Justine Board discovers her very own secluded retreat in the picture-perfect southwest corner of England

Nestled in the heart of the Devon South Hams sits bucolic Gitcombe, a gorgeous collection of stone built cottages hidden away in their own secluded valley 20 minutes from picturesque Dartmouth and the scenic south coast.

Nine self-catering cottages are scattered over a small hillside estate that includes a tennis court, adventure play area, pool house with outdoor Jacuzzi, steam room and soft play area.

It’s a lush, verdant setting with beautiful walks from the doorstep. The pick of the accommodation is Gitcombe Retreat, a brand new, oak-framed four-bedroom house with a private hot tub and spectacular views from its hilltop setting. It ‘s spacious and beautifully designed with floor-to-ceiling widows framing the landscape, pared back furnishings, underfloor heating and sleek, luxurious bathrooms.

Alternatively, Gitcombe House is an elegant Georgian manor farmhouse and a grander affair. The six bedrooms sleep 13, making it a great option for big family gatherings or celebrations, and it is awash with original features including sash windows, cornices, flagstones and antique furniture.

Devon

Other cottages sleep between four and eight and all are equally stylish with quirky, characterful touches like children’s dens or pretty flower-filled terraces.

Gitcombe is very much a kid-friendly place. We stayed for a week in October when it didn’t stop raining (at all), but our two toddlers couldn’t get enough of the pool and soft play room.

There are games, toys, and DVDs in all the cottages plus loads of equipment to borrow, including crabbing tackle, buckets and spades, and no end of rackets. That said, the cottages are sufficiently spread out that privacy isn’t an issue and if you were after more of a child-free escape, you can happily spend a week here without any interaction with Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol.

Or you can escape via one of the many beautiful walks or running routes from Gitcombe. There’s a lovely six-mile circular route that takes in two fabulously atmospheric pubs, both with riverside settings; the Maltster’s Arms in Tuckenhay – previously owned by Keith Floyd – and the Waterman’s Arms in Ashprington.

Devon

With Gitcombe as a base, there is also a huge range of things to see and do nearby. We stayed for a week but could have happily stayed for longer and would never have done the same thing twice, even in the constant mizzle.

We spent a glorious day on the beach at Bigbury-on-Sea, walking over the sand to rugged Burgh Island, cut off at high tide, for lunch at the cosy Pilchard Inn and a trip back to the mainland through the water via a sea tractor.

Crabbing at Dittisham was a highlight with a great lunch at the Anchorstone Cafe on the banks of the river Dart. Take the boat from Dartmouth to fully appreciate the natural beauty of the setting. Brixham Harbour feels like stepping back in time to an era of pirates and smugglers.

The Golden Hind, a replica of Francis Drake’s Tudor Galleon, has been a landmark in the quayside for 50 years but is still a fascinating look at life on the high seas in the age of discovery. Kids can dress up as pirates and swashbuckle their way around the ship on a treasure hunt.

Don’t miss stopping at seafood restaurant Rockfish in the famous fish market, overlooking the boats in the harbour as they land the catch that might appear on your plate an hour later.

If, like me, Devon makes you think of Agatha Christie – Burgh Island was the setting for the Hercule Poirot mystery Evil Under the Sun – then you can visit Greenway, her holiday home on the banks of the Dart, which she described as “the loveliest place in the world”.

It is now owned by the National Trust and is full of treasures from her extensive travels, and has been kept exactly as she left it. Arrive in style via steam train from Paignton or Kingswear.

The south coast also offers a hoard of glorious beaches and coves. Bantham is a lovely, wide sandy beach at low tide, great for picnics and rockpooling.

Blackpool Sands is one of the most beautiful in the South Hams, surrounded by evergreens and pines so that it feels almost Mediterranean. Scenic Hope Cove is in a sheltered, sandy bay and sits below rocky cliffs and the village of Hope itself.

We left Devon with the kids asking when we were going back, and a four-year-old’s approval is a hard won thing indeed. I don’t think it will be long.

The Gitcombe Estate

There are nine different self-catering properties at Gitcombe.

The Gitcombe Coach House sleeps up to four, plus one infant, and costs from £650 for three nights from April 1, 2020. Gitcombe House, meanwhile, sleeps up to 13 people and three infants.

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Cottages.com is the UK’s leading holiday cottage provider, offering more than 21,000 places to stay in the UK, Ireland, France and Italy.

For more information, visit their website or call 0345 498 6900.

Golf courses near Gitcombe

Dartmouth

Devon

Part of the Best Western The Dartmouth Hotel, this challenging 18-hole course features meandering streams, water features and undulating greens.

More information: Dartmouth Hotel website

Churston

A stunning parkland course near Brixham with glorious views over Torbay.

More information: Churston Golf Club website

Thurlestone

An atmospheric, Harry Colt designed course running along the coastline of Bigbury Bay, mixing links with cliff-top terrain overlooking Thurlestone Rock and Burgh Island.

More information: Thurlestone Golf Club website

Dainton Park

An undulating course set between Dartmoor National Park and the South Hams with multiple water features, sculpted bunkers and generous fairways.

More information: Dainton Park Golf Club website

Wrangaton

A unique course on the southern slopes of Dartmoor with nine moorland and nine parkland holes.

More information: Wrangaton Golf Club website

Warren

Devon

Situated on a spit of land at the mouth of the Exe estuary, the Warren is a true links course.

More information: Devon Links website

Bovey Castle

One of the best courses in Devon with lush greens, water hazards, shallow bunkers and elevated tees. The attached hotel is beautiful.

More information: Bovey Castle website 

East Devon

Devon

Ranked 42nd best course in England, this is a fantastic heathland set on a cliff top between Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton, with impeccable conditioning.

More information: East Devon Golf Club website

Pubs and restaurants

The Maltster’s Arms, Tuckenhay

The Watermans Arms, Ashprington

The Pilchard Inn, Burgh Island

The Anchorstone Cafe, Dittisham

Rockfish, Brixham