The South Hams is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in South Devon. It encompasses the southern tip of Dartmoor National Park, a 50-mile stretch of unspoilt coastline between Torbay and Plymouth and the rolling hills sandwiched in between. The coastline around Dartmouth, Kingsbridge and Salcombe offers some of the most popular holiday destinations in the UK.
Read on to find out why we think the South Hams is so special and discover a few local secrets to help you make the most of your incredible stay.
About the South Hams:
A paradise for lovers of the outdoors, a holiday in the South Hams can be spent venturing along the windswept South West Coast Path, the moorlands inland, or winding along peaceful country lanes to discover quaint villages, nature reserves, tranquil estuaries and historic towns such as Totnes, Salcombe and Dartmouth.
The area is also noted for its quality food with exceptional eateries serving everything from crab, lobster and oysters to creamy Devon milk and local cheese. And you’ll certainly never be short of things to do in the South Hams, whether you prefer fun days out at local attractions or lazy days on the beach. Did you know that the coastline here has won more clean water awards than anywhere else in Britain?
The towns and villages:
It’s not only the natural vistas of the South Hams that are spellbindingly beautiful. The area is peppered with picture-postcard towns and villages, each with its own individual atmosphere and charm, which can only come from being largely untouched over the centuries.
Sitting on the banks of the Kingsbridge Estuary, the coastal town of Salcombe is perfect for a spot of sailing or relaxation by the water – be sure to try the town’s award-winning Salcombe Dairy ice cream. Dartmouth is another great location for feeling the sand between your toes and if you visit in October, you can enjoy the Dartmouth Food Festival.
If the hustle and bustle of a traditional English market town is your thing, then a trip to Kingsbridge is a must, or for something a little different, head to the Elizabethan market every Tuesday in the vibrant town of Totnes and see the cheery traders dressed in period costume. Whilst you’re there, make time to soak up the impressive views of the River Dart from the top of Totnes Castle.
Found on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, the small town of Buckfastleigh is best-known for its Benedictine Buckfast Abbey, a working monastery with deer grazing in the grounds. Don’t forget to purchase a bottle of Buckfast Tonic Wine as a souvenir! Another town with a fascinating history is Ivybridge, which boasts a rich heritage of traditional industries such as milling and cloth making that are still celebrated today. And not forgetting, the pretty little town of Modbury, an idyllic place to pick up some unique and locally made gifts for your friends and family back home.
There are over 30 beaches in the South Hams, some of the finest in Devon and the UK. Whether setting up camp for a day at the seaside or discovering hidden coves along a coastal walk, the beaches nestled among the rugged South Devon landscape are ideal for whiling away the hours.
A popular beach for families and surfers is Bigbury Beach which looks out towards Burgh Island. Spacious and sandy, it offers shallow waters for paddling and is dotted with rock pools, so there are plenty of family adventures to be had. There are also great facilities here with a café, a surfing school and a well-equipped shop all close to hand. Another great option is Bantham Beach, which is renowned for being one of the best surfing beaches in South Devon. At low tide, the beach will reveal an array of rock pools, plus there are sand dunes and a conveniently large car park.
The two Hope Cove beaches are easily accessible and offer beautiful natural scenery and excellent facilities. Mouthwell Sands buzzes with happy holidaymakers during the summer and the harbour beach offers unforgettable views of Bolt Tail. The mix of sand and rocky areas, as well as seasonal lifeguards, means that both coves are great for families wanting a safe swim as well as exploring the rockpools for sea life. Both stretches of sand also back onto Hope Cove village, so facilities and amenities are nearby.
Thurlestone Beach also consists of two beaches, a smaller one to the north and a larger southern beach. Both are formed of coarse sand and shingle, but what really makes them special, is the iconic Thurlestone Rock, an arch-shaped formation that sits just off the shore - particularly striking at sunset.
As a frequent recipient of the much-coveted Blue Flag Award, you can be sure of the full range of facilities at Blackpool Sands. Perfect for families, there is a summer lifeguard patrol, beach shop and a café. Although a shingle beach, there are two large sandpits during the summer for children and the crystal-clear turquoise sea is fantastic for swimming, kayaking and water sports. Surrounded by pine trees, this sheltered spot has a certain Mediterranean feel.
If you’re an avid rambler, the South Hams is a perfect choice for a holiday in Devon. There are endless river valleys, moorland and coasts to explore from the unbroken trails on the South West Coast Path to a labyrinth of scenic routes through the Dartmoor National Park.
Stretching all the way from Lynmouth in North Devon, you’ll meet the Two Moors Way leading you to Ivybridge. Pay a visit to Holne on your route for a pint at the local pub and don’t forget to check out Ivybridge’s namesake bridge. Or for a lengthy coastal jaunt, set off from Bigbury-on-Sea to Salcombe. This 13-mile trek offers captivating views over the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
One of the most iconic landmarks of the South Hams is Burgh Island which you can access from Bigbury-on-Sea beach by foot at low tide, and by the famous sea tractor at high tide. The island is famed for its links to Agatha Christie and a wonderful day can be spent exploring the remains of its chapel or discovering an abundance of wildlife. Be sure to stop by The Pilchard Inn on the shoreline for a fresh baguette or a refreshing drink along the way.
For those interested in history, there are several castles in the South Hams to visit where you can learn more about the area’s turbulent past. Dartmouth Castle, Totnes Castle and Berry Pomeroy Castle, all managed by English Heritage, are just a few of the magnificent highlights.
To see the breathtaking sights of the South Hams from a different perspective, the South Devon Railway offers magical journeys by steam between Buckfastleigh and Totnes. Chugging its way through some of Devon’s finest countryside, the line follows the River Dart along almost its entire length and through landscapes rich in wildlife. The region’s other heritage railway is the Dartmouth Steam Railway which chunters along the glorious South Devon coastline and can be combined with a boat trip or paddle steamer for an extra nostalgic day out.
If you’re bringing the whole family on holiday, there are a plethora of attractions for kids in the South Hams including: Pennywell Farm in Buckfastleigh where there are hundreds of animals to meet, feed and care for; Woodlands Family Theme Park in Dartmouth with its thrilling rides; and Canoe Adventures in Tuckenhay and Stoke Gabriel where families can delight in a guided adventure along the River Dart estuary in a fleet of open canoes.
The food and drink:
Visit the South Hams and you will be treated to some of the best fine dining using local produce. For seafood, towns such as Dartmouth and Salcombe boast award-winning restaurants, while inland gastropubs serve excellent homecooked fare.
One of the best-known gourmet restaurants in the South Hams is The Seahorse in Dartmouth where roasted monkfish is a speciality. The Riverford Field Kitchen near Buckfastleigh offers a unique experience where you indulge in locally-sourced dishes around a large sociable table surrounded by the very fields that produced it. And for a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds, Dick and Wills Waterside Brasserie in Salcombe offers a distinctive menu served up with glittering views of the Kingsbridge Estuary.
The South Hams is a perfect location to enjoy the whole of the south coast of Devon and our self-catering accommodation will place you in the heart of the beauty. Our holiday cottages in the South Hams allow you to really reconnect with nature and the outdoors. Choose from a wide selection of properties including working farm cottages, dog-friendly retreats and luxury houses, all located in some of the most picturesque towns and villages in Devon.
If you would like some more inspiration, have a browse of our in-depth local’s guides to Salcombe, Dartmouth and Totnes…