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I discovered the UK's hidden wellness hotspot – and it's not where you'd expect

I'm not one for gatekeeping…

Melanie Macleod
Wellness Editor
Updated: May 14, 2024
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If I said I'd been to the UK's wellness capital, you might think I'm talking about London, with its endless high-end spas and treatment centres, or perhaps the Cotswolds, thanks to the growing number of boutique hotels offering spa treatments.

However, last month I discovered a hidden wellness gem – and I'm not one for gatekeeping when it comes to self-care, so I'm more than happy to share it with you.

The UK's hidden wellness gem

sea view of Babbacombe beach© Sarah Lauren Photography
The views surrounding Torbay are incredible

I visited South Devon to stay at The 5* Cary Arms (more on that later), and discovered that Torbay is the ultimate destination when it comes to wellness. The area of Torbay encompasses the coastal towns of Brixham, Paignton and Torquay, and is also known as the English Riviera.

In its heyday, Torbay was a hotspot for well-to-do Victorian visitors, but in 2024, the wellness offering is what will soon be drawing visitors to the area.

From cave yoga (yes, practicing yoga inside the incredible Kents Cavern prehistoric caves), to yoga atop SUP boards in the sea, to walking tours to massages in The Cary Arms' spa (which has the most beautiful clifftop views), I'm yet to visit an area in the UK with a better wellness offering, and I started dreaming up a little self-care road trip when I was there, imagining myself hopping from yoga, to kayak to spa, making my way along the coast.

babbacombe beach in the UK
I discovered the ultimate wellness hotspot in the UK

Embracing drifting

The coastal location of Torbay no doubt contributes to the serene feeling you get in the area, as when we are near water, our brains enter a semi-meditative state known as drifting, a specific form of attention where we feel engaged with the world around us, but not focussed on getting something done. If you've ever found yourself staring at the sea, not realising time is passing, you'll be familiar with drifting.

Perched right on the seafront, The Cary Arms is the perfect location for drifting, especially if you're staying in one of their beach huts which open straight onto the cliff, with a window on the upper mezzanine level opening out to the most incredible sea view, meaning you can watch the waves from bed.

blue and white beach huts
The beach huts at The Cary Arms

Simply focusing on the sea can change our brain wave frequency into a mild meditative state, so it makes sense that I felt extra zen after watching the sea from inside The Cary Arms.

As well as the beach huts, the cottages, which have between two and five bedrooms and sleep up to nine people, are sea-facing with their own entrance, outdoor dining terraces, gardens and BBQ. 

Walking for wellness

Walking is a key component of the English Riviera's impressive wellness offering, particularly The English Riviera Walking Festival, which runs from the fourth to the 19th of May, with guides taking you on a journey along the scenic coastlines.

We went on a walk with Graham Kerr of English Riviera Walking Tours in the area, organised by The Cary Arms.

He tailored the walk to our fitness levels and ensured we were immersed in all the beauty the English Riviera has to offer, including its 20 beaches, all within 20 miles of each other – dreamy!  The area is one of nine Global Geoparks in the UK, due to its awe-inspiring coastline, and in 2015 it became a UNESCO Global Geopark, joining cultural sites such as Stonehenge, Bath and the Taj Mahal - hence the title of 'One of Earth's extraordinary places'. 

For visitors and locals to appreciate its natural beauty, the Geopark Festival runs from 25-31 May, offering a collection of environmentally-friendly experiences, such as sunrise yoga, sea shanties on the beach and coastal plein air painting workshops.

DISCOVER: I went for a walk every day - here's what it did to my stress levels 

As we wandered along the rugged coastline, I felt my shoulders relax and my worries melt away. Of the benefits of walking for our wellbeing, Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, told me: "Our physical health and mental health are closely linked and physical activity such as walking can be very beneficial for our mental health and wellbeing.

"Being active outdoors helps us switch off from everyday pressures, clear our heads and relieves stress by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol," Stephen adds.

Spa treats

Another thing that certainly relieved pressure was the post-hike massage I booked in for at The Cary Arms' spa. Small but perfectly formed, the spa has a deck for looking out over the shore, with a maximum of six people able to book into the space, keeping it peaceful.

Spa pool looking out over the ocean
The spa at The Cary Arms has sea views

After a sublime massage which eased my aches and pains, I slipped into the hydrotherapy pool overlooking the sea, content that I'd discovered my favourite new wellness destination. I'll be returning as soon as possible!

Stay at The Cary Arms' Beach Hut from £295 B&B.

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