On the Road: a Beach-Lover's Guide to England's Atlantic Highway

Padstow is one of Cornwall's best beach stops on an Atlantic Highway road trip
Padstow is one of Cornwall's best beach stops on an Atlantic Highway road trip | © edjosephotography / Getty Images
Photo of Nick Dauk
13 September 2021

Seafood restaurants and surfing breaks await along this all-star road trip through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

England’s South West may be the most popular holiday destination in the country, but it’s also home to the little-known Atlantic Highway. Perfectly plotted and planned for beach lovers, this scenic coastal road trip traverses three counties, offering the best of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall in one sitting. From eccentric art deco towns to quaint fishing villages and sandy beaches, this Atlantic-hugging highway along the peninsula’s north coast is an adventure deserving of a brand new swimsuit. Pack the suntan lotion, ready the road snacks, and get set for surfing, local seafood and stays in smart harbourside hotels.

Hiking trails and high tea in Exmoor

Luttrell Arms Hotel, Exmoor

Hotel
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Courtesy of Luttrell Arms Hotel / Expedia
A good night’s rest and afternoon tea at Luttrell Arms Hotel will start your journey off nicely. This hotel in the medieval village of Dunster allows you to lay your head amid the wilds of Exmoor National Park, with hiking trails and free-roaming Exmoor ponies waiting to greet you next morning. Their dog-friendly rooms, with private terraces, antique furniture or fireplaces, are comfortable for all creatures. Don’t miss the fresh cakes and tea served in the garden.

Lynton and Lynmouth

Hiking Trail
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Lynton, Devon, England, UK. March 2019. A view of the Devonshire coastline towards Exmoor from Lynton a popular tourist town.
© Peter Titmuss / Alamy Stock Photo
A half-hour’s drive west of the Luttrell Arms Hotel, on the north Devon coast, will land you in the twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth. Connected by the Victorian water-powered Cliff Railway, you can split your time between the charming fishing cottages in Lynton and the tranquil Glen Lyn Gorge at the River Lyn. Both villages are ideal for a short stop if you want to stretch your legs – there are scenic walking routes into Exmoor and along the South West Coast Path from here.

Surfers and seafarers on North Devon’s coast

Watersmeet Hotel, Woolacombe

Hotel
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Courtesy of Watersmeet Hotel / Expedia
Watersmeet Hotel serves up sea views so stunning that you’ll be tempted to join the surfers carving up north Devon’s wetsuit-wearing heartland. Private steps lead you from your cosy Beach Loft Suite down to the sands of Combesgate Beach, with the broad sands of Woolacombe Beach just a few paces further around the headland. More surfing can be found at Croyde Beach, but the sounds of the sea and a full-body aromatherapy massage can deliver just as much pleasure at the Watersmeet Spa.

Clovelly

Natural Feature
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Tha harbour, Clovelly, North Devon
© Peter K.Lloyd / Alamy Stock Photo
If it was good enough for William the Conqueror to own, surely Clovelly is worth a visit on your Atlantic Highway adventure. The manicured Clovelly Court Gardens and restored Victorian greenhouses are some of the most serene spots in this perfectly preserved, age-old fishing village that’s run by an estate – note a small entrance fee applies. Here, time slips away, cars are absent, boats are favoured and carts haul goods up steep cobbled streets. Stop in at the Red Lion pub, then spend the afternoon admiring the 13th-century Clovelly Quay and Jurassic-looking coastline.

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  • Seafood and sea views in Cornwall

    Bedruthan Hotel and Spa, Newquay

    Spa Hotel, Hotel, Luxury
    Bedruthan Hotel and Spa
    Courtesy of Bedruthan Hotel / Expedia
    Let the Cornish clifftops embrace you with a cool sea breeze and an unbeatable view at Bedruthan Hotel and Spa. These colorful, contemporary rooms – the best with giant sea-spying windows – will act as your own coastal hideaway for however long you desire. Should you desire a deeper getaway, the Sensory Spa Garden will bathe you in a seven-stage thermal therapy that’ll make you feel at one with the sea. Spend the rest of your evening savouring small plates of slowly perfected flavours at the Herring, making plans to soak up the sun on nearby Newquay Beach the following morning.
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    Padstow

    Architectural Landmark
    Map View
    © Graham Prentice / Alamy Stock Photo
    The smell of the sea will make you crave the day’s boat-sourced bounty, so follow your nose to Padstow for celebrated chef Rick Stein’s renowned Seafood Restaurant. It’s reputation for the freshest fish and shellfish stretches back almost half a century to 1975, and has spawned several offshoots in Padstow – including a cafe, bistro and fish and chips shop. At the restaurant, wade into a celebration of seafood with Rick’s bespoke smoked salmon, grilled Padstow lobster and whole Dover sole.

    All about the art in St Ives

    Trevose Harbour House, St Ives

    Hotel
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    Courtesy of Trevose Harbour House / Expedia
    With St Ives Bay waving at you from your Harbour View Roof Suite at Trevose Harbour House, you’ll be happy you packed a couple of swimsuits. Wake up to a nourishing seasonal breakfast, slide into your bathers and take your pick of the beaches along the bay. Porthminster to the south will greet you with golden sands and a renowned cafe, while a castle will welcome you to Porthgwidden Beach in the north. Before you head out, pause to admire the local artwork adorning Trevose’s guest house walls.
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    Tate St Ives

    Museum
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    © Paul Melling / Alamy Stock Photo
    Should a rainy day water down your beach plans, the vibrant collection of modern and contemporary art at the Tate St Ives will brighten your day. Cornwall has been a haven for artists since the 19th century, and later gave rise to the St Ives School of artists between the 1940s and 1960s – whose painters used the area’s fishing villages to make their mark on British art. Explore their work and much more at this all-star outpost of the Tate galleries.

    The final act at Land’s End

    Artist Residence Penzance, Cornwall

    Hotel
    Artist Residence, Penzance copy
    Courtesy of Artist Residence / Expedia
    As your drive comes to a close, Artist Residence Penzance invites you to immerse yourself in seaside charm for one last time. This revitalised Georgian hotel is playfully peppered with limited-edition modern art, reclaimed furniture and vintage decor. Soak in the roll-top tub of your suite or take in views from the Lookout – the best room in the house – as you gaze down at the sea from Penzance’s rooftops. Slowly sip Cornish pints in the Clubhouse and toast to an adventure well spent.
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    The Jubilee Pool

    Swimming Pool
    Map View
    © Simon Maycock / Alamy Stock Photo
    Swap the beach for the Jubilee Pool and spend the day floating around this restored, Victorian-era geothermal lido. This outdoor seawater swimming spot is as relaxing as it sounds with panoramic views of the sea from the cafe’s top-tier terrace – the perfect place to towel off with a drink and toast your trip.

    Minack Theatre

    Theatre
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    The Minack Theatre overlooking the sea at Porthcurno near Penzance, Cornwall, England, UK - with people watching a performance
    © incamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo
    Guided tours detail the secret history of this open-air, cliff-raised theatre at the tail end of Britain, overlooking the golden sands of Porthcurno Beach, near the coastal full stop of Land’s End. You can also tour their cliff-top garden, catch a performance in the summer season and sometimes spot basking sharks and other marine life while the players play – the perfect way to end your coastal cruise along England’s Atlantic Highway.
    These recommendations were updated on September 13, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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