It's a family affair at this landmark coastal hotel where you'll find luxury and a warm welcome
The Thurlestone Hotel is so iconic that it makes an appearance on navigation charts – the brilliant white of its Art Deco-inspired design a vivid landmark to vessels venturing across Bigbury Bay in South Devon.
Sailors have been able to use the Thurlestone Hotel to set a course to steer by for over a century; but while the exterior has remained reassuringly familiar, the interior has kept pace with modern life.
This is the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year. Coincidentally, the hotel opened in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee year – 1896.
Today's owners are descendants of the formidable Margaret Amelia Grose, making it the longest family-owned hotel in the country.
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Margaret Amelia and her husband, William John, were farmers in Wadebridge, Cornwall, when they moved to a farm in South Huish in South Devon with their four young sons.
She was quick to spot an opportunity and, when the railway arrived in Kingsbridge, realised that she could offer accommodation to visitors attracted by the beautiful countryside, the sea views and the fresh, healthy environment.
They began taking in paying guests in a farmhouse in Thurlestone (now the Village Inn) in 1896.
You would be right to regard the 1920s and 30s as something of a heyday, with the well-heeled making the pilgrimage to Thurlestone to enjoy the luxury facilities at the hotel.
The Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VIII, trained at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth and would have a round of golf at the newly-opened Thurlestone Golf Club before taking lunch at the hotel.
It was the formidable Margaret Amelia who, on one famous occasion, told him to get his elbows off the table.
I say that this golden era may be regarded as its "heyday", but the hotel, still with the Grose family very much involved, hasn't rested on its laurels.
The outside of this four-star hotel remains traditional, with beautifully maintained grounds extending to 19 acres, but it is inside that the luxury fittings of a top hotel bring you right up to date.
The Grose family have continued to invest in the best, even in times of economic restraint.
This year that investment has led to the opening of the new Voyage Spa – a temple to relaxation with a fabulous indoor swimming pool, hydrotherapy pool, laconium, steam room, fitness studio and beauty rooms.
It sits well alongside the existing facilities – outdoor heated pool, nine-hole golf course, tennis, badminton and squash courts and a snooker room.
On top of all this, you are just five-minutes walk from the sea and the South West Coast Path.
The suite that we stayed in, pictured, has its own balcony with magnificent sea views. It is spacious and incredibly comfortable. You have to tear yourself away to make the most of everything the hotel has to offer.
Food is one of the areas in which the hotel excels. The restaurant (named the Margaret Amelia) is a real fine dining experience. The fact that guests are asked to wear a jacket at dinner suggests a formality that doesn't reflect the comfortable and welcoming atmosphere.
Families are very welcome here and dressing up for dinner seems to be welcomed by everyone.
It does suggest that you are about to experience something rather special... which proves to be the case.
The hotel has held an AA rosette since 1995, serving consistently excellent food.
Head chef Hugh Miller makes the most of local produce and delights diners with pretty plates of delicious food.
As you would expect because of its location, sea food and good quality beef have pride of place on the menu.
At this time of year, you need to use breakfast as the time to enjoy the wonderful view towards the sea. You can go to Sunday lunch (booking vital) as a non-resident.
What I loved about the Thurlestone Hotel is the warmth of the welcome. No wonder the celebrities like to motor down the country lanes to spend weekends and holidays at the hotel.
I haven't been to many places where the maitre'd remembers your name as he leads you to "your table". We met other guests returning to the hotel, some having been visiting here for many years.
We heard tell of some families who came as children and now return with their children.
The Thurlestone is very much a family affair.
The winter tariff (until March 28 and excluding the Christmas and New Year period) starts at £95 per person, per night for a room with a sea view and including breakfast. A deluxe room with a sea view balcony is £145. Call the hotel on 01548 560382 or visit www.thurlestone.co.uk for details of special Christmas and New Year breaks or late offers. Thurlestone Holiday breaks include a four-course dinner and start at £120 per person, per night for a room with a sea view, based on a two-night minimum stay. The hotel will be closed from January 3 to 18.