Not many people know this, but during the Roman conquest the Britons who inhabited the southwest of England were known as “deep valley dwellers”, from which the term Devon is derived. These days it's the natural attractions of the region that people come for: two National Parks, some of the best (and sandiest) beaches in the country, and some very enticing towns and seaside resorts. When it comes to exploring, your most difficult decision may well be where to start.
The English Riviera, South Hams and Dartmoor
Tourists have been visiting the resorts along the south Devon coast since the railways began to bring them during the early nineteenth century, after which the area around Torquay, Paignton and Brixham was rather hopefully dubbed the 'English Riviera'. There's lots to do in this part of Devon, such as exploring the ecosystem at the UNESCO-designated Geopark, catching up with the maritime history of the area, and enjoying some of the many festivals and sporting events. Brixham is a centre for maritime attractions, while Paignton offers good old-fashioned seaside fun. The world’s most published author, Agatha Christie, who used to live nearby, is remembered in a gallery of the Torquay Museum and at her riverside home, Greenway, where the English Riviera becomes the South Hams, home to the yachty towns of Dartmouth and Salcombe and some fabulous beaches and seaside attractions – Slapton Sands, Blackpool Sands, Lannacombe, and of course the half-connected island of Bigbury, whose Burgh Island inspired Christie to write her seminal story, And Then There were None.
There's more literary inspiration north of the South Hams, on Dartmoor probably the most famous of Devon's two National Parks and a wild and rugged landscape where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set his chilling tale The Hound of the Baskervilles. It's naturally great walking and cycling country, not least with Dartmoor electric bikes. Pop into the Visitor Centre in Princetown – also home to the moor's famous and rather forbidding prison – for information, maps and hiking maps.
North Devon and Exmoor
North Devon is the more rugged proposition, with superb surfing beaches around Croyde and down towards the workaday regional capital of Barnstaple, and the high moors and deep valleys of Exmoor a little way to the east – one of the county's two designated National Parks. A little way south of Barnstaple, Great Torrington is home to North Devon's Dartington enterprise, where they make world-renowned Dartington crystal glass. They have a visitor centre and host hands-on educational activities for kids, and you can take a Dartington Crystal tour to watch the glassblowers at work. As you would expect there's a wide range of gifts to buy in the factory shop, from Italian glass to lamp work jewellery, all of which can be personalised to order.