In its calm, unhurried way, east Devon is re-emerging from a terrible pasting from poor summer weather, and it makes a perfectly cosy place to while away a crisp, long winter weekend.
Welcome to a gentler pace of life, where shop assistants have time to talk. This is what happens at a splendid deli in Sidmouth, the jewel on this stretch of the coast.
The seaside town which entranced Regency England and fascinated Queen Victoria is maintained so well that more than 500 buildings are listed for architectural interest, including a splendid Georgian terrace on the Esplanade.
Little seems to have changed here since the ’50s. How strange to see an English seafront with every building in a perfect state of repair.
One morning, we leave the car on Salcombe Hill, circle the Observatory, and walk down the hill on the South-West Coastal Path as a panoramic view of the town opens up before us.
The red cliff face of Peak Hill sits like a giant bookend on the far side of the town and beyond Sidmouth’s small strip of sandy beach below Jacob’s Ladder.
The base for our week is a courtyard of converted stone barns a mile or so inland of the Lyme Regis-Exmouth coast road.
Higher Wiscombe is part of the Premier Cottages consortium, which boasts five-star self-catering few rivals are able to match.
Whatever the season, almost any holiday in Devon includes at least one day when the rain never stops, and soggy clouds sit motionless on the hills.
That’s when posh self-catering comes into its own. Our three-bedroom thatched barn has underfloor heating, remarkably comfy beds and views (on bright mornings) when it’s worth setting an early alarm to catch shafts of sunlight climbing up the hill across the valley.
From Higher Wiscombe, there is plenty to explore within a half hour’s drive.
Beer, a seaside village which has lately gone up in the world, is just down the road.
Almost on our doorstep is the famous Donkey Sanctuary outside Sidmouth, where donkeys in serene and no doubt well-deserved retirement munch the greensward.
In the other direction lies Seaton, where once-heaving holiday camps have made way for a gleaming new Tesco.
In the carpet town of Axminster, The River Cottage Canteen and Deli in Trinity Square is hidden behind steamed-up front windows. Once inside, we find a queue for seats in the wide open space which once provided the town’s ballroom.
This is part of the empire of TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, its dishes based on produce from local farms and fishermen. As my wife salivates over her dish of pork, I cast an envious eye over sheepskins on the walls selling at £55 a pop.
Also worth a visit is The Salty Monk, in the Sid Valley. This solid 16th century building was once used by Benedictine Monks who traded salt at Exeter Cathedral.
Annette and Andy Witheridge bought it as a boutique B&B in 1999 and have extended the building ever since:.
‘So many guests go on to Cornwall,’ says a puzzled Andy, ‘when there is so much to see and do around here!’
When you find the best of East Devon, you’ll see his point of view.
Jeremy Gates was a guest of Premier Cottages, which features almost 1,000 four and five-star self-catering cottages in the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands.
A seven-night stay for up to six people in Higher Wiscombe’s Thatched Barn ranges from £495 to £2,095 and three night weekend breaks from £455 to £1295.
For reservations call 01404 871 360 or visit premiercottages.co.uk