Southern England’s Best Kept Secrets: Devon and Cornwall

With such spectacular scenery, it is easy to understand why many novels and films have been set in Southern England. I could envision Jane Eyre and Heathcliff on the cliffs of the moors in Devon, or Captain Ross from the recent drama, the Poldark series, staring out at sea on the Cornish Coast. Devon and Cornwall are brimming with historic and stark landscapes. Part of its allure is also the quick weather changes amidst the illustrious scenery.

Deep in the dells of the Devon countryside, I began my stay at Hotel Endsleigh in Milton Abbot. The Duke of Bedford built this 100-acre property of lush woodlands and grottos in 1810. Although it is a hotel, its intimate 19 bedrooms, cozy fireplaces, and quaint library make it feel more like a private homestay.

In fact, when I arrived at dusk, I was greeted by hundreds of hand-lit candles that illuminated the manor home inside and out. Every evening they have this candle lighting ritual, and it really sets the ambiance. In their wood-paneled original dining room, I enjoyed a meal of marinated yellowfin tuna and saffron potatoes topped off with a blackberry cheesecake cannoli; it was the perfect meal to end my first night!

Starting the next day with a brisk walk in Hotel Endsleigh’s enchanting gardens—which Humphry Repton created over 200 years ago—was very invigorating. I enjoyed a guided tour with Ben, their head gardener. Our walk began in rain, but ended in sunshine! We explored the many hidden grottos, woodlands, and floral landscapes. I found myself marveling at a beautiful natural waterfall tucked between numerous trees on a lush, wooded hillside. Since there are many options for guided walks, the hotel can easily create one based on your needs and interests.

Donning my wellies, and a few layers of clothes, I set out on an afternoon hike deep in the heart of Dartmoor National Park. Again, my journey started with full sunshine and in the course of just three hours, we had rain, wind, and a foggy mist, which perfectly fits the dramatic landscape of the park! After climbing up a rather steep hill, we reached a large field, where I saw a group of magnificent wild horses and sheep just communing upon the land. Snapping pictures furiously, I couldn’t get enough of these beautiful animals!

Throughout the landscape of the park, there are ancient monuments, rare species of flowers, wildlife, and varying degrees of landscapes to climb or descend. After the hike, my guide took me to a remote area of the park where a Bedouin tent had been set up complete with cocktails, tea sandwiches, and fresh fruit. This was one of my favorite experiences and one Frontiers can arrange for you!

Another town I recommend visiting is St. Mawes, a small seaside fishing village located on the Roseland Peninsula in the south coast of Cornwall. This area is full of enticing and picturesque sights, such as sailboats gently swaying in the harbor, brightly colored houses along the shore, rolling hills and sharp cliffs, and of course, the sea! I toured St. Mawes Castle, which rests atop the largest hill in the town. King Henry VIII ordered its construction for protection of the area. Inside is a treasure trove of history, such as the artillery area, rooms depicting a day in the life, and chambers for punishment in the tower.

Following my visit to the Castle, I wandered through the town of St. Mawes, which is a vibrant artist community full of creative artisanal shops. One of my favorites was a shop that displayed interesting jewelry made with glass. I also appreciated visiting the shop of a local artist who had fantastic paintings which included many gorgeous seascapes with clever use of light.

My stay this evening was at Hotel Idle Rocks, which is a stunning harbor-side property. My room looked out to the beach’s pebbled shoreline, and the sunshine of the day gave way to a blustery storm and the sound of waves throughout the night.

This evening, I was treated to a fabulous meal of fresh oysters soaked in lemon and tabasco, Carne lobster ravioli with tarragon, grapefruit, and avruga caviar. The dessert was a colorful display of raspberry sorbet with frozen clotted cream.

In order to travel to my next destination, I took a ferry to the town of Falmouth to visit Glendurgan Garden. The strong scent of musk enveloped my senses when I arrived. Interestingly enough, these gardens are made up of three valleys. I was fortunate to have Charles Fox (third-generation property owner, whose grandfather designed the gardens) walk me through this beautiful landscape. We enjoyed seeing the last remnants of autumn wildflowers, exotic plants, and their 170-year-old maze hedge display, comprised of beautiful, flowering cherry laurel.

My next stop was the seaside village of Charlestown—the town where they filmed a lot of the outdoor action of the Poldark series. You can visit the Shipwreck Rescue and Heritage Center which has a number of exhibits relating to the sailing history of the Cornwall Coast. I enjoyed lunch at a restaurant there and tried the local sandwich called the Pasty, which looks like a calzone and is filled with meats, cheese, and vegetables with gravy.

One of the most exciting parts of my visit, and a must-see on my list, was Plymouth, where the Mayflower sailed from in 1620! In 2020, the town will celebrate 400 years since the Mayflower sailing! Plymouth is a bustling city and shipping port with numerous waterfront shops, a National Marine Aquarium, and one of the most famous distilleries, the Plymouth Gin Distillery, which is the oldest in Europe. During my tour, I learned how they make gin and experienced a tasting, (this is also something we can arrange for you!) Interestingly, there is only one Master Gin Distiller who is responsible for tasting every bit of gin that is made there and determining if it is suitable. Even more fascinating was the fact that the men who sailed on the Mayflower visited the distillery the night before their send-off, and on the wall, you can see a plaque of their names as well as their trade or work experience in England. Because of this, 2020 will be quite a celebratory year in this small but fascinating town—and one certainly not to miss!

After completing my day at sea and experiencing village life, I rested my head at the lovely Gidleigh Park Hotel. The Tudor style property sits on 107 acres of private woodlands and offers a number of activities, such as fly fishing on their River Teign, croquet, golfing, and garden walks. They have a large wine cellar, and at their Michelin-starred restaurant, I enjoyed a fabulous meal of aged fillet of beef cooked over coals with garlic and spinach and an English Clotted cream with saffron jelly and ginger beer soaked into a lovely tart.

With the sun streaming through my window the next morning, I made my way to the back lawn where expert falconer, Martin, demonstrated the age-old tradition of falconry. He then allowed us to hold and work with his eagle, falcon, and hawk. The majestic bird in flight, with the backdrop of the beautiful Gidleigh Park Hotel, truly made for quite a stunning scene.

Another highlight of Gidleigh Park is that they have their own beehives! You can actually don the beekeeping outfit if you are so inclined! Otherwise, you can arrange to have a lesson by a local beekeeper to gain insight into the world of honey making.

My last recommended stop is in West Sussex at Cowdray House, an exclusive-use property located in South Downs National Park. This incredible 16,500-acre estate has hosted King Henry VIII a well as Queen Elizabeth I. Upon arrival, I was treated to a brimming cup of hot tea and scones in the Great Hall with its enormous fireplace. With 22 bedrooms, you have complete use of the property and its amenities, such as the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, the bowling alley, and tennis court. You can also fly fish on the River Rother.

One exciting part of our stay, which Frontiers can arrange for you, is a special guest lecture by renowned milliner Vivien Sheriff. She has created hats for royalty, and she spoke on the artisan qualities of hat-making. Vivien shared interesting tips about wearing hats, such as you must always tilt or place it on the left side of your head, and it must be designed with your face shape in mind. Afterward, I enjoyed trying on some of her latest creations!

Another activity you can’t miss is their world-class polo field, where I had a lesson and played a mini-game of classic British Polo. Cowdray House has some of the best international polo coaches. During my lesson, I learned how to use the polo stick and ball and then spent time on the horse learning the art of racing, turning, and maneuvering with a polo stick. While a bit daunting, it was also quite exhilarating! I would highly recommend that any equestrian enthusiasts have a polo masterclass arranged during their stay. This activity was a great way to end my quintessential English countryside experience, full of opportunities for adventure, rich history, heritage and a colorful culture.

Frontier’s invites you to traverse the villages and towns and enjoy the wild and unspoiled wilderness and historic landmarks that encompass the Southern England region. With so many different accommodations and experiences, this area has so much to offer and is a fantastic addition to an itinerary for those looking to extend their trip from London. Frontiers would love to create a fabulous itinerary for you to experience the hidden gems of Southern England.