An intense rivalry between the UK’s most southwesterly counties has always existed (not least over sconegate, the contentious, heated and deeply divisive question over whether jam or cream should go first on a scone).
But when it comes to natural attractions, Devon and Cornwall are evenly matched. Like its neighbour to the west, Devon is one of the UK’s holiday hotspots, with miles of coast, plenty of beaches and acres of green countryside to explore – as well as the added bonus of two national parks, moody Dartmoor and coastal Exmoor.
And just like its neighbour, finding anywhere to stay can seem like an insurmountable challenge, especially in summer. The explosion of the Airbnb market in recent years has meant much more choice, although not always affordability. Here are ten of our top picks – from a humble houseboat on the Salcombe Estuary to a handsome Dartmoor barn.
Neighbourhood: East Portlemouth
Here’s something different: a converted oyster boat, moored on the banks of the lovely Salcombe Estuary. It’s a real escape, off-grid and hidden away from the world – though the basic facilities make for a rough-and-ready, glamping-style experience. Access is via a gangplank, and there’s space inside the boat for a couple of wood-panelled cabins, as well as a tiny galley kitchen (with alcohol-fuelled stove). Other facilities are on land – including the composting loo and a rustic field shelter where you’ll find the fridge, hot shower and running water. Rudimentary, certainly, but fun for a wild weekend away.
Average price from £160 per night, two-night minimum
Whimsy goes into overdrive at this quirky curiosity, a gabled cottage built on top of an old mill house. It’s the cutest of the six properties on the Fingals estate near Dartmouth, an offbeat place, both in location and ethos. The cottage is entered via a clematis-covered archway, and feels rather like a ship’s cabin, with white slatted wood and A-frame beams, and an eclectic jumble of model ships, Persian rugs, Buddhas and bench sofas inside. The balcony overlooks the estate’s tennis court.
Average price from £165 per night, seven-night minimum
Neighbourhood: Near Coombe
On the southeastern edge of Dartmoor, this lodge is hidden away in woods that were once part of the Hayford Estate. Built from straw bales, clad in timber, and finished with a combination of plywood and plaster, it’s a modern space that also nods to traditional building techniques. Downstairs, there’s an uncluttered lounge and a peacock-blue plywood kitchen with funky Moorish –style tiles; a wood-and-glass staircase leads upstairs to attic-style, sky-lighted bedrooms.
Average price from from £120 per night, two-night minimum
Neighbourhood: Near Buckfast
This miniature masterpiece of design featured on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, and it’s no wonder. Owner Ellie has managed to convert a vintage double-decker bus into a stylish and surprisingly private space. The living area and kitchen is on the bottom deck (somehow there’s room for a stove and dining table); upstairs, is a cute timber-ceilinged bedroom and a freestanding tub, with views over fields. The only drawbacks are the low ceilings (6’ max) and outside compost loo.
Average price from £130 per night, three-night minimum
Neighbourhood: Little Torrington
This 17th-century cottage is as pretty as a postcard: thatched, cob-walled and with features like an inglenook fireplace and bread oven. As expected of such an old building, the rooms are small, but it’s cosy rather than cramped, enlivened by bright colours and contemporary furnishings. There are two bedrooms, with curving plaster ceilings, and doll’s house windows overlooking fields and an acre of gardens tended by the owner. The view from the house down the valley is special – and the gardens of RHS Rosemoor are nearby.
Average price from £65 per night, three-night minimum
Neighbourhood: Near Warfleet
This striking hillside house harks back to the 1970s. Leather furniture, stripped pine floors, white formica and a globe-shaped woodburner give it shagpile chic, although some of the colour choices – particularly the blood-red bathroom – are on the bonkers side of bold. The upper floor is reached via a steel spiral staircase. There’s a main bedroom and a smaller second with bunk-beds for the kids, and for breakfast, a sweet little glass balcony. If you feel like getting out on the water, there’s a dinghy and life-jackets to borrow: Warfleet Creek is at the bottom of the hill.
Average price from £110 per night, five-night minimum
Neighbourhood: Near Croyde
This Nordic-styled barn is ideal if you want to be near the north coast beaches of Croyde and Woolacombe. Single-storey and open-plan, it’s straight out of an Ikea catalogue: all white walls, natural fabrics, sheepskin rugs and functional furniture, with bare bulbs dangling from the beams and an oversized anglepoise for night-time reading. It’s small – just a kitchen-lounge and an ensuite bedroom – but roomy enough for a couple. It’s at the bottom of owner Samantha’s garden, so not super private. Still, you’ll mostly be at the beach, anyway.
Average price from £125 per night, four-night minimum
Neighbourhood: Near Kingsbridge
Perched on stilts and framed by canvas, these stilt lodges are the Devon answer to a safari – only instead of savannah, you’ll be gazing over the magnolia-filled gardens at Lower Combe Royal, near Kingsbridge. Basically, they’re upmarket tents, but with more creature comforts: a proper bed, leather sofas, a woodburner, a bathroom with hot water and loo, even a hot tub on the timber deck. So while you’re not exactly roughing it, the lack of actual walls means this still feels closer to camping. Glorious in sunshine; soggy when wet.
Average price from £190 per night, three-night minimum
Neighbourhood: Near Spreyton
A hymn to the art of the timber framer, this barn is a pleasure to behold. A gabled glass wall dominates one end, while the rest of the A-framed barn interweaves curving cruck beams with traditional white plasterwork. There are two bedrooms, a small kitchen and an open-plan living area; garden views unfold through the show-stopper window. It’s all been beautifully finished, managing to feel both traditional and bang up-to-date. It’s on a 19-acre smallholding called Nettle & Dock Farm, a 15-minute drive from northern Dartmoor.
Average price from £140 per night, two-night minimum
Neighbourhood: Near Buckland Filleigh
Tiny it may be, but this cute-as-a-button cottage makes a perfect country retreat. Whitewashed and wisteria-covered, it sits under an old oak tree next to the owners’ house outside the village of Buckland Filleigh. Decor is simple but smart: white walls, wood, laminate floors, with a main bedroom and a smaller second, as well as a pleasant little garden outside. The drawcard here, though, is the peace and quiet: the cottage backs onto private woodland, which you’re free to explore. Quaint Clovelly is half an hour’s drive away, and beyond it the under-explored coastline around Hartland Point.
Average price from £145 per night, two-night minimum
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