English country cottages on the English Riviera - Devon coast

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If you head south from the Exe Estuary you come to a part of Devon's coast known at the 'English Riviera' where there are lots of holiday cottages to rent by the sea. Although you'll still find tucked away coves and luscious countryside here, you'll also discover lots of action and seaside glitz. Torquay has been one of the UK's top holiday destinations since Victorian times when the gentry stayed in luxury seaside villas, promenaded the seafront and ventured out from bathing huts which were wheeled down to the beaches. It was the Victorians who first drew parallels between this part of Devon and the glamorous French Riviera; there are white villas on the hilltops, sandy beaches, beautifully preened gardens, and elegant houses along the main streets - many of these properties are rented out as holiday apartments.

Torquay's bustling waterfront consists of a palm-lined promenade, seafront gardens, a lively harbour and marina. At the southern end of the harbour you'll find 'Living Coasts', a unique aquatic visitor attraction. This coastal zoo focuses on the conservation of coastal and marine life around the globe. It's fairly new, has an interesting range of aquatic plants and animals to see. If you enjoy 'yacht spotting' then take a stroll around the Torquay marina and take a guess how much some of the luxurious boats moored here would set you back! If you want to stay in Torquay then a holiday house or self-catering apartment with a view of the sea is ideal. In central Torquay you'll find lots of pavement cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops including the Pavilion shopping centre, which started life as an Edwardian Theatre.

Babbacombe, the northern tip of Torquay, has a lovely cliff-top promenade and on a clear day views can stretch across Lyme Bay to Golden Cap in Dorset. You can make the journey down to the beach at Oddicombe via the cliff railway, which has been operating since 1926. Babbacombe is also home to a model village and some great fish and chip shops. The ancient village of St Marychurch, which appears in the Doomsday book, is just a stones throw from Babbacombe and there are lots of holiday cottages to rent in the area. It has a pedestrianised precinct to stroll along with a good selection of shops and cafes.

Cockington is a traditional country estate, complete with manor house, walled gardens, church, village, woodlands, watermeadow, farmland and meadow. There are quaint cottages galore, and resident craftspeople are known for their high-quality work. Cockington Court is the heart of the estate, so if you start here you can find out about guided walks, gardening courses, special events and get information on the history and wildlife to be found all about. There are also a number of studios here where the public can view craft demonstrations, including glassblowing and pottery. There's a working organic kitchen garden which has been recently extended to include a community garden, and a fully inclusive children's play area.

Paignton is a fine seaside town and its numerous attractions make it a popular spot for families. Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is home to some of the world's most endangered plants and animals. Committed to conservation, the Zoo is themed into six zones which represent the major world habitats and there's lots of information on the animal's natural habitats, and how these have been re-created in Paignton. The town is also home to Quaywest, an impressive outdoor water park with eight slides and flumes and pools designed for adults and children.

Paignton itself has a lively seafront, especially in summer, with go-karts, ice cream vans and boating ponds. The beach is sandy and paddler-friendly and just outside central Paignton there are some quieter coves and coastal paths to explore. By night, Paignton seafront comes alive with illuminations, which are great for an evening stroll or drive. In the day, the Paignton and Dartmouth steam railway gives great views across Torbay and the surrounding area. Holiday cottages in Paignton vary from large houses by the sea to cosy accommodation in Paignton town.

Inland from Torbay is Totnes; a characterful town situated on the River Dart. There are museums, a pretty riverside with steamer quay, ancient Guildhall and church and a Norman castle. The town has an arty feel, with many craft shops, buskers and regular market stalls. Boat trips from the riverside can take you towards the coast to Dartmouth, which also has some fine historical architecture. There are narrow streets, with some houses and shops dating back to the 14th century. There's a deep water natural harbour and you can watch all sorts of vessels coming and going by taking a walk along the surrounding embankment. Dartmouth Castle, set on an imposing rocky promontory, is just a mile's walk from the town centre. Self-catering holiday homes in Totnes are plentiful and delightful Devon cottages abound.