Devon: First resort for families

Pick the perfect base for your holiday and Devon’s attractions will do the rest, says Kate Calvert


Torbay



What's the attraction? The 1950s are alive at beaches such as Broadsands, Paignton and Goodrington Sands, and there are outdoor activities from kite buggying to watersports to fishing trips, as well as ancient history to explore.

Stay the night: Try Beverley Park ( beverley-holidays.co.uk). There are four sections to this multi-facility park overlooking Torbay, one offering touring pitches. One night in a caravan for two is from £19.30.

Taste sensation: Occombe Farm ( www.occombe.org.uk) is an inspired organic farm where there's a board of daily specials in the café, a farm shop, nature trail, a chance to meet the animals, plus family events. Admission is free. Great outdoors: Explore the ancient sand dunes and red sandstone of the Unesco-designated Global Geopark ( www.englishrivierageopark.org.uk), a conservation area which spans three south Devon towns, Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. There are regular cruises, canoe excursions, family guided walks, self-led walks, children's events and more.

Rainy day: The prehistoric caves at Kents Cavern ( www.kents-cavern.co.uk) were used throughout the Stone Age, with relics dating back 500,000 years. To see finds from them, including "cave bear" skulls visit the Torquay Museum ( torquaymuseum.org).

Big day out: Berry Head National Nature Reserve ( www.berryhead.org.uk) on the southern arm of the bay is home to southern England's largest guillemot colony, along with fulmars, kittiwakes and shags on impressive 60-metre-high cliffs.

Star quality: Paignton Zoo ( paigntonzoo.org.uk) features Lemur Wood, Monkey Heights, Crocodile Swamp and other recreated habitats, and also operates Living Coasts ( livingcoasts.org.uk) on Torquay harbour front, which boasts Penguin Beach and successfully breeds seal pups as part of its conservation efforts.

Moretonhampstead

What's the attraction? A market town on the sunnier, eastern side of Dartmoor national park, home to small shops. It's also a great place to recharge after a day of outdoor adventures.

Stay the night: Bovey Castle ( boveycastle.com) was once the holiday home of the WH Smith family. Now it welcomes children with morning egg collecting and the chance to meet birds from nearby Dartmoor Hawking ( dartmoorhawking.co.uk). For parents there's golf, a spa and pool, and fine food – plus roaring fires. Doubles from £249. Taste sensation: The White Horse Moretonhampstead ( whitehorsedevon.co.uk) is a one-time spit-and-sawdust pub now known for its food, including super-thin pizzas. It also offers good beer and live music.

Great outdoors: Moretonhampstead Community Swimming Pool on Court Street is a volunteer-run, solar-heated outdoor pool with grassed areas.

Rainy day: Wood and Rush ( woodandrush.net) runs children's courses in basketry during the school holidays. There are also bushcraft courses with Wild Woods '* Willow ( wildwoodswillow.org.uk).

Big day out: Take a hike – that's what Dartmoor is really about. The Park Authority ( www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk) offers downloadable audio walks.

Star quality: Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust ( dpht.co.uk) offers free two- to three-hour walks round Bellever, with the chance to learn about Dartmoor ponies.

Ilfracombe

What's the attraction? The resort's 19th-century roots are celebrated in the Ilfracombe Victorian Celebration from 11 to 19 June ( ilfracombevictoriancelebration.org.uk), but there are plenty of modern options in this popular hillside location.

Stay the night: Up and above the fray is North Morte Farm Caravan and Camping ( northmortefarm.co.uk). A four-person holiday home costs from £290 per week.

Taste sensation: The award-winning Walker's Chocolate Emporium ( chocolate-emporium.co.uk) is a shop with a museum of chocolate and live chocolate making on view.

Great outdoors: H2Outdoor ( h2outdoor.co.uk) offers anything from one-off tasters to week-long packages of activities such as kayaking, high ropes, surfing, coasteering, mountain biking, and pony trekking around the North Devon coast.

Rainy day: Ilfracombe Aquarium ( ilfracombeaquarium.co.uk) offers a look at what's under the water in an Exmoor stream all the way out to Lundy island, passing estuary, rock pool and harbour habitats.

Big day out: Take the MS Oldenburg on the two-hour trip to Lundy ( lundyisland.co.uk), a chunk of granite rising from the Bristol Channel and the only Marine Nature Reserve in England. It's a great place to see puffins. Day returns from £33.50.

Star quality: Try Tunnels Beach ( tunnelsbeaches.co.uk). You pay £2.25 (or £7.50 for a family) to pass through the tunnels, which were hand carved in the 1820s and lead to a sheltered cove. This Victorian bathing lagoon is great for children, and there are also wonderful rockpools.

Sidmouth

What's the attraction? 18th-century houses nudge the pebble beach in one of England's first seaside resorts. Despite 21st-century touches, it's all about the quiet confidence of history, with traditional shops and even a folk festival (29 July to 5 August).

Stay the night: The Victoria ( brend-hotels.co.uk/thevictoria) offers high Victorian style, tastefully modernised with a spa plus lido-style pool. Double rooms from £140, including breakfast and a five-course dinner.

Taste sensation: Taste of Sidmouth ( tasteofsidmouth.co.uk) is a tea room loved for its ice creams (Italian with a Devon twist).

Great outdoors: Want to fly a kite? The name "Windgate" tells you where to try, up above the town.

Rainy day: Take a stylish trip to the flicks at the Art Deco Sidmouth Radway Cinema ( scottcinemas.co.uk), opened in 1928 and restored to glory in 1999.

Big day out: Escot gardens, maze and park ( escot-devon.co.uk) offers simple fun – woodland camps, rope swing, letterboxing with cunning clues – as well as bird of prey displays.

Star quality: This coast is the only place in the world to see unbroken evidence of 185 million years of evolution ( jurassiccoast.com). Take a hike over it to Branscombe, for lunch at the Mason's Arms ( masonsarms.co.uk).

Dartmouth

What's the attraction? Half-timbered buildings and narrow streets date back to its 14th-century heyday as a trading port. Now it's a place to go crabbing on the quayside, watch the yachts, or wander along to rivermouth castle.

Stay the night: Fingals ( fingals.co.uk) is up-river from Dartmouth, a slightly eccentric place with a heated pool, grass tennis and more. Doubles from £120, including breakfast.

Taste sensation: Dartmouth Ice Cream ( dartmouthicecream.com) offers not just strawberries and cream but also stem ginger and Turkish delight flavours.

Great outdoors: Confident sailors should try Dartmouth Boat Hire ( dartmouth-boat-hire.co.uk), which has boats from £45 per hour. Or take the African Queen ( theafricanqueen.co.uk) for a family fishing cruise.

Rainy day: Catch the Greenway Ferry ( greenwayferry.co.uk) to Agatha Christie's delightful holiday home, overlooking the river.

Big day out: Take a round-robin trip on the Dartmouth Steam Railway ( pdsr.co.uk), a six-and-half-mile line along the coast from Paignton to Kingswear. Cross to Dartmouth on the passenger ferry, then on to Totnes by river cruise before returning to Paignton by bus – all for £62 per family of four.

Star quality: In Foss Street you'll find two Simon Drew shops ( simondrew.co.uk), combining fine penmanship with a British love of dreadful puns, on mugs, T-shirts and more, with the gallery stocking fine ceramics and Drew works.

Kate Calvert is the author of 'Devon with Kids' (published by Footprint Travel Guides at £13.99)

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