The English Riviera: Murder, Intrigue and Mystery

Godfrey Hall is an award-winning UK based travel journalist and member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. He has been in search of elves in Iceland, traveled to the depths of central Australia and been off the beaten track in Bulgaria.

About three hours from London by train, Torbay — or the English Riviera as it is often more commonly known — is a collection of resorts along the South Devon coast. Home of the famous crime writer Agatha Christie, the area provides a wide range of water activities, a number of seaside towns such as Torquay and Paignton, and pretty fishing villages including Brixham with its delightful harbor, pubs and cafes. The region seems to have its own microclimate, and visitors are often surprised by the exotic plants and warm spells of weather in the winter.

Places to see

Boathouse at Greenway featured in Agatha Christie's Stories (Godfrey Hall)

Boathouse at Greenway featured in Agatha Christie’s Stories (Godfrey Hall)

One of my favorite places is the Greenway Estate, home of crime writer Agatha Christie. Owned by the National Trust, it is tucked away by the side of the River Dart. Here you can find out more about the author who was a well-known figure in Torquay. Many of her crimes are set in and around the Greenway Estate.

Torquay has a lot to offer with a small harbor, aquarium and plenty of shops. There is also a pleasant beach. Take the bus or ferry to Brixham, a fishing harbor that is still operational. Stop for a drink in one of the harborside pubs and mix with some of the trawler crews who will often have a story to tell.

Close to Torquay are Kents Caverns, great for children and adults. A good tip to save money is to buy the tickets online. The guides for these prehistoric caves are excellent, and most have an intimate knowledge of the area. Babbacombe Model Village is also close by, or you may like to try St Marychurch.

If you’re visiting in the summer then make for Babbacombe Beach, where you may be able to spot Sammy the Seal, a local TV star who is a regular visitor to the bay. The area is also great for coastal walks or just promenading. Torquay has an excellent tourist information center close to the harbor.

River Dart (Godfrey Hall)

River Dart (Godfrey Hall)


Torbay has plenty of places to stay; however, if you are looking for a real hideaway then you should make for the Cary Arms at the bottom of a steep hill in Babbacombe. A boutique hotel, it has just seven rooms beautifully equipped and a quaint bar where you can purchase local dishes such as Brixham plaice or Devon lamb. Or you could book into the Grand Hotel on the front in Torquay and try out the Agatha Christie Suite. There are also plenty of bed and breakfast establishments and self-catering apartments. It can be busy in the summer so it is advisable to book in advance.

The Cary Arms, Babbacombe (Godfrey Hall)

The Cary Arms, Babbacombe (Godfrey Hall)

If you want to stay somewhere away from the coast, then Totnes has lots of character. For a special experience, consider one of the chocolate box thatched cottages, which are usually tucked away in the local villages. Often these will be able to provide bed and breakfast and on occasion an evening meal.

Food and drink

Devon is famous for its cream teas, which consist of scones or Devon splits (little buns, split and filled with jam and cream), clotted cream and strawberry jam accompanied by a pot of tea.

Other seaside delights that should be tried include fish and chips purchased from a traditional fish and chip shop. The fish is covered in a batter and deep fried, and you usually have a choice of cod, haddock or plaice. It comes with a portion of chips and is best eaten out of the paper. However, most good fish and chip shops also have somewhere to sit. You may want to try some mushy peas with the fish.

Fresh Brixham Plaice at Cary Arms (Godfrey Hall)

Fresh Brixham Plaice at Cary Arms (Godfrey Hall)

The Cary Arms in Babbacombe has a locally sourced menu with freshly cooked dishes including a tasty steak mushroom and Otter Ale pie or local mussels. You can also get good pub food in the area. For snacks, try the Green Leaf Café, which is tucked away in the center of Torquay. Here you can get a variety of freshly produced dishes. You can also try the local pasties (pastry with meat and vegetables inside).

There are a number of local beers and also cider, which is often added to the dishes. It is also drunk with pork dishes. A full English breakfast includes eggs, bacon, sausages and tomatoes and is usually on offer at most hotels and guest houses. Traditionally breakfast also includes toast and marmalade. For those watching their figures, a continental version should also be on offer. If you are looking for a reasonably priced lunch then a good place to try is a local department store such as Debenhams, which has a wide selection of dishes.


Agatha Christie Tour (Godfrey Hall)

Agatha Christie Tour (Godfrey Hall)

There is nightlife galore in Torquay and the surrounding seaside resorts. However, if you are looking for a more traditional evening, then try one of the many pubs. For the young at heart, the area is bristling with clubs including the Café Mango with its great views of the bay or the Banx Café Bar. The Venue nightclub has a lot to offer and has been going for around 15 years. It is popular with a younger crowd and is buzzing most nights. The Cider Press is an excellent pub in the center of the town, or try the oldest pub in town, the Hole in the Wall. Out of the main area there are lots of pubs where you can get a chance to meet the locals and swap stories — The Thatched Tavern at Maidencombe is a great place start.


The English Riviera is around three hours by train from London using either First Great Western, which has some very good offers, or South West Trains via Exeter. The station in Torquay is just a short walk along the front to the center and there are stations in Paignton, Totnes and Newton Abbot nearby. There is an excellent bus service including the number 12, which runs every few minutes connecting Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. Buses also run regularly to the market town of Newton Abbot. There is a very cheap ferry that operates across the bay from Torquay to Brixham, weather permitting. In the summer there are also plenty of extra seasonal boat trips. The Paignton and Dartmouth steam railway operates along the coast.  Regional airports include Exeter, Bristol and Newquay. Torbay can also be reached by road via the M4/ M5 and M3/A303 from London.

For more information about Torbay, visit: and

Brixham Harbour (Godfrey Hall)

Brixham Harbour (Godfrey Hall) Expert Tips

How To Get There: As noted by the author, the English Riviera is around three hours by train from London. Trains leave from London Paddington Station, and a one-way ticket starts from £20.50. Tickets and schedules are available at First Great Western or South West Trains.

London’s two main airports, London Heathrow (LHR) and London Gatwick (LGW), have several nonstop flights from the U.S..

Best Time To Visit: Regardless of when you visit the English Riviera, chances are you’ll encounter rain, like most of the British Isles. On average, May to August would have the least amount of rain, while December to March would be the wettest months. It doesn’t get really hot there, as the average temperature high in summer is in the mid to high-60s, and evenings are in the low to mid-50s. The winter months aren’t too cold, generally in the 40s, but you’ll have a short amount of daylight.

Sample Fares: Calendars display lowest roundtrip fares over the next 90 days to London from:
* All fares are roundtrip including all taxes and are accurate at time of publication. For updated pricing, conduct a new search on

Featured Image: Torquay Harbour (Godfrey Hall)

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