly, I cannot do so, as I found the hotel and its environs were such a haven that I had no reason to venture out of the picture book hamlet that has barely changed in centuries. Sorry. I just nestled into the womb and didn’t want to come out again.
Eventually, after two days, I bravely left for home, batteries charged, and was ready to face the rat-race again. But I can’t wait to go back in the autumn.