Coveting a late-summer staycation by the surf? Head to Devon's chic Saunton Sands Hotel for a slice of luxurious beachside living
Long weekends on the British coast are officially back in demand and, with its golden sand dunes and surf-friendly waves, Devon is the go-to destination for those in the know. But what if you want to combine a luxury spa break with windswept walks along the beach? Ana Ospina heads to Saunton Sands Hotel in Braunton, for a seaside jaunt with a difference.
Where to stay
Just three hours by train from hectic London lies north Devon’s salty sea air, rolling beaches and locally caught seafood. But don’t let its quaint coastal charm fool you into thinking that there’s no grandeur to be found here too, because the Saunton Sands Hotel, which is Art Deco in design, offers up 74 spacious bedrooms; two living suites; three restaurants and 11 apartments – all with sweeping ocean vistas and a stone’s throw from the beach. First opened in 1933 (with the Brend family taking over in 1977) on Devon’s beautiful north coast, Saunton Sands Hotel has managed to retain its family feel, with warm, welcoming staff and relaxed vibes from the outset. A superb spa and exquisite collection of fine-dining menus has encouraged guests to return year after year, and now this beachside bolthole delivers the perfect getaway for stressed staycationers in desperate need of a recharge.
Stylishly decorated in neutral, beach-inspired tones, the hotel’s interiors are all comfy velvet sofas, patterned rugs and calming coastal paintings. As soon as you’re welcomed in by friendly staff, you’re made to feel at home, and my partner and I literally feel the weight of London life lift off our shoulders as we step into Saunton Sands slower pace. Our pad for the weekend boasts both a heated indoor and outdoor pool, a pretty sun terrace and flower-filled, deck chair-adorned garden that enables us to make the most of British summertime. We begin our mornings with a blustery walk along Saunton Sands beach, the breeze propelling us between the vintage-style beach huts and back up the cliffs in time for breakfast.
Saunton Sands Hotel has three sumptuous restaurants to indulge in so, after sleeping like Kings in our majestic white beds, we make our way to the Beachside Grill for our first taste of Devon. Being the hotel’s sister cafe and built into the dunes for a panoramic view over the wild Atlantic ocean, this popular morning haunt serves breakfast from 9-11am, with a hearty side of laid-back vibes. Plates of hot smoked salmon with scrambled eggs or towering stacks of pancakes with syrup and bacon can be enjoyed while you soak up the sea views, slowly sipping on a frothy cappuccino and reading the newspapers. For the ultimate end-of-the-week treat, the Beachside Grill also offers up Lobster and Prosecco Fridays – a must-do feast for the sunset crowds.
Looking for a little glamour? Let me introduce you to The Terrace Lounge. With its swanky sofas and flirty light fixtures, this is an idyllic setting for a light bite in luxurious surroundings. The white crab and avocado dish or hot garlic mussels with Devon cider and fresh fries come highly recommended. Or, while away the hours post-surf with a Pimm’s afternoon tea. We filled our bellies with fresh finger sandwiches and scones covered with sweet jam and lashings of cream. (If The Great Gatsby had been set in Devon, this is where they would have hosted the party.)
But for coastal fine dining at its best, you can’t beat The Dining Room. With two AA-rosette status, this restaurant is run by Head Chef Mathias Oberg, formerly of The Shard, London, and the dress code is smart, so be sure to wash off all the sand and slip into something sleek for aperitifs. We indulged in seared scallops with pea puree and smoked bacon jam, followed by corn-fed chicken supreme and black garlic puree – a definite step up from fish and chips on the beach.
Having recently opened, the Source Spa and Wellness is already the crown jewel of the Saunton Sands Hotel. Inspired solely by the surrounding coastal landscape, the spa spans three floors focusing on health, relaxation and balance. Prepare to fully reset your body and mind in the indoor pool, gym (with yoga, pilates and ta-chi classes available) and thermal suite, all boasting idyllic views of the beach (you will literally feel like you are floating at sea). A must-try is a dip in the vitality pool that is dense with mineral-rich dead sea salt for a warm float before jumping into the ice fountain for the ultimate refresh. More into sweating out your toxins? The salt inhalation room and aroma sauna will have you breathing deeply as you start to fully relax.
Level two hosts six beautiful treatment rooms. The treatment menu had us in a daze – trust me, you will want to try everything. As well as luxury facials, massages and body scrubs that will leave you looking and feeling baby smooth, the spa also offers wellness treatments such as reiki and reflexology. Men are well catered for, with tailored back scrubs and charcoal facials, and special pregnancy massages are available for tired mums to be, too. I indulged in the Lavender Dreams Experience, which is 90 minutes of pure bliss, incorporating a rejuvenating scrub, warm body wrap and smoothing back, neck and scalp massage – all using Mediterranean lavender that lulled me into a soft sleep. On a really rather touching note, the spa has also introduced special facials for cancer patients, using IS skincare products that are pharmaceutical-grade so as not to impact any medical treatment that you might be undergoing at the same time. The Saunton Sands Hotel really does think of everything.
Now feeling calm inside and out, we headed up to the top floor post-treatment space. The roof terrace and sun room offer a complete chill-out zone and we let the oils and skincare creams seep in and do their job while we dozed, serenely overlooking the ocean. This was truly a spa experience like no other.
Learn to surf
Staying beachside means you have access to the waves all day, every day. The hotel has partnered with Walking on Waves Surf School, run by British and European Champion Sarah Whiteley who set up the school to offer private surf lessons or a three-day first wave course. With wetsuits and surfboards available to hire, get out there and catch some waves – just try not to swallow your body weight in sea water in the process like I did!
We took full advantage of the paddle boarding, kite surfing and tennis court facilities on offer for a bit of adventure. The hotel is also next door to the Saunton Golf Club, which boasts two championship 18-hole courses and pro shop. When you get tired mid round, on-course drinks can even be delivered to quench your thirst.
If you can drag yourself away from the homely hotel bubble, be sure to explore Clovelly for the day. This gorgeous working fishing village is a short drive away and overlooks beautiful Bideford Bay. We wandered the cobbled streets past local shops, cafes and pubs, soaking up the Devonshire lifestyle before heading back to the big city feeling thoroughly refreshed.
How to book
A two-night spa break at the Saunton Sands Hotel starts from £245 per person.
To book, call 01271 890 212 or visit sauntonsands.co.uk