Torquay, Devon Hotels, Resort Accommodations

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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 .

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