Scroll to Top
Win a break to Tanzania’s five-star Lake Manyara Kilimamoja Lodge

Hotel Review: Gara Rock, East Portlemouth in South Devon

LLM’s travel and food editor heads to this secluded retreat that offers stylish suites, great food, and a relaxed atmosphere in a sublime setting.

By Natasha Heard  |  November 15, 2021
Gara Rock

There is always something rather promising about winding your way down a country lane, edging your way closer to the water and uncovering an otherwise hidden retreat that is to be your home from home for a period of time.

I feel the best escapes are those that take a little bit of effort to get there, and any that sit in a prime position on the cliffs, as Gara Rock hotel does, are sure to offer some rather stunning scenery from such a perch. I checked in for a night in October and indulged in the facilities, which make the very best of the magnificent location.

Hotel

Gara Rock lounge
The hotel’s lounge offers a welcoming place to enjoy a drink, family games or a small bite to eat

Once the home of humble coastguard watchkeepers and their families, and now the playground of luxury hotel guests, the buildings at Gara Rock have seen quite the transformation since they were originally constructed in the mid-1800s.

After finding its way into hotel territory in 1909, the development of the previous coastguard cottages became host to the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier in its 1930’s heyday, before being requisitioned by the RAF in 1940. After re-opening as a hotel in the 50s, Gara saw a number of renovations over the years, with the current owners buying it in 2016 and giving it a much-needed transformation.

Welcoming, relaxed and casual, this destination hotel and hideaway on the cliffs provided me with plenty of respite and much indulgence for a fitting trip to the shores of South Devon. A wondrous area with dramatic cliffsides and a coastal path that winds up and down (and up and down…) to showcase the hidden coves, splendorous views of the water, which stretches as far as the eye can see, and the rolling sheep-dotted hills that the area is known for, Gara is a real gem.

There are plenty of areas throughout the hotel that allow you to soak up the views, from the rooms and suites to the spa, restaurant, lounge and outdoor terrace, which provides a glorious spot in summer to dine on delights from the OX Grill. And at place that utilises its location so well, it’s all you can do to stop yourself staring at what nature provides here from every angle. 

Room/suite

Gara Rock room
Modern rustic décor with lots of natural elements and useful and stylish touches made for a comfortable place to spend time

I really enjoy the first moments of walking into a new hotel room, seeing what will catch my eye, eager to see if anything will make me utter the word ‘wow’, and when they look like this, it’s a real treat. The newly renovated junior suite at number 15 struck me with jolts of joy as I made my through, firstly with its gorgeous modern rustic décor, secondly by its size, and thirdly by the presence of the coveted view through large patio doors at the end of the suite.

I took my time to take in every aspect, from the balcony showcasing the delights of the surrounding nature, to the expertly laid out kitchenette and beautifully styled bathroom, to the top-quality fabrics and appliances to the super-sized and super cosy bed.

Through the front door, which is accessed from outside the main hotel (but not very far at all), past the WC, closet, kitchenette and open bathroom, sits the bedroom and lounging area at the front, decorated with natural elements and warming tones using high-quality furnishings. A large low wood coffee table is encircled by a two-seater sofa and armchair while a low lightshade saw us knocking our heads on it almost every time we headed to the balcony.

Amazingly there seemed to be everything you could need for an extended stay within the compact kitchen area (dishwasher, oven, fridge, two pan integrated hob, toaster, kettle, espresso machine, and sink) and I loved the style, probably because it looked almost exactly like my kitchen at home with its white worktop and dark blue cupboard fronts.

Gara Rock bathroom
The stylish bathroom at suite 15 certainly has the wow factor

Other useful additions in the suite included a row of hooks to hang wet coats after a coastal walk (it amazes me how many hotel rooms omit coat hooks); a stylish shoe bench; a cupboard with hanging space, an ironing board and safe; a huge flat screen TV (who needs the hotel’s cinema with a TV this big in your room?) and Marshall radio in its own cubby underneath; and a hefty serving of Gara’s own sloe gin along with some chocolates.

Later in the day I wished I had time for a lengthy soak in the statement stand-alone bathtub, but there was much to do, the spa was calling, so a post-spa wash with Gara Rack’s gorgeous toiletries in the tucked away walk-in shower it turned out to be.

Lovely design touches and high standard furnishings throughout made this a really homely place to spend time. The only downside was the (newly installed) underfloor heating, which, despite being swiftly looked at when we returned to a rather warm room after dinner, only rose throughout the night reaching 28 Celsius by the morning. Luckily there was a fan in the cupboard as the unpredictable wind and rain meant the patio door had to stay closed. Not ideal, but I’m sure it’s all fixed now!

Food

Gara Rock food
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all a treat, especially with the views to take in too. Image credit: Adam Gibbard

You won’t visit Gara Rock without getting the chance to sample a breakfast, lunch or dinner, or all three like I did, and the restaurant in which meals are served definitely provides the wow factor. With windows stretching around half of the open plan circular restaurant front providing 180-degree scenic sea views, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that the setting will steal the show, but luckily the food is pretty good, too. 

The restaurant certainly makes the best of its position on the coast and some of the outside seeps into the décor, in the most stylish of ways. A modern space that encourages chatter, not hushed tones, with music playing and a casual feel, I felt very comfortable here dining, gaping at the view and conversing with my dining guest.

Breakfast was a serving of eggs royale for me – and probably the nicest eggs I’ve devoured, while lunch was a shared ploughman’s platter, and dinner was a three-course feast.

After a signature blackberry and gin bramble cocktail in the very tastefully decorated bar/lounge area, we headed to the restaurant and chose a quiet corner upon brown leather banqueted seating to peruse the detailed dinner menu over a glass of Champagne. Choose from the likes of oysters, steak tartare, barbecued octopus, lamb rump, Salcombe crab hot pot, wild mushroom risotto, steaks and dayboat fish specials while you sip on a carefully chosen wine or local drink from the bar in the restaurant.

We opted for the torched Cornish mackerel cured in Gara gin, with cucumber, horseradish, crème fraiche, seed cracker and dill – which featured plenty of flavour and texture among the elements, and the scotch egg; warm and tender rare breed pork meat, Bramley apple, sage, an oozing egg and wholegrain mustard that was crispy, meaty and rich from the outside in.

Gara Rock restaurant
The restaurant offers us some of the best views in the house of the locale

‘Tis the season for duck and I find it difficult to resist so I opted for the honey glazed Creedy Carver duck breast, house Dukkha, plum and beetroot with black cabbage, which provided an eye-catching and flavoursome plate of food. The delightfully flavoursome crust on the duck was complemented by sweet and earthy plum and beetroot flavours, making for a great pairing to my glass of Malbec, while the crispy garlic and herb buttered new potatoes on the side were scrummy.

The rump of new season lamb; roast lamb rump, asparagus and peas, burnt leek, fermented potato, whipped ewe’s curd went down a treat, too, and I was informed by my companion that this was ‘gorgeous, cooked beautifully, juicy, moreish, with a rich gravy, and the wonderful addition of the cheese elevated the dish to the next level’.

We enjoyed a welcome break while we sipped, chatted and let our main courses go down before we settled on our dessert choices. Sharing a sweet and the cheese always works well for us and so we opted for the British strawberries, champagne and elderflower jelly and white chocolate mousse, which was fruity, light, refreshing, smooth, tasty and utterly delicious. There was a choice of three or five cheeses, and we’re not that greedy so opted for three – a soft goats’, a cheddar and a blue, which was served with the pastry chef’s homemade crackers, celery and a seasonal chutney.

Overall, this is really accomplished cooking with all dishes looking appetising and tasting just as good. The service was great on this fairly quiet evening, especially from our server Jade, but everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful, and that goes for the rest of the hotel, too.

Spa

Gara Rock spa
Gara Rock’s spa will leave you relaxed with its rustic styling and facilities

No stay at Gara Rock is complete without making use of the range of spa facilities on offer. From the heated outdoor pool, complete with a water slide, to the indoor retreat, complete with sauna, steam room, hot tub and pool, and treatments to indulge in, there are plenty of opportunities to relax here.

I opted for a dip in the indoor pool during my breezy stay and enjoyed a visit to the hot tub and steam room, too with a little time to lounge in the elegant, nature inspired surroundings. There’s an outdoor terrace with a few loungers as well, which offer some enviable views and I imagine provide a glorious setting on sunny days.

Book yourself in for a treatment at the Wild Rock Spa and choose from a range of therapies that range from 30 minutes to two hours, whether it’s your hands, feet, face, back or whole body that you feel needs some attention.

To do

Gara Rock pool
There are plenty of ways to spend your spare time, including taking a dip in the outdoor pool. Image credit: Adam Gibbard

Boasting its own little microclimate – in one day we had rain, sun, wind, rain and repeat! – make sure to take some weatherproof clothing if you’re planning on heading outside to enjoy the beauty of the locale. And it would be remiss of you not to do this. This area alone provides some incredible scenery along the South West Coast Path alone – certainly worthy of an Instagram post or six – while the secluded cove down the cliff path from the hotel provides the perfect spot for a peaceful picnic on sunnier days. Don’t forget to grab a bite to eat or drink from the ‘Garavan’ before you set off!

Take a trip to nearby coastal hot spots including Salcombe, Torcross and Bantham or head to the nearby towns of Totnes, Dartmouth and Kingsbridge for a browse, while a visit to Dartmoor is certainly worth the effort. However, if it’s effort you want to avoid, then Gara Rock certainly provides the ideal place in which to do very little, whether that’s in the plush cinema with your party; relaxing in the lounge with a board game or two; cosying up in your suite; luxuriating in the spa; or dining on delicious dishes in the restaurant.    

In a nutshell

Gara Rock is the perfect escape for when you need some time away in a sublime setting that allows you to indulge, relax, eat, explore and enjoy.

Factbox

Address: East Portlemouth, Near Salcombe, Devon, TQ8 8FA
Tel: 03333 700 555
Website: gararock.com/
Instagram: instagram.com/gararockhotel/

All imagery supplied by Gara Rock.