This New Year Porto was the initial destination but- you know- COVID. So we look around for somewhere within a 4 hour drive of Henley (the cut off point my children can sit buried under duvets with cool bags on their laps) and the pin drops on Dartmouth, a place ingrained in my mind from a 2005 TV series following chef John Burton Race and his restaurant the Angel, that in my memories paints Dartmouth as a romantic celebrity chef residing idyll.
So Dartmouth it is- with 24 hours to book a new year holiday house for five that satisfies my many criteria (must have Soho House inspo; must immediately fill me with joy not misery on arrival; must have no haunted vibes in the bedroom- the usual.) I am a self professed master of sleuthing every photo on holiday home sites before booking so there are no nasty surprises. Plus I need to find restaurants that will take us short notice on NYE and find something to entertain the kids. The four hours travelling are well spent.
We use Vrbo to book what turns out to be a bijou but brilliantly central townhouse. If we didn't have children attached the mid century modern masterpiece Kaywana Hall (adults only) across the river in Kingswear might tempt us. And in nearby Salcombe Gara Rock Hotel is the dream. But for the time being, with three children requiring an adjoining hotel room (actual impossibility) or a Princely three bedroom suite, holiday houses are our bag. And our pastel blue townhouse with balcony views over the harbour fits all criteria, plus removes any need to drive for the full 48 hr trip. Result.
Dartmouth is known as a foodie haven, not just because of John Burton race (whose life, I discover after a google search, is very far removed from the romantic idyll my memory had painted.) We spend New Years eve dinner at Mitch Tonks excellent Rockfish, where miraculously the kids are persuaded to indulge in sharing mezze fish dishes. We also have time to try an enormous stack of lunchtime pancakes at the insta friendly neon loving Bula cafe, which my youngest is beaten by. Tonk's Michelin Starred Seahorse is on our list, but after peeking through the window we decide our family might cause a riot.
While only there for two days we manage to leave feeling like Dartmouth coffee shop aficionados. Favourites are the nattily named Alf Resco- perfect for an early morning pastry looking over the Dart and seconds away from our house- the minimal Woodroast, and the castle coffee shop and its view, which does a good New Years Day line in christmas pudding millionaire shortbread and mulled wine ice cream.
Dartmouth has some gorgeous vintage shops and independent galleries including excellent prints at Bert & Buoy ( less than appealling to the children) and various ice cream parlours and cake shops (more than appealing to the children) Theres also Dartmouth Old Market, full of quirky independent stores which the rest of my family are fairly happy is shut so I can't explore. Our wet weather back up plan of the cinema isn't needed, but housed in a modern glass box of an arts centre, it would have been more than satisfactory. Instead we spend our day feeling smugly outdoorsy walking along the coast past the castle to two amazing bays- Sugary Cove and Castle Cove. I've taken my Dryrobe with the idea of a New Years Day morning swim at one of these but discover my smug outdoorsiness doesn't stretch this far.
Our stay in Dartmouth may be short and sweet , but it feels like a discovery, and we're amazed we have waited so long to visit. In fact we spend most of the drive home looking on Right Move for riverfront houses to retire to. Disclaimer. It's expensive. VERY expensive. That river front property may need to wait a while.
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