“I could murder a cream tea!” I proclaimed as my partner in crime drove us down the single-track road to the family-run Soar Mill Cove Hotel from the nearby village of Marlborough. Once we’d checked in at reception with Becky (third generation of the Makepeaces who own the hotel), my craving to take a knife and smear unctuous red jam on an unsuspecting scone was fulfilled in the most genteel manner.
A complimentary cream tea is served to all hotel guests on arrival and we proceeded to destroy all evidence of this very English murder in the sunny sea-facing front garden. As we clinked our teacups onto saucers with the great satisfaction of getting away with the perfect crime, we were startled by a witness to our cream tea massacre coming into view – a bee collecting from the hotel’s pretty fuchsias.
We breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that we had nothing to be afraid of. Drunk on nectar by the time she stumbled unwittingly into the crime scene, her version of events would be dismissed by any judge in the land as an unreliable statement.
Tea can be taken inside the hotel without missing out on the idyllic sea view due to the lounge’s expansive windows. And, despite my pot boiler opening to this review, it can be consumed outside of the context of a murder mystery.
But it’s hard not to conjure up the spirit of Agatha Christie in this part of South Devon, especially when such a secluded location could act as a retreat an aspiring writer needing some peace and quiet to crack on with penning their bestselling novel.
If reading a good book is more your thing then Soar Mill Cove Hotel’s tranquil atmosphere certainly enabled us to truly get away from it all. Nestled in the sun-trap microclimate of Devon’s South Hams, one of the benefits of the hotel’s unconventional one storey layout is that each room has a patio, with a table and chairs and sun loungers, so guests can relax in their own little outside space.
And if relaxation is what is sought then Soar Mill Cove Hotel certainly delivers.
The indoor saltwater pool (open 8am-9pm) provided me with a refreshing way to gently exercise before breakfast. For those seeking a little pampering, massages and beauty treatments are available at the hotel spa. For more energetic pursuits the hotel provides suggestions of local cliff top walks and runs on easy-to-read maps; it has its own small gym, and the aches and pains of the day can be eased in the heat of the sauna.
Our guest room was spacious, with an en suite bathroom, a comfy sofa, walk-in wardrobe and a roomy bed. As in the best crime novels, the hotel’s clientele is anything but typical; ranging from romantic couples to families, and from dog walkers – yes, dogs can be accommodated – to seniors making one of many return visits to their favourite seaside location.
Dinner is served as the sun sets over the restaurant’s panoramic sea view. Guests can select from the prix fixe offering but we opted for dishes from the more extensive daily menu. Each afternoon it is the routine of the hotel to ask guests to select a time to dine and to choose their courses for that evening. Being spontaneous types, we found this advance ordering a little unusual; but the food itself, the brainchild of head chef Ian MacDonald, utilizes plenty of fresh local produce and is elegantly presented.
During our visit we very much enjoyed the West Country cheese soufflé, and handpicked Salcombe crab (above) from amongst the starters; the slow cooked belly of pork main course (below); and the lemon and lime posset, whose accompanying homemade shortbread is the best I have eaten.
Special mention must also be made of the strawberry and raspberry pavlova (apparently a favourite of former guest Audrey Hepburn): the meringue melted in the mouth and had the right balance of crisp shell and chewy centre.
After a good night’s sleep we breakfasted on fruit, yogurt and croissants from the restaurant’s continental buffet before choosing from the variety of cooked options. The Devonshire breakfast with local bacon and pork sausage is a winner and its vegetarian alternative is an equally good start to the day.
For fish lovers haddock, kippers and ‘Salcombe smokies’ (mackerel) are great additions to the traditional fare. If guests feel like a lazy start to the day then breakfast in bed can be served.
With its beautiful surroundings, good food and facilities Soar Mill Cove Hotel may be more than enough for some visitors looking for a quiet break; but for those wanting to explore a little more the surrounding area provides plenty of options for excursions.
The seaside town of Salcombe is a short drive away, with its heritage of fishing; the popular English Riviera resorts of Torquay and Paignton are about an hour away to the north east, and the city of Plymouth is an hour to the north west.
The best trip we made was the 20 minute drive to Bantham Beach, recently named in the Top Ten beaches in Europe by the Lonely Planet guide. A relaxing place for to visit for all, it’s a favourite with families and surfers alike. As well as the fine sand and rolling waves, the view at Bantham takes in Burgh Island, the inspiration for a couple of Agatha Christie’s most famous works.
Burgh Island’s restored Art Deco hotel has plenty of walking routes around it; it is accessible from Bigbury-on-Sea via a short walk across the sand at low-tide or via the regular crossings made by sea tractor.
Whether Soar Mill Cove Hotel is your destination for a mini-break or your base for a longer stay, its relaxing atmosphere is sure to refresh (as Hercule Poirot might say) your “little grey cells”.
For more info on Soar Mill Cove visitwww.soarmillcove.co.uk