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Devon and Cornwall: four great travel escapes

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With pristine beaches, welcoming locals and a remote and beautiful coastal landscape, Devon and Cornwall have been drawing in visitors for decades.

And with the bank holiday approaching, there's never been a better time to visit this lovely swath of southwest England. From sea swimming and puffin-watching on the Isles of Scilly to freshly-cooked lobster in the fishing village of Portscatho and the bohemian appeal of Totnes, here are four great travel escapes to book now:

The Roseland Peninsula

This meandering sliver of coastline on the south west tip of Cornwall is impossibly scenic and relaxed, with a labyrinth of hidden coves, woodland, dramatic headland views and some of the UK's best and most secluded beaches. A designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it stretches from St Mawes in the south across the River Fal to the pretty fishing villages of Gerran, Portscatho and Portloe. Great pubs, a thriving arts scene and a laid-back vibe draw in a steady stream of visitors all year round.

Things to see and do: Get acquainted with the South West Coast Path, the best vantage point for the Roseland Peninsula's outstanding coastal scenery. A hearty walk from the village of Veryan will take you past Nare Head and Kiberick Cove, with breath-taking views along the way. The fishing port of St Mawes, the largest village in Roseland Peninsula, is definitely worth a nose around, with its smattering of independent shops and a castle built by Henry VIII. You can catch a ferry here from Falmouth, Truro or trips down the Fal River.

Where to eat: For homemade brownies and Cornish pastries, head to the Hidden Hut overlooking Porthcurnick beach. It's a great spot for a snack or two, and every now and again it runs seafood feast nights, with fresh lobster and chips cooked on giant, wood-fired grills. For something more formal, make a beeline for nearby Rosevine Hotel, where you can feast on dishes such as potted pork with caramelised onion and rye toast. The Plume of Feathers, an 18th century inn in Portscatho, is definitely worth a pit stop or you could try The Watch House in St Mawes, with takeaway fish and chips.

Where to stay: The Lugger is a charming and romantic 17th century smuggler’s inn perched right on the harbour in the tiny village of Portloe. Seafood here is brilliant (think mackerel on a bed of watermelon and crab salad with soft hen’s egg and bacon) and rooms are cosy, with seaside chic decor. For self-catering, take a look at Mermaid Cottage, a lavish 10-person holiday cottage with a huge garden, a top-of-the-range kitchen and bathrooms kitted out with Molton Brown products.

Getting there: The nearest train station is Truro, around 13 miles away from Portloe.



Totnes

Set on a gentle hill in the shadow of a Norman castle, Totnes is a quaint yet lively market town which makes an ideal base for those wanting to explore South Devon with its beautiful beaches and spectacular walks. The town, twinned with Narnia, has long been a magnet for the UK’s more "bohemian" set (think Glastonbury stone circle not Cressida Bonas and co.) and the street performers and impromptu rain dances make for an entertaining stroll up the high street. The town is famous for its campaigns to ban corporate chains from the high street, most recently Costa was prevented from opening there, meaning it’s one of the last remaining British towns where independent shops flourish.

Things to see and do: Visit Totnes castle, one of the best preserved Norman castles in the UK. The stunning beaches of the South coast are accessible in a 30-minute drive. Bantham and Bigbury are two of the best with the famous Burgh Island ( Poirot fans will know all about it) accessible from Bigbury either by foot or – when the tide is in –by sea tractor. For ramblers, National Park Dartmoor is just 45 minutes by car and boasts 954 kilometres of stunning landscape to explore. And for those looking to let their hair down, the Barrel House hosts regular music nights in their charming ballroom and - best of all - you can stumble down the hill to bed.

Where to eat: Pop by Rumours wine bar for a lively night out and the best pizza in town, and Waterside Bistro for an al fresco riverside lunch. For all you cheese lovers out there, meander along the riverside path to Ashprington and enjoy some of the best cheese in the country at the Sharpham estate (on a sunny day order a bottle and while away an afternoon).

Where to stay: Nestled at the base of the high street, the Royal Seven Stars is cosy hotel is the perfect spot from which to enjoy the charming high street and is just a two minute walk to the river front. Added bonus: the outside bar area is a great place to watch the world go by.

Getting there: Trains run regularly from London Paddington and the journey time is around three hours.



Isles of Scilly

This gorgeous archipelago of five inhabited islands off the southwest coast of Cornwall is about as remote and beautiful as you can hope to get. From stunning Atlantic beaches to the romance and nostalgia of island life, a trip here promises true escapism. If wildlife's your thing, you will delight in the opportunity to spot puffins, sea birds, dolphins and seals - but it's not all quiet. The Isles of Scilly has a burgeoning events scene, with thriving beachfront cafés, its own Scillonian bands and the annual Tresco & Bryher food festival in September.

Things to see and do: There are loads of ways to island hop and explore this glorious corner of Cornwall, including kayaking, windsurfing, paddle boarding and sailing. Sea swims are a great option here, especially because the water is so clean. Swim Trek run open water trips with guides and après swim treats at the Mincarlo Guest House. The world-famous Tresco Abbey Garden, one of the greatest of its kind, should definitely have a place on your hit list. You'll find boat trips - on yacht charters, sail boats or fishing vessels - a great way of getting to know the archipelago and find out more about the uninhabited islands.

Where to eat: The Turks Head in St Agnes has wonderful views of the harbour, so you can watch gigs race into the bay below over a pint of the pub's very own Turks Ale (brewed by St Austell Brewery). During the summer, the pub has live music and when it gets colder you can settle in here with an island-made pasty and a warming St Agnes brandy. The Coastguard Café and High Tide Restaurant in St Agnes serves up great seafood dishes from head chef Mark Eberlein, such as wild Cornish sea bass on a bed of samphire. Grab a double-decker crab sandwich and Friday night fish and chips at Fraggle Rock Bar, based in a granite cottage on the island of Bryher. Or pop by St Martin’s Bakery, the Isle of Scilly's most famous bakery, for sun-dried tomato ciabatta and cakes.

Where to stay: The award-winning Hell Bay hotel is set in a beautiful cove facing the Atlantic ocean on the island of Bryher. Each of its suites are kitted out with unique, colourful fabrics and furnishings and many come with balconies overlooking the sea. The hotel's cute and rustic crab shack serves up crab, mussells and scallops in Portuguese cataplanas - as well as wine, coffee, bread, fries, a cheese board and crème brûlée.

Getting there: Isles of Scilly Travel runs flights from Land's End, Newquay and Exeter via its Skybus service.



Padstow

A delightful fishing port packed with boutique shops and restaurants, Padstow is popular for a reason. Situated at the head of the Camel River Estuary in North Cornwall, it is surrounded by gorgeous sandy beaches and a series of tranquil bays. As the home of chefs Rick Stein and Paul Ainsworth, its foodie credentials are famed but Padstow is also a great area for surfing, cliff top walks and idyllic boat trips. There really is something here to please everyone...

Things to see and do: If you love your water sports, you've come to the right place. Surfing is BIG here and you'll spot people out on the waves most mornings and early evenings. The nearby bay of Mawgan Porth is a lovely and serene place to watch surfers from - or you could try it yourself with a surf or body-boarding sessions (Bedruthan Hotel in the cliffs above the bay runs lessons). If you're passionate about seafood, a trip to the Padstow Seafood School with Rick Stein is a must (it doesn't come cheap though). Hire a bike to meander along the Camel Cycle Trail or take a boat out to zip around the coastline in style.

Where to eat: Where not to eat? Rojano's in the Square with Paul Ainsworth at the helm is something of a Padstow institution - it's been in the game for 30 years. Stock up on authentic Italian wines, pizza flour and pasta and seafood sourced daily from local fishing boats. Paul Ainsworth at No 6 Restaurant and Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurants are both worth the hype and should be included in any pilgrimage to Padstow. For treats and sweets, try the Cornish Crepe Company van in Padstow or Treats on Trikes for heavenly white chocolate ice-cream (served on a Pashley bike) along the coast near Wadebridge. For pubs, The London Inn in Padstow is housed in a former 19th Century fishing cottage and boasts the largest selection of cask ale in the town.

Where to stay: The Scarlet is a luxury eco-hotel in Mawgan Porth, a half hour drive from Padstow. This adults-only resort has sensational food (think smoked haddock toasties with Jerusalem artichokes) but best of all are the wood-fired hot tubs, where you can enjoy a glass of bubbly overlooking the bay.

Getting there: The nearest train station is Bodmin Parkway or Newquay International Airport is 14 miles away.



Words: Anna Brech, Photos: Rex Features

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