It takes quite an event to bring our family to church. A wedding or funeral, perhaps. Or, in this case, the conversion of a 19th-century chapel just outside Dartmouth into a high-end holiday rental. It began and continued its life as a United Reformed Church 140 years ago, subsequently serving as a shop, storeroom and boathouse. The chapel was bought in 2009 by the Imlah family, who restored the near-derelict structure to its original elegant form, adding a level of comfort not always associated with places of worship.
The kitchen opens on to the dining area and raised lounge whose window seats reveal sea views. The chapel's original window plan and double-height ceilings have been retained throughout. Add a wood-burning stove to this meditative setting, and I wondered if we'd make it outside, but the bucolic South Hams scenery seduces in bleak weather or fine.
Stoke Fleming, a two-road village, is lined with whitewashed cottages. It is crowned with the hilltop St Peter's parish church, flanked by a lane whose ancient hedgerows frame epic views along the coast to remote Start Point Lighthouse, some 10 miles away.
The deep cove of Blackpool Sands, with fine yellow shingle backed by grassy cliffs, has to be one of south Devon's loveliest beaches. Set just a 10-minute amble through the village, down a wooded coastal path, the beach more than makes up for the chapel's lack of garden.
The house is spread over four floors, connected by stylishly up-lit wooden staircases. Solid oak flooring and beams contrast tastefully with cream, white and tan soft furnishings.
The three bedrooms sleep a total of seven people. While some people might find the beams on the attic-room floor cumbersome to clamber over, we thought it created a real "nest in the eaves" charm.
The daybed in the lower-ground den-room offers potential sleeping space for an eighth person. On our visit, it didn't get any use, since the oil-burning boiler located in the room left quite a stench. In summer, this may be less of an issue.
The three bedrooms are en-suite with Spanish marble walls and floor tiles, a Fired Earth shower cubicle here, a handmade Flaminia wash basin there, and a covetable Victoria and Albert "Quarrycast" free-standing bath.
The food and drink
The village shop and pub are two-minutes' walk away, the former offering basic supplies, the latter decent grub, local ales and ciders, and a notably cheery welcome. A hamper of local goodies from Brixham Deli was provided during our stay.
Further afield, south Devon is an epicentre for British seafood and field-to-fork produce, so you are spoilt for choice when it comes to shopping or eating out. The cafe on Blackpool Sands beach does a tasty south Devon crab and lobster bisque. Dartmouth's delis, fish shops and farmers' market (Fridays 1-6pm) are a 10-minute drive. Riverford's celebrated Field Kitchen Restaurant (riverford.co.uk) is 45 minutes away; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's new Plymouth Canteen and Deli (rivercottage.net) is an hour.
This is a chapel that looks after its congregation: cots, stair gates and bottle-warmers for young families, plus PlayStation, DVD/book library and an iPod dock that feeds a house-wide sound-system. For outdoor fun, grab the supplied crabbing lines and head for the rock pools on Blackpool Sands. Ten minutes south by car lies the dune-backed three-mile stretch of Slapton Sands; the South West Coast Path can be picked up five-minutes' walk from the house. The Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway (dartmouthrailriver.co.uk) is the big draw for children (from 1 April), along with Kents Cavern (kentscavern.co.uk), Torquay's prehistoric labyrinth of caves, where headline-making excavations are currently uncovering the earliest known remains of Homo sapiens in Europe.
None of the bedrooms is wheelchair accessible. Children are welcome; dogs are not.
Blue Chip Holidays (0844 704 6501; bluechipholidays.co.uk) offers weekly rental from £649 rising to £1,699 in July and August. Three nights start at £462, depending on availability.
The Old Chapel, Chapel Lane, Stoke Fleming, Devon TQ6 0PA.Reuse content