Escape to Gara Rock South Devon
17th March 2019
Even though I’m very much a city person, I tend to be drawn to wild and remote places when I want to get away from London. So, when the weather forecast for the final week in February promised cloudless blue skies, on impulse I packed up my car for a luxury short break to a remote peninsula in south Devon.
I usually find the winter months of January and February really hard here in the UK. It’s dark, it’s cold, and it’s invariably cloudy and wet. We average about 8 hours of daylight during these months; compared to June, July and August – when we have over 16 hours of daylight – these are very short, dark days.
So I was really fortunate that at the last minute I was able to book 2 nights at the Gara Rock Hotel, near Salcombe, for a few days of walking the South West Coast Path in the sun.
I arrived in the late afternoon and the first thing I did was head to the beach below the hotel to watch the sunset. The light on the beach was just amazing.
I spent hours down on the beach – until it was nearly dark – watching the sun go down. I was the only one there the entire time and it was magical, surrounded by the sound of the waves and the wind.
Gara Rock Hotel – remote luxury atop the cliffs
The Gara Rock Hotel and Restaurant isn’t far from trendy Salcombe, but it feels like another world. Re-opened just last summer after a complete transformation, nothing like it exists anywhere in the area. The location is simply stunning, high on a cliff overlooking the English Channel, with the South West Coast Path literally right in front of the hotel.
You can just catch a glimpse of the lookout tower in front of the hotel in the top right of this photo below, which I took from the South West Coast Path to the east of the hotel.
The hotel itself is all wood and glass, with an open-plan lobby and restaurant, and a huge outside deck with dramatic views of the coastline. This photo also taken from the South West Coast Path to the east of the hotel.
It’s pricey, both the rooms and the restaurant – with prices to rival London. And it comes precariously close to being over-priced. There are still quite a few niggles that need to be addressed but overall I really loved my stay there.
There’s a choice of rooms – from double ‘loft rooms’, suites, cottages and self-catering apartments – depending upon whether you’re visiting as part of a group, family, couple or solo. I opted for a Loft Room at £220 a night. As I mentioned, pricey. But my room was gorgeous, with a divinely comfortable huge bed, sisal carpets, rough wooden walls and nice touches such as a vintage telephone and light fixtures.
The geometric-tiled bathroom has a deep tub and other nice touches such as a metal pail for the bin and a basket full of lush towels.
And the view from my balcony was jaw-dropping.
What to do?
I went to Gara Rock specifically to walk the South West Coast Path – east one day and west the next – and you can read about these 2 walks in more detail in my next posts. I couldn’t have asked for better weather for walking – cloudless blue skies, warm sun, cool breeze…it was nothing short of magnificent.
But there are other things to do if walking’s not your thing or if the weather is particularly awful. Just some of the things to do:
- The hotel has an Elemis spa with jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and 2 pools. There are all sorts of spa treatments from massages and facials to manicures and pedicures.
- There’s a luxurious 10-seat cinema that shows films 5 times a day, every day.
- The beach just below the hotel is pretty fabulous and is such a lovely place to spend the day.
- The pretty town of Salcombe is a relatively short walk and ferry ride away (you can drive, but you have to drive around the estuary and you can get there just as fast with the walk and the ferry). With its watersports, shopping, restaurants, galleries, festivals and fairs, there’s always something interesting on in Salcombe. And, though I’m not a gin drinker, I’m told that Salcombe Gin is quite renowned and a visit to the distillery is really interesting.
- There are also all sorts of local events throughout the region.
You can, of course, choose to do nothing at all. Gara Rock is so incredibly comfortable and peaceful that I could have easily spent my time with a book and a glass of wine, sitting in the lobby playing board games, or simply gazing out of those huge windows at that sweeping coastline.
Getting to Gara Rock in South Devon
It’s remote. Don’t be deceived by Google Maps. If you rely on Google Maps you will get there, but the latter part of the journey won’t be easy driving.
The bulk of the route from London is along dual-carriageway and motorway to Exeter (the M3 to the A303 and briefly on to the M5) and it’s easy driving. From Exeter, the A38 is also relatively easy driving. But for the last 45 minutes Google Maps takes you on a tight, winding drive along narrow Devonshire lanes with 10-foot high hedges brushing the sides of your car on both sides. When you meet another car coming the other way, one of you has to reverse to one of the many shallow turnouts just for this purpose. It’s really stressful driving and I’m not really sure if any of these lanes actually have a route designation! Though – when you catch a glimpse through the hedges – the countryside is beautiful, all rolling hills and farmland. I wanted to take some photos but I didn’t dare stop!
If you want to attempt public transport, the closest station is Totnes and you can get there from London Paddington via Great Western Rail in about 3 hours. Apparently, there are buses that will get you close to the hotel in another 2 hours. I don’t know if there’s a taxi service from the station to the hotel (the hotel doesn’t offer one) or how much it might cost, though it’s about an hour’s drive.
I did take a slightly easier route home (really stunning; though still with some twisting narrow roads, none of them were single lanes) with directions from one of the staff at the hotel – via Dartmouth, then to Paignton and the A380 to Exeter and home. But Google Maps will only take you this way if you programme in first a destination to Dartmouth and then your London destination once you reach Dartmouth (caution! Don’t actually take the turning off the A379 to Dartmouth unless you want to spend some time there. The road takes you twisting down, down, down into the village and I had a hard time finding my way out again!).
Know before you go
Gara Rock has only been open for about 6 months, and there are clearly still some teething problems. But there are also things that they should have warned guests about in advance of arrival, as well as some missing little touches which I would expect from a luxury hotel, particularly one this pricey and this far from London. I won’t go into detail here, you can read my review on Trip Advisor or contact me directly for more if you’re so inclined. But, 3 things to be aware of:
- Map your journey with a proper road map before you go and follow that route for the final leg along the A roads. Don’t rely on Google Maps. As I mentioned above, you’ll get there, but not by the easiest route.
- Upon arrival you’ll have to find one of the wait staff to give you your room key and take you to your room. There’s no reception desk to welcome you when you arrive and no formal check-in or check-out.
- Gara Rock sits in a black hole of connectivity. Poor and mostly non-existent phone reception and no internet connection. The hotel does have wi-fi, but my Samsung smartphone was never able to connect with or keep a correct time or date, it kept cycling through the hours. Pretty strange but that’s what it did my entire stay. So, bring a proper analogue watch with you! Particularly if you’re going out walking and are relying on time as a measure of how far to go.
8 out of 10
I loved my stay here in this remote part of south Devon. Of course, the weather was perfect, but I would have felt (almost) the same even if it hadn’t been quite so glorious. This coastline is absolutely stunning and the Gara Rock Hotel is a wonderful getaway situated in a magnificent location.
But I’m ambivalent. I would definitely recommend a visit to this part of Devon and for that I would give an undeniable 10 out 10. And I can almost give an unequivocal recommendation for the Gara Rock Hotel. I loved the location, the entire ambience, the feeling of space and light, and the little design touches that make it really special. But I give it an 8 out of 10 because there were enough little niggles to make me somewhat uncomfortable with what I paid for the experience. It’s too bad, really, because I absolutely loved it and the staff were excellent as well. But, for these kinds of prices, everything about my stay should have been perfect.
I also feel a slight sense of discomfort because I took the time to write a lengthy email to the general manager with my comments and suggestions. It’s now been more than 2 weeks since I sent that email and I’ve not even received an acknowledgement. Again, for a luxury, premium-priced establishment, I would have expected some sort of response.
Would I go back? To south Devon definitely. To the Gara Rock Hotel? Part of me wants to say I would, but I’m just not so sure.
And be sure see more photos in my Escape to Gara Rock Photo Album
Next post: South West Coast Path – east to Prawle Point and west to Mill Bay