An utterly unique, luxurious, cosy hideaway with sumptuous cottages, dramatic coastline views, gorgeous beaches, chic dining, exciting water sports, spa pampering and fascinating historical walks. Be prepared to adore the Cary Arms & Spa.
Adventure beckons the moment you arrive at The Cary Arms in the positively tropical Babbacombe Bay. A gentle cruise along the cliff-top coast road in the new Bentley GTC brought us to a small single-lane track. So steep that you wonder if the car will make it. Of course, it's a Bentley so it's a breeze. Though anything without four-wheel drive will struggle.
Gorgeous cottages perch precariously in a verdant green oasis lining the descent. As you get closer to the Cary Arms reception, the road becomes truly hair-raising. Many people eat here just to watch the cars get stuck.
But don't worry, not only will they park the car for you they also have a bespoke electric vehicle complete with a chauffeur to escort you around.
As you reach reception you immediately realise The Cary Arms is curious and exceptional. A beach pub that Peter de Savary developed into something quite unusual. That was always one of his talents, finding hitherto ignored spots with enormous potential. Little by little he bought the other houses around too. Slowly adding to this higgledy-piggledy collection of sumptuous cottages, suites and beach houses, cast haphazardly about the cliffside.
Interestingly enough, Oscar Wilde used to live here in Babbacombe Bay, and I used to live next to his house in Tite Street, Chelsea.
The Cary Arms & Spa sprawls across a large area overlooking the bay. Much like a pirate Inn sprouting a spa, beach huts, suites, cottages and an almost infinite number of terraces that occupy every nook and cranny. Even at full capacity, you could find a private spot to sip fine bubbly and admire the terrific view. A long beach to one side and a Mediterranean rocky cove on the other, framed by jagged cliffs festooned with bushy dark green trees. We should have brought our Pirates of the Caribbean costumes.
Once inside the Inn presents a maze of rooms and corridors that are a joy to explore. A bar-restaurant with fine dining, a lush library and lounge for pre-prandial cocktails plus outdoor terraces of varying shapes and sizes, all overlooking the picturesque Babbacombe Bay.
We followed our host in his electric car up the super steep hill to the cottage, more fun for the Bentley GTC.
Cove Cottage is more of a three-bedroom luxury house than a cottage. Not what pops into my head for the word cottage. It sleeps six guests in what I can only describe as eighties coastal countryside decor with Tudor architecture fused with 20's style. It is a glorious mix of ages seen through an eighties lens. It took me right back to my childhood, all modernised for the 2020s. It is an understatement to say you feel at home. I could have moved in that day and not changed a thing.
And the eighties were the best decade ever. Sloane Rangers, New York clubs, breakout artists in film, music and fine art, big hair, eyeliner for boys and shoulder pads. Countries were emerging from dictatorships, not rushing into them. So glad I brought my Harrods eighties black velvet dinner jacket. Perfect symmetry.
What makes Peter and Lana de Savary's hospitality so unique is that every room is decorated not only to their signature style but with their very own furniture and objets d'art. You are not staying in a hotel, you are their guests visiting for some celebratory occasion.
You are surrounded by their family photographs, books, paintings, furniture and artworks. Nothing is themed according to some hotel brand book, each room is individually tailored for their guests. A personal taste they developed over decades of hosting friends and family in multiple properties all over the world. This is the most personal approach to hospitality and shows up the chain mentality of other luxury hotels.
Lana and Peter de Savary have been ahead of the game forever.
Cove Cottage is both self-catering or you can dine at the Cary Arms every day. The best of both worlds. There are three bedrooms set over three floors, two large king-size doubles and twin singles in the attic, all with en suite bathrooms. The living room is lush and cosy with deep plush velvet sofas and armchairs, giant oriental rugs, crystal chandeliers, a brass canon, coffee table books and a generous stone fireplace. A balcony terrace for breakfast overlooks the garden and bay. Downstairs, the kitchen is spacious with all the mod cons, chesterfield leather armchairs a bright red Aga, marine blue cupboards, an oak dining table for six and its own terrace garden with a view out over the sea, perfect for champagne sunsets. Every inch of wall space is laden with sailing photographs, prints and paintings.
We rushed the unpacking and went down to meet Graham on the beach. Graham Kerr runs guided walking tours of the English Riviera. He is charming and extremely knowledgeable about the surrounding area. Once he'd evaluated our fitness and enthusiasm, or lack of it, for hiking, he offered us various tours. We plumped for the longest as we'd been driving a while and wanted to stretch our legs. Off we went down the beach, up the cliffside and around Torquay. Graham regales us with fascinating stories of the local history and people. He constantly checks what you like and want to see. I won’t spoil the surprise, you must take this tour, Graham is engaging, empathetic and fun. Much like being shown around by an old friend.
Back at the cottage we opened a bottle of champagne in the living room, stoked the fire in our Hugh Hefner silk dressing gowns and prepared for dinner at the Inn below.
We started in the library with another glass of champagne in deep comfortable sofas watching the lights play out over the bay, then moved to our table. The Cary Arms is a traditional inn serving gastro-pub cuisine; relaxed dining with fresh seasonal local food. They offer special outside tables, such as the Captain's Table and The Pod; raised, fenced-off terraces that sit over the bay, with tremendous views, to see and be seen. However, it was a wee bit chillsome so we sat inside next to the log fire.
The manager and seasoned sommelier, Richard Gerencser, glided us through the fine wine menu with expert panache, recommending some lovely pairings to go with our West Country beef and Lyme Bay lobster. The Chateau Tayet Bordeaux Supérieur was indeed superior, even superb. A tomato and basil amuse-bouche acted as the starting gun. My entree of pan-seared Brixam scallops was luscious and flavoursome, the River Fowey mussels were milky and soft. The Devon beef was tender, juicy and succulent. And the lobster was the best I have had in England, richly soaked in butter, melting in the mouth. We finished off with a sticky toffee pudding and a Cary cocktail; Malibu, coconut water, crème de Violette, almond syrup and lime juice.
A lovely night's rest in the cottage followed, with only the seagulls and the waves lapping at the shore for company.
In the morning we took breakfast on the bedroom balcony, then slung on our silk dressing gowns again for a visit to the spa. The Cary Arms Spa is a large glass-fronted beach hut facing the sea from an attractive wooden terrace. It offers a waterfall hydrotherapy pool, relaxation area, steam room, sauna, exotic showers and a gymnasium. Peter de Savary's 50's American glamour art collection lines the walls, adding more of the family personality.
A lovely half-hour of super relaxing Gaia Hot Stone Massage with Louisa, who kneaded my tired body with gentle but firm pressure, using blended GAIA oils and warm volcanic stones over my back and legs to soften my muscles. We emerged even more laid back and ready for our next leg of the Bentley GTC tour of Devon.
The Cary Arms & Spa is an absolute treasure, luxury living in South Devon, distinctive, idiosyncratic and rare. A genuinely individual experience. As the bay is protected from winds by its curvature, the water is as clear as the Mediterranean and still as a pond. Ideal for paddle boarding, scuba diving and water skiing. We saw divers and paddle boarders in mid-winter, so this is truly a place to come anytime, in fact, I recommend off-peak season as you get the bay to yourself.
An extraordinarily romantic and dramatic setting that combines utter luxury with relaxed cosy dining, healthy sports and simply being. This hotel has an emotional resonance that lasts, the memory glows for longer than you would expect. Exactly what the de Savary family were aiming for.
And the scones with strawberries, jam and cream are worth the trip alone. Cream or jam on top is the only stressful decision you will face here in Dorset.
Graham Kerr - English Riviera Walking Guide