For an eco-friendly staycation with a difference, Alexandra Delf says Devon offers country air, stormy seas and crackling fires that allow you to immerse yourself in nature
hey say of course that there’s no place like home, however when it comes to the luxury of booking some time off, a staycation doesn’t always rush to the top of my bucket list – white sands and clear turquoise seas of a far-flung destination seem to hold a stronger allure.
However, in recent years, the rise in collective consciousness on sustainability and individual carbon footprints has thrown a new contrast on long-haul travel with an increase in no-fly-holidays within the UK, which still offer something out of the ordinary. To assist with my unearthing of such hidden gems I turned to Stay One Degree, the first social network offering unique private homes, usually unavailable to the public.
The rural charms of Devon were never something I had found enticing enough to take time off to enjoy and the area did not evoke thoughts of modernist architecture, award-winning design and sustainable construction. However, to my surprise that is exactly what I discovered when I hopped on a train at Paddington and within a couple of hours, found myself with a glass of wine in hand, overlooking the stormy Atlantic Ocean.
With its mild climate, incredible coastlines and heather clad moorlands Devon offers much for the senses, including beaches beautiful enough to compete with the Mediterranean. Woolacombe Bay is a stretch of golden sand beach, a whole two and a half miles of it, with rolling Atlantic breaks as far as the eye can see. This is one of the UK’s most popular beaches, with good reason, and a property known as the Beach House allows total immersion in the elements from the comfort of an extremely stylish retreat.
When I arrived at the first home from home for the long weekend, the location immediately ticked many of the boxes – stunning scenery, an abundance of fresh salty air, a short walk to the sands of Woolacombe Bay and plenty of hiking options. Most unusually, I noticed this property stood out from the rest, nestled at the end of an unassuming residential area, a wall of burnt Japanese wood or Shou Sugi Ban had no front door in sight. I was delighted to discover on entering this striking contemporary home that it was no usual Devon Beach House, but was in fact channelling more than just a little rock and roll!
Unfortunately, on this particular weekend, I was accompanied by Storm Chiara, which whipped up the winds across the bay, spraying salty ocean and bending the trees and fields to its will. However, wave watching through the panoramic windows from the cosy sofa, complete with decadent fur rugs brought me a feeling of joyful hibernation.
I found spending time in the property an exploration in itself, with lots to take in with bold artwork dotted throughout the light-flooded main living area and stunning panoramic views from the kitchen, living spaces, bar and cedar-clad hot tub. The owner, an award-winning interior designer, seamlessly blends modern open plan living with elegant crystal chandelier details and a suspended fireplace.
With four en-suite bedrooms, one of which holds bunk beds sleeping four, it’s a property I would easily return to with my extended family, letting the kids go free range. Once the weather abated, I strapped on my wellies and ventured out on a short walk down to Woolacombe Beach. Muffled up against the elements, it was a beautiful but bracing trip down a winding path to the wide open, fairly empty beach. Despite the storm, surfers and kayakers were still enjoying the waves. Even I courageously managed to roll up my jeans and dip a toe into the icy water, swiftly deciding the hot tub back at The Beach House was probably a better idea.
Renting through Stay One Degree also means access to personal recommendations from the owners and one such highlight was an introduction to caterers Seadog. They focus on seasonal, sustainable produce with a low environmental impact such as local Devon crab, seaweed and homemade kombucha.
Sustainable tourism in Devon and beyond is on the rise and with it, the option and awareness of eco-friendly factors when choosing a home from home. With this in mind, although I was sad to leave the beauty of the windswept coastline of Woolacombe behind, I was excited to try the next luxurious property that promised to be a beacon of sustainability and design.
Rooted in deepest Devon countryside in a small village not far from Tiverton is a chicly minimalistic property with sustainability at its core. An ultra-modern home in pure Devon wilderness, The Tree House sits at the end of a long and well beaten country lane, hidden within its own private woodlands. Offering panoramic floor-to-ceiling wraparound windows, the main living space blends effortlessly into the natural landscape. I spent an afternoon storm-watching from here, looking out as the surrounding trees whipped back and forth in the wind, safe and warm around the firepit, enjoying some digital downtime.
Designed by Devon-based architect David Sheppard using timber from the estate, this property has a powerful connection to nature, taking its energy and heating from solar and a geothermal exchange based within the outdoor ponds. Confirming its design pedigree, it was shortlisted for The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) House of the Year Award and won the South West Award in 2019.
With four bedrooms but sleeping 11, the house is stylishly elemental with mainly minimalist-inspired interiors. Pops of colour include a decadent snug, bedecked in green velvet. As it was more difficult to get out into nature given the weather, it was a delight to bring some of the countryside in with a cooking session from local chef, Wylde About Food. Not an accomplished chef myself, I was glad to be put to task chopping succulent local vegetables and sampling local cheeses. Within a couple of hours, the long wooden table was groaning under the weight of delicious Devon tarts, honey cream desserts and a rainbow selection of mouth-watering vegetarian goodies.
Heading back into London with the cobwebs blown away, I feel fresher and more revitalised, having slipped into a more laid-back rhythm of life. Whilst there will always be a place in my heart for an exotic landscape and tropical climate, nothing quite hits the spot like a stylish eco-conscious weekend in the bucolic English countryside. Despite the gale force winds, Devon swept me off my feet and given the opportunity, I would head back at the drop of a muddy boot.
Stay One Degree offers The Tree House in Tiverton from £700 per night which sleeps 11 and The Beach House in Woolacombe from £500 per night which sleeps 10.