The Dorset and East Devon Coast, which runs from Orcombe point at Exmouth to Old Harry Rocks in Dorset, has official status from UNESCO as a 'World Heritage Site'. This ranks the area alongside the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon in providing "an outstanding example, representing a major stage of earth's history and the record of life". Known as the 'Jurassic Coastline', scientific interest in this area dates right back to the discovery of fossils in Lyme Bay in the 17th and 18th centuries. The site contains an extensive range of textbook examples of geological landforms, features and formations telling the story of planet Earth from millions of years ago. The additional pull of rare marine and coastal wildlife means that this stretch of coastline continues to draw in academics from a range of disciplines, as well as visitors coming to enjoy the simple pleasures of spectacular Devon scenery.
The oldest part of the Jurassic coast is in East Devon, with rocks dating back to the Triassic period 250-200 million years ago. The pebbled beach at Budleigh Salterton, just up the coast from Exmouth, is made up of rare quartzite rock. Renting a holiday cottage in Budleigh Salterton gives you a chance to explore this a beautiful spot which has inspired some great figures of literature, including P.G. Woodehouse and Noel Coward. A walk on top of the sandstone cliffs gives great views of Budleigh and across Lyme Bay. The town itself has a quaint little high street, with friendly shops, restaurants and cafes and there are some great holiday cottages on the Jurassic Coast of Devon.
Just inland from Budleigh Salterton you'll find Bicton Park Botanical Gardens: a great place for a day out. There are historic formal gardens (inspired by Versailles), special feature gardens, peaceful woodland nature trails, a woodland railway, indoor and outdoor play areas and an orangey restaurant with views over the gardens.
Ladram Bay is a quite unspoilt area of the South Devon Coast, where rolling hills meet red sandstone cliffs. There are sheltered spots suitable for bathing, and also good areas for fishing and wind-sailing. If you choose a holiday cottage on the south coast of Devon then you'll be in a great position to explore the coastline by foot. Photographers and artists are drawn by views featuring dramatic colours and shapes. Just along the road from Ladram Bay is Otterton Mill, which has been fully restored and now produces organic flour. You can taste the results in the form of scrumptious bread and cakes, in the mill's own little restaurant. Further inland is Ottery St Mary, which has a magnificent church built in 1260 and is also the birthplace of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The dramatic coastline continues to Sidmouth, which is a lovely seaside town with great holiday rental cottages, beautiful gardens, clean beaches, regency history and some fine hotels. Sidmouth museum leads walks during the summer to look at the unique geological features with local experts. If you visit in the height of summer you might make it for the folk festival, when the usually peaceful promenade becomes packed with musicians, Morris dancers and fire eaters. Festival goers can move from pub to pub sampling local ales.
If animals are more your thing, then make your way to the nearby Donkey Sanctury. As a charity, dependent on support from the public, the Donkey Sanctury believes that anyone should be able to visit, so entry is free from 9.00am until dusk every day of the year. The Donkey Sanctuary first opened in 1969, and over nine thousand donkeys have passed through the gates since. Visitors are met by donkeys in the main yard, who enjoy a lot of fuss and attention, before taking a stroll along the special field walks and visiting the various barns, nature centre and conservation area on the way. There's also a restaurant to refuel in afterwards.
The picturesque village of Branscombe sweeps down a valley to a shingle beach. If you're someone who likes to slip into the past, then consider renting a thatched holiday cottage near Branscombe. The National Trust has restored three historic properties in the village: the Old Bakery, Manor Mill and the Forge. The Old Bakery has a cosy little tea room with open fires and displays of old baking tins, storage jars and other kitchenalia. The other buildings in the village include many thatched cottages with pretty hanging baskets - so a good place to look if you like that rustic feel.