Devon offers freedom. Its rippling, beach-fringed landscape is studded with historic homes, vibrant cities and wild, wild moors. Here you can ditch schedules and to-do lists and hike a rugged coast path, take a scenic boat trip, or get lost in hedge-lined lanes that aren't even on your map.
Discover collegiate Exeter, touristy Torquay, yachting-haven Dartmouth and alternative Totnes. Or escape to wilderness Dartmoor and the remote, surf-dashed north coast. To replenish your energy, you can sample wines made from the vines beside you and food that's fresh from field, furrow or sea. However you decide to explore Devon – surfing, cycling, kayaking, horse riding, sea swimming or barefoot beachcombing – it'll feel like coming home.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Devon.
Magnificent in warm, honey-coloured stone, Exeter's cathedral is one of Devon’s most impressive ecclesiastical sights. Dating largely from the 12th and 13th centuries, the west front is framed by extraordinary medieval statuary, while inside the ceiling soars upwards to the longest span of unbroken Gothic vaulting in the world, dotted with ornate ceiling bosses in gilt and vibrant colours. Look out for the scale Lego model that's being built beside the main entrance; for £1 you can add a brick.
High on Devon’s must-see list, the captivating summer home of crime writer Agatha Christie sits beside the placid River Dart. Part-guided tours allow you to wander between rooms where the furnishings and knick-knacks are much as the author left them. The bewitching waterside gardens include features that pop up in Christie's mysteries, so you get to spot locations made notorious by fictional murders. Car parking must be prebooked; the better options are to arrive by Greenway Ferry or on foot.
Clovelly is privately owned, and admission is charged at the hilltop visitor centre. The village's cobbled streets are so steep that cars can't cope, so supplies are brought in by sledge; you'll see these big bread baskets on runners leaning outside homes. Charles Kingsley, author of the children's classic The Water Babies, spent much of his early life in Clovelly – don't miss his former house, or the highly atmospheric fisher's cottage and the village's twin chapels.
A fixture on the city's cultural scene since Victorian times, this hulking red-brick museum recently received a £24 million revamp. It's a treasure trove of rambling rooms, filled with glass cases of curiosities and archaeological finds – from samurai armour, African masks and Egyptian mummies in the World Cultures galleries to a truly amazing echinoderm collection of starfish and sea urchins amassed by the inveterate Victorian collector Walter Percy Sladen. Exeter's own history also figures strongly.
The UK's biggest – and perhaps best – aquarium is lodged beside the Barbican harbour. There's a huge amount to see, but the highlight is the impressive Atlantic Ocean tank, the deepest in the UK, with over 2 million litres of water and a population of sand tiger sharks, lemon sharks, barracuda and rays, as well as a replica of a WWII Walrus Seaplane. Other zones explore the Great Barrier Reef, and local habitats including Eddystone Reef and Plymouth Sound.
Around 60,000 tonnes of fish pass through this market, making it the second biggest by volume in England after London's Billingsgate. It's an amazing sight when it's in full flow. Tours can be arranged with the harbourmaster (firstname.lastname@example.org). There are also regular Fish in Sutton Harbour (FISH) guided tours with a local fisher; check www.facebook.com/suttonharbour for the latest.
Three miles south of Totnes off the A381, this renowned vineyard is chiefly known for its crisp, sparkling white wines, as well as its delicious cheeses. Perched above the meandering River Dart, it's become one of the UK's best-known winemakers. You can explore the vine-covered slopes solo (£2.50), followed by a wine and/or cheese tasting in the shop (£7 and £3 respectively), or plump for the full guided tour (£20, 3pm Saturday and Sunday, April to September).
Two miles east of Totnes, this ruined castle was originally built by the feudal Pomeroys in the 15th century. Within the walls is a second stronghold, a Tudor mansion constructed by Edward Seymour, the 1st Duke of Somerset. Unfortunately, the Seymour clan's fortunes turned for the worse after the English Civil war, and by 1700 it was nothing more than a ruin – and has remained so ever since. It's notorious for ghostly goings-on.
This irresistible attraction is home to around 400 donkeys, some rescued from mistreatment or neglect, others retired from working the beaches. Walkways pass fields full of the creatures happily grazing, trotting and rolling in the grass. In the main yard you can mingle freely with animals specially chosen for their fondness of people. It's 3 miles east of Sidmouth. Donations welcome.