Exploring England's West Counties: Devon & Cornwall

Devon and Cornwall offer stunning seascapes, rolling green hills, quaint hotels and plenty of charm By: Samantha Davis-Friedman
In charming St. Ives, the tide retreats beyond the harbor, leaving boats to sit on the sand awaiting its return at the end of the day. // © 2012...
In charming St. Ives, the tide retreats beyond the harbor, leaving boats to sit on the sand awaiting its return at the end of the day. // © 2012 Samantha Davis-Friedman


Easily accessible by train from London’s Paddington Station, Devon and Cornwall, England, enchant travelers with rolling green hills, fields of yellow daffodils and stunning seascapes. Known for quaint towns like Exeter and St. Ives and misty English Moors made famous by Sherlock Holmes (and, more recently, Steven Spielberg), Devon and Cornwall offer experiences as diverse as their landscapes.

What to See

A must-see destination in Devon is the Roman city of Exeter. Since medieval times, pilgrims and tourists have made their way to Exeter Cathedral, a beautiful gothic cathedral known for the longest uninterrupted medieval vaulting in the world at 303 feet. Exeter’s historic Quayside area is known for unique architecture as well as its lively pubs. Visitors to Exeter should make time for a Red Coat tour, a free 90-minute guided walking tour that teaches about Exeter and its history. Tours are available daily, except Dec. 25-26, and no pre-booking is required. Agents should note that tours are on foot and may contain steps, slopes and steep or uneven ground.

Castle Drogo
Not far from Exeter is Castle Drogo. The only castle built in the 20th century, Castle Drogo has the distinction of being England’s newest. Built of Dartmoor granite, the castle was commissioned by Julius Drewe as a family home, and the Drewe family lived the castle from 1938 to 1974, when it was handed over to the National Trust. Today, the castle transports visitors to a romantic past and offers magnificent views of Dartmoor. The castle is open daily, except Dec. 24-26, with tours available of the entire property or the gardens only. Just a short distance from Castle Drogo is the Drewe Arms pub. Originally the Druid Arms, the name was changed when the Drewe family commissioned the castle. This delightful village pub is the perfect stop for a decadent cream tea. Be sure to try both the “Devon way” (with jam on the bottom) and the “Cornwall way” (with jam on the top). 

St. Ives
Inspired by the landscape and seascape, artists have lived and worked in St. Ives for decades. This charming town on the Cornish coast is a great place to sample traditional meat and/or vegetable filled pies called Cornish pasties. One particularly interesting feature of St. Ives is the tide, which retreats beyond the harbor, leaving boats to sit on the sand awaiting its return at the end of the day. St. Ives is also home to the Tate Gallery and Barbara Hepworth Museum, where visitors can view works by this well-known local sculptor. Individual tickets are available for the Tate or Hepworth or there is a combination ticket; both are open daily from March to October, but closed on Mondays from November to February and from Dec. 24-26. 

Trebah Garden
Trebah Garden, a sub-tropical ravine garden near the Helford River, is ranked among the finest gardens in the world and features impressive massed plantings of giant rhubarb, bamboo and tree ferns, as well as a colorful hydrangea valley and water garden. The garden meanders to the shore where the 29th U.S. Infantry embarked for the assault on Omaha beach, making Trebah an important historical location as well as a fascinating botanical garden. The garden is open daily year-round with a gift shop and café on site.

Dartmoor National Park
No trip to Cornwall would be complete without a visit to Dartmoor National Park. The rugged landscape of Dartmoor was the backdrop for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous mystery “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and, more recently, it is where Steven Spielberg filmed parts of his epic film “War Horse.” Visitors to Dartmoor can see some of the locations that inspired Conan Doyle and Spielberg as well as archeological sites dating back to prehistoric times on walking tours led by knowledgeable Moorland Guides. Agents should note that the terrain throughout Dartmoor is challenging, but some tours are designed for those with physical limitations.

Getting There

First Great Western Rail offers daily trains from Paddington Station in London to Exeter St. David’s in Devon and Penzance in Cornwall. The trip to Devon takes about two to three hours; the trip to Cornwall takes about five hours. There are also sleeper cars available for overnight trips.

Where to Stay

ABode Hotel 
ABode Hotel in Exeter offers 53 upscale guestrooms that are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and branded luxury amenities. Because of its location on Cathedral Yard, some rooms also boast magnificent views of Exeter Cathedral. Michael Caine’s restaurant in the lobby offers a menu featuring regional ingredients. One note: The cathedral bells ring as early as 7 a.m., so guests should be made aware prior to their visit.

Headland Hotel 
Known as the location of the 1987 Angelica Huston film “The Witches,” the Headland Hotel has welcomed guests since 1900. Its location on a point overlooking the Cornish coast affords spectacular ocean views on three sides, and its grand Victorian facade has made it one of England’s iconic hotels. With impeccable service to match its magnificent views, the Headland Hotel is the embodiment of luxury.

Boskerris Hotel 
Perched on a hill overlooking the Cornish coast, the Boskerris Hotel is a contemporary boutique property with a Southern California vibe. With 15 well-appointed guestrooms, the Boskerris offers panoramic ocean views of Carbis Bay Beach and access to a coastal path leading into St. Ives; the trip into town by train takes about three minutes. Agents should note that the hotel cannot accommodate children under age 7.

Bovey Castle
For anyone who has dreamt of staying in a castle on the English moors, Bovey Castle is the perfect choice. This spectacular castle was built as a manor house in 1907. In addition to the elegantly appointed rooms within the walls of the main building, the five-star Bovey Castle estate also has fourteen country lodges and one of England’s finest golf courses.

Where to Eat

Rick Stein’s Restaurants 
Well-known cookbook author Rick Stein owns several restaurants in the Cornish fishing village of Padstow. With an emphasis on seafood, his restaurants offer fresh fish that comes straight off the boats and into the kitchen each day. Agents should note that children of all ages are welcome at St. Petroc’s Bistro, Rick Stein’s Cafe and Stein’s Fish & Chips. However, those under age 3 cannot be accommodated in The Seafood Restaurant.

Fifteen Cornwall 
Part of a global charitable enterprise founded by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Fifteen Cornwall gives young people a chance to turn their lives around by offering them positions as apprentice chefs, during which they learn to transform fresh Cornish ingredients into amazing gourmet meals. The restaurant’s location overlooking Watergate Bay enhances the dining experience. 

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