I love the English seaside. It's an Elysium of buckets and spades, fish and chips, piers and donkeys. What I hate is beachfront hotels. They're all tacky with aluminium windows, floral print curtains and plastic chairs on windy terraces.
The South Sands in Salcombe, Devon is a shining exception. Re-opened in May this year after seven years in mothballs, it has been reborn as a chic boutique property. I checked into one of their beach suites with three of my daughters,
After a five hour drive from London, I've never felt so relaxed so quickly. The room overlooked a small but uncrowded beach. The kids grabbed their buckets and spades and were down the ramp outside onto the sand in a trice, leaving me to sink into a cosy blue pinstripe canvas armchair. The suite was huge, light and airy, and at the end of it was a small kitchen if I wanted to save myself the expense of eating at the restaurant and pretend I was at home. But nothing could be further from my mind.
There were straw baskets on the wooden floor, a Victoria lacrosse stick mounted on one of the plain white walls. The beds were dressed in fine, cool white linen. There were showers with too many buttons for me to comprehend or operate, but they acted as a mini waterpark for my kids. I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the sea, and almost immediately fell asleep, but before I knew it my kids were back and demanding dinner.
The restaurant was even better than the room, with a balcony overlooking the incoming tide and a menu designed by Mitch Tonks, creator of nearby Dartmouth's acclaimed Seahourse restaurant. The ceiling was low, making for a cosy feel, there were wicker chairs and slate table mats. The staff were young and charming. We had sea bream with fennel gratin, linguine with local lobster, exquisite mussels. I say 'we' — my younger children had chips. And very good they were too. We all came together for the desert — chocolate brownie with an amazingly toothsome home made Mascarpone ice cream.
The hotel is partnered with a sailing and watersports school next door, so there is plenty to do. We couldn't go out because, naturally, it was pouring down with rain. But you can't have everything — this is the English seaside, after all. All I can say is, we did our complaining surrounded by elegance, comfort and style. It beats aluminium windows and floral prints anyday.
South Sands, Bolt Head, Salcombe, has doubles from £120 B&B, southsands.com South Sands Sailing, two-hour sailing sessions from £65, southsandssailing.co.uk