Lizzie PopeSee other travel guides written by Lizzie Pope
Step onto the seafront of Torquay and you somehow expect to hear the quickening footsteps of Monsieur Poirot, complete with fetching upturned moustache, behind you beneath the lacy metalwork of the Debenhams façade, or peruse a 1920s figure loitering nervously beneath the Clock Tower at the top of the Strand, sucking from a sleek, black cigarette holder. For Torquay, in Devon, is the spiritual home of crime writer Dame Agatha Christie and the town, inevitably, milks the connection.
Christie was born in the town; she lived here for much of her life and maintained a residence, Greenway House, just a few miles from Torquay until her death. Indeed, Torquay, while providing all the modern amenities of a seaside resort in the 21st century, still has an elegant air of yesteryear, of upmarket seaside holidays with promenades along the seafront.
Torquay is one of three towns that, together with neighbouring Paignton and Brixham (all three effectively roll into one large conurbation these days), make up Torbay, for it is Tor Bay around which the three towns nestle. The area is promoted as the English Riviera, renowned for its temperate climate and sunny disposition. Torquay has the most northern outlook, clustered on a promontory towards Hopes Nose between Tor Bay and Babbacombe Bay.
It is the area around the town’s seafront that is the most picturesque, with sweeping views of Tor Bay. Towards Paignton is a small beach, Torre Abbey Sands, which is completely hidden as the sea approaches the seafront wall at high tide and the Grand Hotel, still an iconic structure that demonstrates the elegance of early 20th century living.
At the eastern end of the bay is the marina, filled with stylish boats hankering after a few square feet of water. Behind this are the Princess Gardens, filled with pineapple palms and formally planted with colour; a great place from which to sit and enjoy the seafront.
Also here is the Princess Theatre, where The Beatles once played ‘before they were famous’, the English Riviera Wheel and the Pavilion, built in 1912. Built specifically as a ‘Palace of Pleasure’ for social occasions and to attract visitors to the town, the Pavilion is one of the few remaining examples of Edwardian seaside architecture and reflects a golden age of seaside holidays. Now closed for ‘redevelopment’, only time will tell what happens to this striking building.
Behind the marina and harbour, roads radiate out. Torwood Street, to the east, is a good place to start for lots of places to eat while Fleet Street and Union Street are the main, but unremarkable, shopping streets. The area behind Torbay Road, however, provides that same air of past style, with white-painted villas and town houses overlooking the bay. They stand on a giant cliff, upon which are the newly renovated Royal Terrace Gardens and Rock Walk – here is an impressive cliff walk through the many sub-tropical plants.
But Torquay is not just about seaside holidays from yesteryear. The town – indeed the whole of the English Riviera – is filled with modern attractions such as Living Coasts, Waves Leisure Pool, Splashdown (in nearby Paignton), museums, craft centres and historic buildings to visit.
Torquay is also within the English Riviera Global Geopark, recognised by UNESCO as an area of international geological importance. As such there are numerous places and associated activities to enjoy such as Kents Cavern, or a wander along the Geopark Trail for great coastal viewpoints and an opportunity to see how life started in the area 400 million years ago!
Top five things to do in Torquay
Visit the beautiful Torre Abbey to gain an insight into 800 years of history through a mix of authentic artefacts and hi-tech interpretation. Newly re-opened after substantial refurbishment, there are talking portraits and statues, interactive displays and one of the largest fine art collections in the south west. The gardens, with a wealth of exotic plants, are a pleasure too.
Take a ride on the English Riviera Wheel for some breathtaking views over the harbour and Tor Bay. The completely silent ride lasts approximately 13 minutes and, when lit up at night, is a graceful way to view Torquay. You can even book the VIP Gondola (which has tinted glass and higher standard seats) with a glass of bubbly – a great way to begin an evening in town.
Get the low-down on Agatha Christie’s life and work with a self-guided walking tour along the Agatha Christie Mile, taking in places and sights around Torquay relevant to her work, then hop on the ‘old green bus’ for a vintage bus tour of the English Riviera to Greenway House, Christie’s home on the banks of the River Dart. You can always return via steam train or paddle steamer.
When to visit Torquay
Caravan holidays in Devon have long been popular and if Torquay is your destination, you'll be pleased to hear that you will never be short of things to do. In fact, the whole of the English Riviera is filled with year-round events, including theatre shows, concerts, exhibitions and hobby-specific activities.
Annual events in Torquay include TorqEat on the Torquay harbourside on the first May bank holiday weekend, Torquay’s major food festival. At the end of May the town hosts the adrenalin-fuelled ORCDA Powerboat Racing competition (in contrast, neighbouring Brixham hosts a more sedate heritage sailing regatta also in May), in addition to the renowned English Riviera International Dance Festival a week later.
July hosts the Riviera Fringe Festival throughout Torbay, which culminates with The Torquay Festival on the final day. Just a week later, it’s time to take to the water for the Geopark Sea Swim Triathlon before heading back onto dry land again for the Riviera-wide Torbay Carnival that sees out July and welcomes in August.
There’s more powerboat racing at the end of August with the Cowes Classic Offshore Powerboat Race, but September sees one of Torquay’s biggest events, The International Agatha Christie Festival, a week-long feast of all things Agatha (and a little more besides).
How to get to Torquay
Inspired to take a caravan holiday in Torquay? To reach the town from the north, take the M5 to junction 31, then the A380 and the A3022. Anticipate bottlenecks approaching the roundabout where the A380 and A3022 meet.
If you're approaching Torquay from the east, the M4 intersects with the M5, then follow the route described above, or use the M3, then the A303 and the A30 to junction 29 of the M5, then take the above route.
Most of the campsites in Torquay and the surrounding area are actually in neighbouring Paignton rather than Torquay, but with good public transport links throughout Torbay this should not pose a problem, or you can drive into town.
All main roads are negotiable for towing. But, as always, watch out on the minor roads to outlying villages, as the country lanes can be tight and have little visibility.