More than meets the eye
While Torquay slumbered in relative obscurity as a small fishing port for centuries, the early 19th century saw it enjoy a rapid rise in popularity as resort for the wealthy seeking an alternative to holidays in Europe. Its status was confirmed by a visit in 1820 by King George, and this signalled a further rapid expansion with the building of hundreds of large villas, one of which became the Meadfoot Bay Hotel! The arrival of the railway in 1848, overseen by no less than Isambard Kingdom Brunel, added to Torquay's growing popularity due its temperate climate which earned it the name of the English Riviera. By the 1870s the town had become such a favourite of the wealthy that it then earned the title of 'the richest town in England'. While its overall popularity as a resort continued well into the 20th century, the moneyed inhabitants in the main, slowly drifted away leaving many of their luxury villas to be converted into hotels and B&Bs.
While the pull of low cost overseas holidays led to a decline in holidaymakers (like so many other seaside resorts in the UK), today the town has seen a surge of interest from foreign investors who are funding the development of several new four and five star hotels. As a result by 2023 Torquay could well boast the biggest increase in new hotel accommodation of any English seaside resort. Travel around the bay and you come to Torquay's sister towns of Paignton and Brixham. They too are also experiencing a resurgence in popularity which is hardly surprising with their enviable location on one of the UK's most beautiful coastlines.
Torre Abbey Museum
If you want to understand the fascinating history of Torquay this is the perfect place to start. This is no dry and dusty museum but a brilliantly curated exhibition which takes the visitor through the various highs and lows of our history. Rapidly growing as the Bay’s key cultural hub, the museum hosts world class exhibitions alongside creative work from local emerging talent. The Abbey is a real hive of activity which ranges from comedy nights to outdoor theatre and cinema in amongst the stunning ruins. When the sun is shining your attention might be drawn elsewhere, but otherwise it really is worth a visit.
The King's Drive, Torquay TQ2 5JE
There aren't many towns that can boast a world class zoo on their doorstep but we can! Paignton Zoo. Almost 100 years old, it was founded in 1923 by Herbert Whitley, son of a brewing tycoon of the time, and opened its doors as the Torbay Zoological Gardens. Since then, over many years, it has gained an enviable reputation for education and research. Visitors will not be disappointed as the zoos extensive list of 'guests' includes everything from lions, tigers, giraffes, rhinos and elephants to orang-utans, boa constrictors and a host of other four and two legged friends and slightly less friendly ones! In fact there's over 2,000 to get to know. And the experience starts from the moment you park and walk to the entrance accompanied by the sounds of jungle wildlife coming from the bushes that line the path. Great fun!
Totnes Rd, Paignton TQ4 7EU
Though modest in size as a town, Brixham is one of Britain's most important fishing ports as it handles a more diverse and greater value catch than any other British port. It's a town of two parts, Cowtown the area on top of the hill where the farmers lived, while around the harbour is Fishtown home to the fishermen. Yet it hasn't only been fish that brought wealth to the town. In earlier times it was also home to the odd pirate or two. You'll find tied up in the harbour a life size replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship the Golden Hind. Not surprisingly you'll find the odd fish restaurant or two lining the harbour too!
Hampton Ave, Babbacombe, Torquay TQ1 3LA
When the significance of the finds that were being unearthed began to become apparent in the (yet to be named) Kents Caverns, no less than author of 'Origins of the Species' Charles Darwin made a beeline to Torquay to spend several weeks observing the excavations. In total it took 15 years to dig out the tonnes of remains left by stone age hunters which now leave us with an extensive and fascinating labyrinth of caverns. Surrounded by 400 million year old rocks and spectacular stalagmites and stalactites, the caves - one of the most important Stone Age sites in Europe - rather eerily maintain a constant 14c temperature all by themselves, which makes them yet another fascinating all weather attraction. In fact on a hot day you won't want to leave!
91 Ilsham Rd, Torquay TQ1 2JF
It may be relatively modest in size but the museum holds an incredible array of over 30,000 artefacts tracing the history, both ancient and modern, of the Torbay area. There are ever changing special exhibitions so always worth checking to see what's on.
529 Babbacombe Rd, Torquay TQ1 1HG
babbacombe model village
A favourite subject for many a national newspaper picture editor, the model village is a tourist institution and attracts fans young and old alike. Covering four and half acres it features over 400 models of houses, stately homes, factories, shops, entertainment venues and environmental features. Not forgetting, of course, 13,000 miniature people who live there.
Hampton Ave, Babbacombe, Torquay TQ1 3LA
Think quintessential English country village and Cockington pretty much ticks all the boxes. A picturesque cluster of thatched cottages including the old forge which gained a mention in the Doomsday Book, the Drum pub designed by Edward Lutyens and a short walk away through parkland there's Cockington Court, a historic manor house with over twenty craft studios, tea rooms, walled art garden, tudor rose garden, contemporary art gallery and nearby the lovely, historic Cockington Church.
Cockington, Torquay, Devon, TQ2 6XA