Sporting a mini-corniche
and promenades landscaped with flowerbeds, TORQUAY , the
main centre of the tourist conglomeration at Torbay , comes closest
to living up to the self-penned "English Riviera" sobriquet.
The much-vaunted palm trees (actually New Zealand cabbage trees)
and the coloured lights that festoon the harbour by night contribute
to the town's unique flavour, a slightly frayed combination of
the exotic and the classically English. Torquay's transformation
from a fishing village began with its establishment as a fashionable
haven for invalids, among them the consumptive Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, who spent three years here. In recent years the most
famous figures previously associated with Torquay - crimewriter
Agatha Christie and traveller Freya Stark - have given way to
the fictional TV hotelier Basil Fawlty, whose jingoism and injured
pride perfectly encapsulate the town's adaptation to the demands
of mass tourism.
The town is focused on
the small harbour and marina, separated by limestone cliffs sprouting
white high-rise hotels and apartment blocks from Torquay's main
beach, Abbey Sands . Good for chucking a frisbee about but too
busy for serious relaxation, it takes its name from Torre Abbey
, sited in ornamental gardens behind the beachside road. The
Norman church that once stood here was razed by Henry VIII, though
a gatehouse, tithe barn, chapter house and tower escaped demolition.
The present Abbey Mansion (Easter-Oct daily 9.30am-6pm) is a
seventeenth- and eighteenth-century construction, now containing
the mayor's office, a suite of period rooms with collections
of paintings, silver and glass. The Torquay Museum , above the
harbour at 529 Babbacombe Rd (Easter-Oct Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun
1.30-5pm; Nov-Easter Mon-Fri 10am-5pm), tells about local history
and features natural history collections.
Walking north round the
promontory from the harbour, you'll reach some good sand beaches,
nearest of which Meadfoot Beach , lies at the end of a pretty
half-mile coastal walk that takes you through Daddyhole Plain,
a large chasm in the cliff caused by a landslide. If you're searching
for something a little more low-key, continue round the point
to where a series of beaches extends along the coast as far as
the cliff-backed coves of Watcombe and Maidencombe .