Thursday, 28 April 2011

Finding a little slice of West Country life to suit you…

Neatly ordered villages of higgledy-piggledy houses are part of the charm of West Country life. But how do you go about finding one for you and your loved ones to cosy up in? How do you know which ones are near a beach or a market town and where to go for a good pub meal or a day out?

We've done the leg work for you. Our Advanced Search will help you quickly generate a shortlist of suitable holiday cottages. Each of our property pages then describes the local area, the holiday cottage itself (plus lots of big photos) and the places to go and things to do within easy reach and further afield. The star rating and holidaymaker comments are also helpful guides to choosing just the right place to stay.

For some, the choice is as simple as being by the coast or in the countryside. Here’s a couple of super examples.

First is a 'neat as a pin' late Georgian terraced cottage in the pretty and peaceful village of Flushing, Cornwall. The beautifully renovated home looks out over a bustling harbour so you can watch the passing boats or get out and about, perhaps using the pedestrian ferry to nearby Falmouth. There, you can indulge sailing fanatics further with a trip to the National Maritime Museum or soak up some history at Pendennis Castle.

Second is this dear semi-detached cottage with lovely long serene views over Marldon village, on the South Hams border. Rolling, lush hills and the nearby John Musgrave Heritage Trail make this a brilliant spot for nature lovers. Situated on a narrow lane 400 yards up a steep hill from a good food pub and church, this little enclave of Devon offers a picture-perfect slice of West Country living.

To see more West Country holiday cottages, visit

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Try a patriotic dish the West Country way this Great British Beef Week…

Great British Beef Week has arrived just in time for some special dishes to grace the tables of the nation's patriotic Bank Holiday parties.

The week runs from 23rd to 30th April and with the Royal Wedding and May Bank Holiday on the way, now is the time to perfect your presentation of this delicious recipe kindly shared with us by highly acclaimed West Country chef, Nick Coiley.

Nick is Head Chef at top restaurant Agaric in Ashburton on Dartmoor, one of our top ten restaurants in our 2011 ‘What Shall We Do Today?’guide.  We’ve over 80 holiday cottages on Dartmoor if you’d like to treat your tastebuds.

Established by Ladies in Beef - a new organisation of female beef farmers across the country - the week is designed to promote and drive awareness of the quality and versatility of British beef to consumers.

West Country livestock farmers are so proud of their beef, they are applying to secure new European status for it. By the time the second Great British Beef Week arrives this long process may have been successfully completed. 

In the meantime, the national movement Ladies in Beef hopes the Red Tractor will receive greater recognition. The Red Tractor is an independent mark of quality that guarantees the food we're buying comes from farms and food companies that meet high standards of food safety and hygiene, animal welfare and environmental protection.

For more recipe suggestions, visit

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Revealing the newest additions to our holiday cottage portfolio…

We've been hunting out hidden holiday cottage gems to add to our hand picked 2011 collection across Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Dorset and the New Forest. 

The result is a supplement of 23 new and returning holiday homes for you to choose from in our growing portfolio of more than 600 coastal, countryside and West Country town retreats. Sleeping two to sixteen guests, prices range from £205 to £4,200 per week and pets are welcome in many.

The tempting additions to our collection include Elmfield, a handsome detached house in Sampford Brett, Somerset, described in 1704 as ‘No.1 Gentleman’s Residence’. Calamansack, a hamlet beside the broad Helford River in Cornwall, is home to Creek Cottage, an enchanting, old cob cottage with wonderful views. 

Haye Barton Farm (pictured) is ideal for a larger gathering: the property in south Cornwall sleeps up to 14 and is a detached, completely private, south-facing farmhouse on three levels, looking out over 115 acres of farmland and bluebell woods which are all yours to roam and enjoy with care. 

Other highlights include part of the west wing of a 13th century farmhouse sleeping four in north Cornwall where scenes from ITV’s drama Doc Martin are filmed (new series starts later in 2011). Or how about this lovely spacious family house in the South Hams, Devon - a real Swallows and Amazons-type area - just a stroll from an excellent pub? 

Our Explore the Area map on each property page of our website will help you plan your stay. It's full of West Country events, pubs, restaurants and places to visit. Plus, this year's edition of our ‘What Shall We Do Today?’ booklet includes special offers for some of the most popular attractions. 

As always, we've visited each of our holiday homes in person to inspect them and give them a star rating, so we can wholeheartedly recommend them. Our telephone team (01647 433593) are all experienced property visitors and will be delighted to guide you. 

All our properties can be viewed online but if you would prefer to peruse them the traditional way (turning over the corners of the pages you want to visit most!), you can request a free copy of our brochure online or by calling us on 01647 433535. 

Happy reading!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Planning a big event?

The Royals can't be the only ones with a big event on their hands this year but we don't all have a palace to fall back on for the venue.

If you’ve been tasked with planning a ‘do’, fear not! Helpful Holidays can come to your rescue with huge holiday homes and grand houses suitable for large gatherings, both formal and informal. True to our name, we can answer any questions you have about the suitability of our big houses to help you find the best match to your needs.

Here are two suggestions that would be perfect for a once-in-a-blue-moon get together over the summer or Christmas holidays or for a special celebration or small conference at any time of year.

Outstanding Brimpts Barn is right in the heart of Dartmoor National Park, where the East and West Dart Rivers meet in a beautiful wooded valley. It sleeps 32 people if you are prepared to bunk up, otherwise 20 very comfortably in ten double or twin bedrooms, all en-suite.

Spectacularly positioned amid trees looking across the deep valley to open moorland and tors, it is one of five ancient tenements of the moor and has been farmed by the same Dartmoor family for more than 30 years. The owners have received a wildlife habitat award from Prince Charles, as well as farm diversification and food producer awards. Cream teas have been available in the farmhouse since 1914 and as the Visitors’ Book of 1933-1947 catalogues, even during the war people found holiday refuge at Brimpts.

Part of the joy of staying here is the range of both energetic and gentle activities available. Most popular are the farm tours by Landrover, but there is also climbing and abseiling instruction on the 30’ high climbing tower, mountain biking tours, orienteering, pony riding – or simply enjoy a scenic walk or a soak in the hot tub.  

Stunning Rashleighayes Farm, sleeping 16 and set on a working farm with its own outdoor pool, is the ultimate fusion of work and play. Just 1½ miles from Bickleigh Bridge and 3 miles south of Tiverton, this is a house of tremendous charm, a special place of ‘treasured isolation’ in its own deep, hidden, beautiful and unspoilt valley.

The original 17th century house has been sympathetically extended. Its south-facing patio and enclosed lawn garden complete with barbecue are great for lazy summer days. The owner is a farmer and environmentalist who will be delighted to show you round the 150 acre working farm, winner of a Devon Wildlife Trust Silver Award and Highly Commended in the 2008 'Britain's Most Beautiful Farm' awards.

The big comfortable living room and enormous kitchen/dining room are ideal for relaxing and socialising and there’s plenty to keep you entertained in the games room with 10’ home-cinema/TV screen, baby grand piano and half-sized snooker table.

We’ve hand-picked around 600 of the finest self-catering holiday cottages in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. Take a look at the rest of our Big Houses to find a special place for your event.


Sunday, 17 April 2011

Closing out our wine week

We've been running a wine-themed week on Facebook, showcasing the West Country's best wines and vineyards and asking for your comments on what wines you like and why.

We especially enjoyed the following comments:

Ruth Thomas: I love a red wine, a nice Shiraz will do. No need to chill just open and enjoy preferably with some good company. Of course to celebrate the start of a lovely holiday you can't beat a sparkling rose, everyone can enjoy that :-)

Brett Jones: Without a shred of sycophancy one of my favourite wines is Camel Valley Sparkling. England is now producing some great wines especially sparkling.

Janette Gaunt: I like a nice Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. However, dreaming of summer holidays and imagining sitting on the patio on a warm evening with a glass of chilled white (or pink!) fizz...perfect!

From the response, it's clear that wine has a strong association with relaxation and holidays, so we hope that you will appreciate our interactive guide to some of the best vineyards in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. A visit to a local winery can be a memorable and enjoyable experience, and we listed some wineries in our blog post earlier this week.

We also ran a poll inviting you to tell us whether you preferred red, white, rose or Champagne - over 40 voted, with red coming out the overall winner. We were really pleased to see so many people interacting on our page this week! Thanks so much for joining in.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Spoil yourself in the South Hams…

Southernmost Devon, between the River Dart and River Tamar and south of Dartmoor, is an area of lush farmland, wooded river valleys and a beautifully preserved coast that ticks so many of the 'how to unwind' boxes we all have when going away. We’ve scoured the South Hams and hand picked an exceptional range of coast and country holiday cottages. Here are a couple of suggestions to whet your appetite, both with an added bonus: leisure activities on tap.

Fixit and Break House, only a mile from the centre of Kingsbridge and its waterfront, were converted from huge barns by an enterprising farmer and his artist wife. The shared indoor pool and ‘The Hen House’ - a fitness, health and beauty centre with a team of professional massage and beauty therapists - add another dimension to a stay here. Holidaymakers are also welcome to fish (at half price) in the three coarse fishing lakes well stocked with tench, bream, roach and carp - 25lbs is the catch to beat! And when it's time to venture out for a pub lunch, how about visiting the Millbrook Inn which recently won Pub Chef of the Year 2011 at The Great British Pub Food Awards?

Estuary life and beautiful beaches are all within easy reach of The Stables, a sheltered hilltop retreat amidst rolling farmland, a mile from Ermington. With tremendous uninterrupted views to Dartmoor and lovely sunsets, this private cottage beside the owners' manor house is set in eight acres of gardens and paddocks; a great place to relax. Or you can burn off some energy with a game of tennis or a refreshing swim (hard tennis court and indoor pool are shared with the owners). Pets are welcome at The Stables and don’t forget, dogs stay free in 2011 for all bookings made between 2nd April and 2nd May 2011 (National Pet Month).

There are many places to visit and things to do in the South Hams, whatever the weather. For a blast of entertainment, head to the colourful Salcombe Festival from 10th to 12th June. Both of these holiday cottages are also near Sharpham Vineyard, featured on our new vineyard trails.

View a list of our holiday cottages in the South Hams to find just the right place for a happy holiday at great value.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

West Country vineyard trails with Helpful Holidays…

The mellow climate and sunny slopes of the West Country are proving to be wonderful resources for viticulture. Amid Devon and Cornwall’s green, rolling hills are lush vineyards, bursting with grapes for whites, reds, rosés and fizzies. We believe these award-winning wines deserve to be enjoyed and savoured at a leisurely pace, in keeping with the slow, energy-restoring pace of life on our peninsula.

That’s why we’ve created an interactive guide to some of the best vineyards in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset for you to visit whilst enjoying your holiday with us. We’ve around 290 holiday cottages within easy reach of a vineyard.

In ‘foodie’ south Devon, nestled on a bend of the serpentine river Dart, you’ll find the Sharpham vineyard, famous for its wine and cheese. Or why not drop into Devon’s oldest vineyard, Yearlstone, close to the 18th century Bickleigh Mill beauty spot, and have a bite to eat whilst sampling some fantastic wines?

Eastcott, in a sheltered vale north of Dartmoor, is a young vineyard with an award-winning winery offering guided tours and tastings. To the east are the small vineyards of Willhayne and Highcroft, both producing some very good wines. Near the cathedral city of Exeter is Manstree Vineyard where you can pick up a bottle of great wine and pick your own seasonal soft fruit, and just south of Exeter, near Powderham Castle, is Kenton Vineyard which is quickly gaining a reputation for excellence across its range of wines. The cellar for Pebblebed Vineyards is in nautical Topsham – a great place to pick up a sophisticated rosé! Further south along the coast road to Teignmouth is Old Walls Vineyard where good food and great wines can be sampled.

Respect for traditional vineyard practices, together with a modern approach to winemaking, earns Cornwall the reputation as another leading county in the production of English wines. The sun-drenched slopes of the Camel Valley Vineyard make it, in the opinion of Matthew Jukes, the acclaimed wine writer, “without a doubt, the number one winery in the country,” producing world-class wines; Camel Valley achieved the award for best sparkling rosé in the world at the 2010 International Wine Challenge.

Polgoon Vineyard in Penzance, created from a derelict farm, is fast achieving national acclaim and welcomes visitors to inspect the vines, enjoy a talk on winery operations and, of course, sample the end result!

Everyone booking a break with Helpful Holidays in 2011 will receive a £40 discount voucher off a case from Naked Wines (minimum spend £79.99). The online retailer sources the most talented, smaller, independent producers and invests in their viticulture ensuring top quality wines at affordable prices.

In addition, for this week only, we have ten £40 vouchers to give away to people who comment, like or vote on our Facebook page. We’re asking for your opinions on wine – whether it’s West Country, Bordeaux, Rioja or New World. We’ll put everyone into a hat and pick ten winners at 9am on Monday 18th April - so visit our page and add your comments for a chance to win!

If you’d like to chat about a particular cottage or location so you can visit the vineyards, give us a call and we’ll guide you to the perfect place. We recommend you also contact the vineyards when planning your trip to confirm directions and opening dates and times. And, at the end of your trip, don’t forget a case or two to take back home as a souvenir of your West Country break to share with family and friends!

Call us on 01647 433593 or visit

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Venus Company - loving the beach...

We love the West Country, and being environmentally aware comes naturally. So when we heard of a local, forward-thinking organisation who was championing these principles, we were keen to know more.

The Venus Company has six environmentally friendly and socially responsible cafés, five in stunning beachside locations in south Devon and north Cornwall - Blackpool Sands, East Portlemouth, Bigbury-on-Sea, Tolcarne and Watergate Bay – and their most recent enterprise at the Shops at Dartington centre near Totnes.

Their cafés are renowned for their delicious menus of quality, locally sourced organic food and drink, whether you’re eating in or taking away. From full English breakfasts and beef burgers to paninis, salads and cream teas, Venus caters for gluten-free, vegetarian and meat lovers alike and children are made very welcome. Blackpool Sands also has a restaurant where alfresco, Mediterranean-style evening dining is available and special occasions can be catered for – the views are to die for. Venus also has a watersports arm to the business based at Bigbury-on-Sea and Blackpool Sands to help you work up an appetite!

Set up in 1995 by Michael Smith, his wife Louisa and Lee Porter, the company adopted the tagline ‘Loving the Beach’. A key business aim was to create a quality concept which encompassed their keen interest in environmental issues. The South Hams-based family business has gone from strength to strength, winning numerous sustainability awards along the way. From supporting wildlife charities to fundraising for schools, the company continues to have a positive impact at its venues and further afield.

Michael Smith says: “At Venus, we are passionate about looking after the environment. We consider the environmental impact of every business decision we take. Our goal is to minimise the impact of our business, using local and organic suppliers, reducing food miles and employing local people. We hope that our contribution - through saving energy, recycling products, centralising our operations and using sustainable materials - will help to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy our beautiful coastline and countryside as much as we do”.

The company uses countless innovative methods to boost energy efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint. Venus re-develops sites using recyclable materials and sympathetic landscaping (East Portlemouth), uses its own environmental specifications for new builds (Bigbury-on-Sea and Tolcarne) and uses innovative, environmentally friendly approaches when upgrading sites (Blackpool Sands). But there's also the everyday eco-savings, like low carbon vehicles for deliveries, low energy lights, motion sensors for storeroom lights and a study into encouraging customers to recycle efficiently.

Venus's suppliers are happy to help the company in its quest, too: In 2009, a 5 litre bag-in-box organic fruit juice was developed for Venus by Luscombe Organic Juices saving some 3,000 glass bottles.

Helpful Holidays and Venus are forging a long-term partnership and working together on a range of marketing activities, in particular to develop a ‘sustainable cottage scheme’ to highlight the particularly environmentally friendly holiday homes in our portfolio. We’ve seen a consistent demand from holidaymakers for information about the ‘green’ credentials of our holiday cottages on issues such as recycling, composting, water and energy saving and using local transport. We’ll keep you posted on our progress with the scheme.

So if you’re staying in the South Hams or north Cornwall, or even just visiting for a day, why not head for one of these spectacular beaches and enjoy a tasty treat from Venus? Next month, look out for our post about the Venus SUP Championship in May.

View holiday cottages in the South Hams
View holiday cottages in North Cornwall

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A special recipe from top chef Nick Coiley...

Nick Coiley, the Chef at top restaurant Agaric in Ashburton, has given us one of his delicious recipes to celebrate British Beef Week which runs from 23rd to 29th April.

Agaric is one of our top ten restaurants in our 2011 What Shall We Do Today? guide and has received widespread acclaim.

Nick is passionate about his craft and commited to producing excellent quality cuisine using locally sourced produce and an individual approach. Everything is made fresh daily, including bread, soups and cured meats.

Braised top rump of beef with red wine, queen green olives
and fresh thyme


1.5 kg top rump, trimmed of sinew and cut into 1cm thick slices
100 g butter
50 ml olive oil
flour for dusting
salt & pepper
4 medium carrots, peeled & finely chopped
2 medium onions, peeled & finely chopped
2 sticks celery, peeled & finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
fresh thyme
bay leaf
1 litre stock or water
2 tsp tomato puree
250 ml red wine
To finish, stripped thyme and 20 stoned Queen green olives


Over a medium heat, melt the butter and oil in a heavy based pan until hot.

Lay out the beef slices, season well on both sides and lightly flour.

Fry the beef in the hot oil and butter until browned evenly on both sides. Remove and place in a braising dish or casserole. Pour any fat back into the pan. Fry the vegetables in the oil until browned, then add to the beef.

Deglaze the frying pan with red wine, add the stock, tomato puree, thyme and bay leaf and pour over the beef.

Bring to the simmer, cover with a lid and cook in a low oven for one and a half to two hours until the beef is very tender.

To serve, remove the beef to a serving dish or casserole.

Reduce the sauce over a medium heat by a third.

Add the quartered green olives and chopped thyme. Check seasoning and pour over the braised beef.

Heat again and serve with creamed potatoes and parsnip and spring greens or new season asparagus.

We hope you enjoy this tasty treat - let us know how you get on!

View holiday cottages in Dartmoor.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A room with a view…

There are many writers, artists and musicians who have been inspired by sea views - spy thriller writer John le Carre, for instance, lives in a rambling house at the top of a cliff near Penzance. Virginia Woolf wrote To the Lighthouse inspired by views of a beach near St Ives. 

The best coastal holiday cottages have uninterrupted views across blue waters and golden sand that will have you champing at the bit to get out for a barefoot walk in the morning. These two apartments were made for their coastal panorama and are both fantastic chill-out places to stay.

Fort Picklecombe was built in 1848 to protect Plymouth, so a clear line of sight over the waves was vital. The fort is now converted into excellent apartments but you still may see warships passing by the window as Plymouth is home to the largest Naval base in Western Europe. Not that you'd know it from the calm rock pool beach below Lighthouse View - a neat and stylish apartment, perfect for a breakfast on the balcony to soak up the stunning seascape. Beautifully kept shared gardens are an added bonus. Sleeps two.

Pentire, Newquay, enjoys the quieter side of the Cornish town famed for its beaches. Smart and sunny Pentire Heights Apartment is ideally located - it has no less than five sandy shores nearby. Its lovely long views are of Fistral beach, which is very popular with surfers and other watersports enthusiasts. Proximity to the coastal path makes this a great base for walkers, too. Sleeps five.

Take inspiration from our selection of West Country holiday cottages with sea views.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Dogs Stay Free campaign

Today we’re announcing the launch of our Dogs Stay Free campaign as part of National Pet Month.

Dogs get as much pleasure bounding around the countryside and beaches as us humans so we are giving man's best friend free stays in our dog friendly holiday cottages. To qualify, you must book between 2nd April and 2nd May (National Pet Month) for stays at any time during 2011. Up to two dogs per booking can stay free of charge for bookings made during this period. 

The green surroundings of this holiday cottage in Yelverton (left) will give your pet a taste of the West Country with long walks on Dartmoor and in and around Yelverton’s own Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Larger dogs and those with lots of energy will relish a week’s holiday on Exmoor or Dartmoor with long walks and climbs over heather-clad hills and tors. Dartmoor holiday homes welcoming pets include The Retreat, a smart timber-clad hideaway for two with hot tub on a 70 acre farm near Chagford, and Blissmoor, a detached and secluded cottage for eight near Manaton.

For a stay on Exmoor, Bramble and Hawthorn cottages (right) near Barbrook sleep four and six; just a half-mile from the open moor both have wonderful doggy walks from the door.

For the less energetic, smaller or older pets the West Country is criss-crossed by gentle, waymarked trails. Amongst the holiday homes which would suit are two 18th century cottages at St Kew, North Cornwall sleeping two and four, while for water-loving dogs Brambles is just over half-a-mile from the all-year-round dog friendly beach at Constantine Bay, North Cornwall.

Start researching your ideal location now with our list of dog friendly cottages across Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset.

Please note, if you book online, your dog charges will still appear on your provisional booking, but rest assured that these will be deducted before you pay your final balance.