Break for the herbaceous border

Bicton Park Botanical Gardens occupies an impressive 60-acre site in the Otter Valley in East Devon. The privately-owned gardens, parts of which were laid out 300 years ago, are Grade I listed. Its attractions include tranquil formal gardens, a palm house, countryside museum, world-famous arboretum and enough children's activities to exhaust even the most hyperactive youngster.

Something for children

Where does one start? The Budleigh Woodland Railway offers up to a dozen trips a day around its 15-minute, 1.5 mile journey, a pretty, bumpety-bump circuit of the woods and lake. Four covered coaches are pulled by a replica tank engine, the Sir Walter Raleigh, named after the 16th-century adventurer who was born near Bicton. There's also an impressive playground with swings and giant tube-slides, half a dozen scaled-down wooden houses for toddlers to wander in and out of, plus a wooden maze, mini-golf and an Astroturf five-a-side football pitch. If the weather is poor, there's an indoor playground and a museum of tractors and agricultural artefacts. A room is available to hire for children's parties.

Something for adults

The 1,000-tree arboretum contains an important collection of mature species, 25 of which are the tallest and/or largest of their kind in Britain - at 41 metres (134 feet) the Grecian fir is the tallest ever recorded. For peace and quiet, head for the nature trail to the north-east corner of the grounds or admire the formal beauty of the Italian Garden, laid out in 1735 reputedly to a design by Versailles landscaper André Le Nôtre. The Hermitage, a summerhouse built in 1839 in the far western corner of the park, offers another pleasant and quiet retreat.

Refreshments

The Orangery Restaurant, set in an 18th-century building, serves a decent range of light refreshments including hot drinks and cakes, or more substantial fare such as salmon and dill pie or a ploughman's lunch.

Souvenirs

A wide range, from miniature trains to embroidered nightdresses. Garden centre.

Admission and access

Open daily except Christmas and Boxing Day, 10am-6pm in summer, 10am-5pm in winter. Adults £5.95, concessions £4.95, families (two adults, two children) £19.95, dogs £1. Train ride costs £1.30, mini-golf 50p. Wheelchair accessible throughout.

How to get there

Bicton Park and Gardens, near East Budleigh, Devon (01395 568465; www.bictongardens.co.uk).

By road: from junction 30 on the M5, take the A3052 as far as Newton Poppleford, then turn right on to the B3178 (formerly the A376). One mile beyond Colaton Raleigh, the Botanical Gardens are on the right, just past Bicton College.

By public transport: the nearest train station is Exmouth. From there get the 57 bus heading to Sidmouth via Budleigh Salterton, and alight outside the park gates.

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