The English Riviera

The English Riviera

Read our Mini Guide to the English Riviera or follow these links for more information

A Mini Guide to the English Riviera from

"A quintessentially English look at the English Riviera reveals a splendid coastline, different, but equally impressive as the Cote d'Azur"

The soubriquet of the ‘English Riviera’ may sound a bit pretentious and was hit upon by advertising chiefs in the 1980s but whilst it could seemingly have applied to many south coast holiday resorts, the trio of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham at least have a greater claim to the title.

Like the south of France and the north western coast of Italy, the original term ‘Riviera’, meaning a coastal strip between mountains with a Mediterranean climate, could also be applied to this part of South Devon. Bounded to the west by the bulk of Dartmoor and to the east by Tor Bay and Lyme Bay, the three main settlements face away from the rain bearing westerlies and as well as having a relatively dry climate, have one of the mildest climates in the UK with snow rarely falling in winter and summer temperatures infrequently reaching extremes. Because of this, tender plants and trees survive and prosper there including the palm tree, symbol of the English Riviera - although it’s not a true palm, properly called the Cabbage Palm, and originating in Australia. Other unusual plants include yuccas which brighten the gardens with their white bell shaped flowers and giant agaves which, when they flower, sent towering flower stems eight metres into the often blue sky.

The region was made popular as a holiday resort during Georgian and Victorian times, initially by members of the Royal Navy who came ashore whilst their ships were anchored in Tor Bay. As the town divided into the part frequented by the ratings and that frequented by the officers, it prospered and houses were built along the harbourside which then attracted wealthy tourists from outside the forces community, drawn by reports of its mild and healthy climate. It was the Victorian’s craze for bathing that brought the biggest expansion in its fortunes with Torre Abbey Sands being perfect for bathing machines with its firm sand and gently shelving beach.

Entertainment venues like the Pavilion, intended to rival Brighton’s, Torquay’s Natural History Museum and the Palace Theatre all served to attract yet more visitors. Smart hotels such as the Torbay, the Grand and eventually the Palace Hotel catered for the wealthy, whilst local entrepreneurs cashed in with the rise of guest houses and bed and breakfast facilities. After declining fortunes in the wake of cheap package holidays, the area rebranded itself as the ‘English Riviera’, and has since enjoyed something of a renaissance.

With improved transport links it’s easy to reach from Exeter Airport and is on a spur of the Paddington to Penzance rail route. By road, the A380 nearly reaches the heart of the resort and getting out to regional attractions such as the South Hams, Dartmoor and the cities of Exeter and Plymouth is facilitated by excellent road links, although in peak season, the roads can get very congested.

The English Riviera is made up of:

  • Torquay – The biggest town and heart of the English Riviera. It’s a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde town with quiet walks through ancient places like Cockington yet has glitzy shops, great restaurants, ultra-modern bars and a selection of nightclubs. More...
  • Paignton – The traditional fun seaside resort, very much for the bucket and spade brigade. It’s the English seaside holiday at its finest but still has something for the thrill seekers. More...
  • Brixham – The working part of the Riviera, Brixham is one of Britain’s oldest and best known fishing ports but has a wealth of history on land too. Cosy and friendly, it may not have the glamour of Torquay or the fun of Paignton but is a good contrast to them both. More...

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