“The English Riviera”
After a short visit to Exeter continuing our journey towards the south west of England along the counties of Devon and Cornwall, we arrived in the matter of few minutes’ drive to Torbay in Devon, officially known by its well-deserved nickname, The English Riviera. This name comes back from the Georgian and Victorian eras when the rich and wealthy were coming along this area to spend their holidays in search of the beautiful sandy beaches and small and quiet idyllic villages. It is today that this region still caters for a large number of luxury and high demanding holidaymakers, but now you can find top 5* resorts, hotels and spas next to much more modest properties. A great place to anyone.
Although I was at some of those places many years ago, I barely could remember anything. Not even the larger cities Exeter and Plymouth, for what made it a great weekend to remember and enjoy what I consider the most beautiful region in Britain. So unfortunate that the weather (like everywhere in the UK) is not as good as is in Spain for example, as otherwise this could be the perfect beach holiday destination with nothing to envy to the Mediterranean; but that will never happen though.
While “commuting” from one place to another can be done in different ways, all of them are quite fast. Of course the fastest is having a rental car out of question, but buses and trains connect every of those cities and villages all along the south west mainline railway. Not every train calls at the smaller places but is a fast and efficient way that won’t take that much time.
Even considering that a weekend is a short time to visit all those place, it is in any case possible to do majority of them and with some sort of relaxation yet non-stop. What will not be possible is reaching Penzance at the south-westernmost point unless you scrap places along or rush your way through. As I’ve been to Penzance few times many years back, we postponed for another time getting this far and concentrate instead on what would be the main highlight, the Eden Project at Saint Austell.
Following in order the places we stopped along the way since we left Exeter, and that you should also include if you want to have a similar trip and experience, would be Teignmouth, Torquay, Paignton, Dartmouth, Salcombe, Plymouth, Saint Austell, Truro, Saint Ives and Penzance. We reached, as explained before, Saint Austell as our last destination in order to visit the Eden Project. Further explanation on what to see at each of those places is listed below in the next section.
Before I come to an end in this brief introduction, let me tell you that it is almost guaranteed you will find the best fish & chips in the whole of Britain. It is very well known on the entire region, but that is not the only famous
For more information about the English Riviera check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The United Kingdom’s currency is the British Pound (£). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see along the English Riviera:
- Teignmouth Is the first village of importance by the sea you will encounter if coming south from Exeter.
-Grand Pier Not any special as others are in the UK, but great for some pictures of the sandy beach at both sides of it.
- Torbay This area is the truly English Riviera, from where the whole expanded region also receives the name. Such nickname comes from the beautiful sandy beaches and idyllic perfect villages, although in part, for the wealthy tourists that since Georgian and Victorian times were coming here to enjoy their holidays.
-Torquay is the capital city of Devon. Once ” la creme de la creme” during the Victoria age. Famous writer Agatha Christie was born here.
-Harbor Is the nicest sight in the city with the Victorian buildings and the hill behind with luxurious mansions.
-Victorian Pavilion Right by the harbour.
-Paignton It is the sister city of Torquay, few minutes to the south. You almost don’t realize if you are in one or the other, only because the beach is different
-Paignton Pier Dating from 1879, it’s original halls were guttered by fire in 1919 and never replaced until 1980 where the new amusement arcade stands today.
- Dartmouth Right by the River Dart on the opening to the sea. Many medieval and Elizabethan buildings are still standing perfectly restored.
- Salcombe Very small fishing village with in an almost idyllic location at the mouth of the river and the sea forming the Kingsbridge estuary, with magnificent Victorian architecture at every house.
- Plymouth The largest city in Devon, around 50 kilometers south west from Exeter and by the sea. From a Roman post to one of the most important port and naval industries in the country. It suffered great loss and damage during the WWII as consequence of this importance.
-Harbor Area Also known as Barbican, is the main marina, within walking distance from the city center, just few streets farther to the east. It has the largest number of cobbled streets in Britain.
-Charles Church Standing for over 300 years until 1941 when during WWII an incendiary bomb destroyed much of it. It was never demolished nor restored but left ever since as a reminder of the war in Plymouth.
-Mayflower Steps Place where the pilgrims left England aboard the Mayflower for the New World in 1620. Nowadays it is marked by a Doric portico built in 1934.
-Plymouth Gin Distillery In operation since 1793, located in Southside Street.
-Hoe Park Is the largest open area for recreation in the city located just south of the city center, with memorials and monuments. Right by the edge are low limestone cliffs offering great views of the bay.
-Smeaton’s Tower Is the 3rd Eddystone Lighthouse to be built in the same place in the coast 14 miles from the city, in 1759, although this one was removed from the original place and moved as a memorial in Hoe Park.
-Naval War Memorial Commemorates those killed in World Wars I and II.
-National Armada Memorial Commemorates the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
-Royal Citadel built in 1660 although greatly damaged during WWII is adjacent to Hoe Park. Of special interest is the baroque style front gate.
-Stonehouse District West and south of the city center and Hoe Park.
-Royal William Victualling Yard Built between 1826 and 1835 was the main and largest victualling depot of the Royal Navy, decommissioned in 1992. Today is one of the most magnificent industrial monuments in the country with many historical buildings in the complex.
-Devonport District Located to the west of the city. Its main square is Grade I listed.
-Devonport Library One of the rare art-deco buildings with Egyptian style.
-John Foulston’s Town Hall
-Prysten House Built in 1498 is the oldest surviving house in Plymouth, located at Finewell Street.
-Northwest District Quite far should you be on foot, but if you have a rental car is worth to come here for the beautiful bridges over the River Tamar.
-Royal Albert Bridge Located to the north-west of the city carries the mainline rail between Cornwall and Devon. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and built in 1859 is an unique piece of engineering worth to see.
-Tamar Bridge This is the new road and pedestrian bridge built parallel to the Royal Albert Bridge. From the pedestrian path you can get the best view of both bridges in detail.
- St Austell This historic city is one of the largest in Cornwall, and became not only nation but world wide known and famous for the Eden Project.
-Eden Project Opened in 2001 is 5 kilometers from the center of St Austell. This world famous landmark wintergarden is formed of huge adjoining domes (known as biomes), each of which represents a different environment and climate in the world with their corresponding species of plants
-Town Hall Built in 1844 in Italian Renaissance style.
- Truro One of the most beautiful cities in Cornwall with its Georgian architecture and cobbled streets, and impressive cathedral.
-Cathedral This large construction was built between 1880 and 1910 in Gothic Revival style. It is one of only 3 cathedrals in the United Kingdom with 2 spires.
-Royal Cornwall Museum It is the oldest museum in Cornwall from 1818 and is dedicated to the Cornish culture.
-Hall for Cornwall Originally dating from 1846 it is the leading concert hall/theater in the entire Cornwall county.
-Walsingham Place and Lemon Street famous for the fine collection of Georgian style buildings, said to be the finest west from Bath.
-Rivers Three different rivers meet in the city, and of special beauty place is the confluence of the River Kenwyn with the River Allen to become the River Truro.
- Saint Ives Located on the south west of Cornwall, very near Penzance which is the last city proper on the west coast of England. A very popular holiday destination for its beautiful sandy beaches which entirely surround the little peninsula the city lies within.
-TATE A branch of the world wide known British modern art museum TATE opened in this current building in 1993 right by Porthmeor Beach.
-Old Harbor Where the traditional fishing cottages are still there perfectly restored giving the city special character and charm.
The nearest international airports are either Bristol or Exeter, both located at pretty much the same distance from Penzance on the west of England. Both airports handle some European destinations, having majority of routes Bristol Airport. Both also handle internal flights within the United Kingdom and flights from London to Exeter take only 30 minutes.
Within the cities I have mentioned in this guide there is a great railway connection, making travel times very short and inexpensive. Majority of the cities lie on the mainline Penzance to London Paddington via Plymouth and Exeter, with easy access to the entire rail network if interconnecting at Exeter, Bristol and Plymouth.
Travelling from London Paddington is around 4 hours to Exeter and 6 to the end of the line Penzance, but the tickets from London are very expensive and sometimes can be way cheaper to take a plane from London City to Exeter with FlyBe.
The best way in any case is to have a rental car and be independent from any public transportation. This will not only save you lots of time but will allow you to be extremely flexible and reach other destinations off the main track and discover really beautiful corners you would not even know they exist.
With so many hundreds of hotels and bed & breakfast in Cornwall and Devon and specially at the seaside resorts, you should not have any trouble in finding what better suits your needs. We decided to have our hotel based in Exeter and commute from there as we had a rental car. Exeter also came as one of the cheapest options for a hotel, although if you prefer going for a B&B then the cost will likely be half. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, at Guardian Road, Exeter Business Park. Located to the east of the city, near the M5 motorway. Was not something special out of the common, but a nice, comfortable and quiet place to stay. Clean, with all the facilities needed and caring, friendly and welcoming staff. A nice continental breakfast was also included in the rate.
Considering the high fare of hotels, we were still “lucky” with the price we payed for our stay, just days from the beginning of the high season. Even so, our hotel was not in the city center but on the outskirts. After all, we did not need to stay right in the city center since we had a rental car with us to move around.