Superb eateries, hidden coves and creeks, wildlife-spotting galore and excellent surfing are just a few of the many reasons to visit this seaside county.

The Unesco Biosphere Reserve in north Devon, Braunton Burrows, is the UK’s largest dune system. Paths wind past sandy hummocks, saltmarshes and rich plant life. It was also the main training area for American troops before D-Day and mock landing craft are still hidden in the dunes near the car park at its southern tip (open year round; free).

Slapton Sands, a two-mile pebble beach in south Devon, is backed by Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve, the largest natural lake in the southwest – the narrow strip of road between the two makes for some superb walking. Fringed by reed beds and woods, the ley is alive with flora and fauna – look out for yellow iris, tufted ducks, great crested grebes, pochards and, if you’re lucky, otters (open year round; free).

Twelve miles off the north coast, tranquil Lundy Island, thought to mean “Puffin Island” in Old Norse, is renowned for just that. In May and June, puffins nest on the island’s 400ft cliffs, but other wildlife on the little island includes Lundy ponies, sika deer and Soay sheep, while basking sharks float by offshore. Pack a swimsuit because wardens lead snorkelling safaris (ferry day return from Bideford or Ilfracombe £35).

Culture and sights
By the River Dart, Greenway was Agatha Christie’s holiday home between 1938–76. It opened to visitors in 2009 and part-guided tours allow you to wander between rooms where the furnishings and knick-knacks are much as she left them. The boathouse made an appearance as a murder scene in Dead Man’s Folly (Greenway Road; entrance £9).

Cobbles are everywhere in the fishing village of Clovelly: they smother houses, garden walls and the steep lanes, giving the village the feel of flowing down the hill to the sea. It’s privately owned and you have to pay to get in at the visitor centre, which leads to a cobbled lane too steep for cars. Fisherman’s Cottage recreates the interior of a 1930s village house and Kingsley Museum pays tribute to The Water Babies author (£6.50, includes entrance to museums).

Take an art tour at the Barbican, Plymouth’s old harbour, which has provided inspiration for artists for decades and has a scattering of galleries that line the streets. The murals of painter Robert Lenkiewicz (1941-2002) still dot the Barbican, while his huge The Last Judgement is outside Pannier Market. Plymouth-based Beryl Cook (1926-2008) is famed for her cheerful depictions of large brash ladies in a variety of Barbican scenes – head to the Dolphin Hotel pub, which she immortalised in several paintings.

Eating and drinking
Tucked into a deep fissure of rock, ancient Beer is a picturesque fishing village. Multicoloured, snub-nose boats line its sloping pebble beach and piles of crab and lobster pots lie scattered around. Beside the Sea Hill slipway a fishmonger’s shack, Beer Fish, sells the catch, allowing you to enjoy handpicked crab (£5 a tub) for a picnic on the beach where it was landed.

Twenty miles from Barnstable, the 13th-century thatched pub The Masons Arms – Knowstone, isn’t your standard rural boozer – it comes with a Michelin star. Dishes include duo of brill fillet with potato crust, and red mullet with salmon mousse sausage. Despite that star and the cookery masterclasses (£52.50), it’s still a village local at heart (Knowstone; closed Mon; mains from £17.50).

Just off the seafront, The Orange Tree, Torquay, is award-winning brasserie that takes the best local fish, meat and game, and gives it the continental treatment. Expect dishes such as Brixham crab bisque with king scallops and rump of West Country lamb with cherry vine tomatoes and black olive tapenade jus (14-16 Parkhill Road; closed Sun & Mon; mains from £15).

Exeter is Devon’s main transport hub, with flights into its airport from Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and Norwich (from £88). Trains and buses connect Exeter with the rest of the UK – trains from London take from 2¼ hours (from £28), while buses take from four hours (from £11). Most visitors come to the southwest by car and it’s certainly the best way to get around, although traffic can be heavy in high season. For details of public transport options, see Traveline for local bus, coach and train timetables.

Where to stay
The laidback Durham House sits in the centre of the village of Beer. The eight rooms are decorated with reclaimed pine furniture, while the rest of the b&b is full of turn-of-the-century charm (Fore Street; from £74).

Not so much a room with a view, more a view with a room. Set on Clovelly Quay, the Red Lion Hotel dates from the 18th century and each of the 11 rooms has a nautical theme, with Lloyd Loom-style furniture (The Quay; from £136).

At the Cary Arms in Torquay, the neutral tones are jazzed up with candy-striped cushions, balconies overlook the beach and children are given a fishing net on arrival. Self-catering cottages are also available (Babbacombe Beach; from £175).

The article 'Mini guide to coastal Devon' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.