Lizzie PopeSee other travel guides written by Lizzie Pope
If your idea of the best caravan holidays is total relaxation in quiet and peaceful surroundings that are very pleasing to the eye, then visit South Devon. Life here is lived at a slower pace – it has to be owing to the very nature of the country lanes that follow the contours of the gently rolling hills, and the red-as-red Devonshire soil you'll see on the farmland.
There are no really monster-sized cities or towns in South Devon. Visit Plymouth, to the west of the region, which caters for urbanites looking for a cosmopolitan buzz. Otherwise, just relax and enjoy the small, tranquil historic market towns in South Devon, whose main 'industry' is tourism, so they take the trouble to look good and feel good for the incoming holidaymaker.
Visit Totnes for example, one of the oldest towns in England, or Modbury, a 'green' town that has banned the use of plastic bags in all its shops. Visit Dartmouth, the medieval town famed for its seafood, which has a goodly number of restaurants in which to try eating local delicacies, while bustling Teignmouth and Dawlish are filled with seafront cafés and tea rooms, and there's Tavistock, which sits on the western edge of the Dartmoor National Park, and its ancient Pannier Market.
Dawlish, of course, made the headlines in early 2014 when part of the seawall collapsed beneath the main railway line. That's all fixed now, but as a major feat of coastal engineering, developed by the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel in this 'railway town', it is worth taking a look.
Elsewhere in South Devon, Kingsbridge has been a market town since the 1200s – and continues to have a popular farmers' market selling local produce from the area. The town, on the inland point of the multi-fingered Kingsbridge Estuary, is a great place from where to take to the water and make the most of the varied watersports on offer.
Salcombe, at the narrow neck of the Kingsbridge Estuary, is a hillside jewel with charming shops and cafés, narrow lanes to discover (not great for caravans!) and its own maritime feel. Like Dartmouth, it also has a great reputation for local seafood.
In fact, Salcombe and Kingsbridge are within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and outstanding it is indeed. The coastline has to be some of the most spectacular in England with fabulous coastal views from the cliff tops at Bolberry Down and Start Point, with its attractive lighthouse. For some great rockpooling in an idyllic setting, head to the quiet bay at Hope Cove – the area around Wembury to the west of the region gets the vote of wildlife enthusiast Bill Oddie for his favourite rockpooling spot.
If its golden beaches that you're after, some of the best beaches in South Devon include Slapton Sands and Blackpool Sands, both south of Dartmouth. Blackpool Sands is privately owned and dogs are not allowed either on the beach or the neighbouring car park from March to November, making it a big hit with young families. Surrounded by pine trees and with its blue flag status, it has something of the Mediterranean about it.
Also visit Mothecombe Beach, which is privately owned (and dog free during the summer months) between Newton Ferrers and Bigbury. Blissfully quiet, this beach is only open to the public on Wednesdays and at weekends. Indeed the whole area around Newton Ferrers and the Yealm Estuary is quiet and is very much the place to go to get away from general noise and bustle.
If you enjoy photography, sketching and painting during your caravan holidays in South Devon, visit Newton Ferrers, which has the peaceful vibrancy of an artists' community, attracted by the attractiveness of the town's location. Across the water is the tiny, ancient village of Noss Mayo, most definitely worthy of a gentle stroll, or for a bigger walk, strike out around The Warren, a stretch of tree-lined coastline to the east of the Yealm Estuary with many circular walking routes. And while the Yealm Estuary is a great place to see migrating birds, you may be lucky enough to see dolphins and seals in the waters of the River Dart.
Go surfing in South Devon at Bigbury-on-Sea and if you're a beginner, you can get a little help from a surf school on the beach. There are also good facilities for those with physical disabilities with two beach wheelchairs (available from the beachside Venus Café). Also, visit Burgh Island, which has something for everyone to enjoy during caravan holidays in South Devon. Separated from Bigbury-on-Sea by a tidal beach, the island is accessed on foot during low tide, or by a 'sight to behold' towering Sea Tractor when the tide comes in.
And if the sight of such a strange-looking machine is too much entertainment, take yourself on retreat for some quiet time at Buckfast Abbey, on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. Founded by King Canute, the Benedictine Monastery is famed for its Tonic Wine, a sip of which might just cure anyone overcome by sea tractor sickness. And if you like taking in historic sights, how about going to visit Castle Drogo, the 'last castle to be built in England'.
Top five things to do in South Devon
Go diving for treasure, because one of the greatest collections of shipwrecks in Europe are along the South Devon coast. The shipwrecks span all periods of maritime history so, when you go treasure hunting in Devon you could find Bronze Age artefacts or 17th century gold nuggets! Well known wrecks include the Erme Estuary, Salcombe Cannon and Moor Sand.
Notch up some interesting stories on the Myths and Legends Tour around South Hams and Teignbridge. You'll come across weird and wonderful tales of bishop's teeth, gossiping ladies tied to anchors, water sprites, mysterious cottages and strange horseshoes.
South Devon crab is considered some of the finest in the world. Try eating crab served fresh in numerous restaurants and pubs, or perhaps catch your own crab at one of the region's best crabbing hotspots such as Stoke Gabriel, Dittisham or Dawlish.
Enjoy a meal at the Field Kitchen restaurant of Riverford farm. The renowned organic veg-box company is based between Buckfastleigh and Totnes, and the restaurant uses produce from its own farm. Naturally, the set menu is incredibly seasonal and the food is served, convivially, on large farmhouse tables so you can pass it around and share.
For fantastic train rides, visit the South Devon Railway, a branch line of the former Great Western Railway. Historic GWR steam trains take passengers on a delightful round trip between Buckfastleigh, on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, and Totnes. The railway follows the pretty River Dart.
When to visit South Devon
Much of South Devon's activities revolve, understandably, around the sea and food! Lots of independent retailers in Dartington join together to hold a Food Fair at the end of May while the Dartmouth Food Festival, in October, is considered one of the best food fests in the UK – and it's free. But the highlight of the foodie calendar is South Devon Crab Month in August when all crab-related things are at the forefront of society – so you'll be encouraged to catch crab, taste crab, eat crab lots of other fun activities relating to celebrating the deliciousness of the crab.
South Devon also hosts lots of sailing regattas too, so visit Brixham for the BrixFest in May, Teignmouth for the regatta in August) and Dartmouth's Royal Regatta in August. For something a little different watch the Totnes Raft Race, otherwise known as the River Dart Struggle, in October.
And for Christmassy cheer in the run up to the festive season, go to see Candlelit Dartmouth, an event that celebrates the medieval town in a different, magical light.
How to get to South Devon
Use Exeter as a gateway when heading for caravan holidays in South Devon, with the M5 junction 31 connecting with the A38, a road that takes you to the heart of this region, including Plymouth and the southern areas of Dartmoor. The A380 splits off from the A38 just a few miles south of Exeter and takes you to the English Riviera. All of these sections of road are dual-carriageway and fine for use when towing a caravan on the way to your chosen campsites in South Devon.
However, once off these dual carriageways, even the main roads can be slow-going so take it gently and anticipate taking longer than you might expect to get to your holiday destination. Minor roads, particularly down to the coast in South Hams and east of Wembury can be narrow and high-hedged. They're beautiful but not great for big caravans, so check with your campsite if they have specific arrival and departure times, or if they can recommend a route.