In partnership with MeetEngland, we are delighted to be showcasing some of England’s lesser-known gems for meetings, events and incentives. We sent Nicola Roodt on a road trip to check out first-hand what these four destinations have to offer groups.
First up, it’s Devon. The county is well-known as one of Britain’s most picturesque and popular holiday hotspots, but it’s also brimming with hotels, unique venues and activities ideal for corporate clients wanting to meet, reconnect with or reward their teams. Check out Nic’s video below to see how she got on, and read our event planners’ guide, showcasing some of Devon’s many highlights…
Devon boasts two coasts, two National Parks, jaw-dropping landscapes and remarkable buildings, making it a dream backdrop for event planners with MeetDevon on had to help turn your dreams into reality. It’s also home to two universities – Exeter and Plymouth – and the birthplace of some inspirational people, boasting leaders in the worlds of technology, sports, politics academia and the arts.
Hotels & venues
From unique country house hotels to laid-back beachside retreats, luxury lodges to smart city centre hotels, there’s a huge choice of accommodation across Devon suitable for meetings and incentives.
Exeter has some great places for groups to stay – choose a spa hotel, such as the boutique Hotel Du Vin or Mercure Exeter Southgate Hotel in the city centre, or Woodbury Park, nestled in 350 acres of Devon countryside. With 56 bedrooms, five luxury Swiss style lodges, two golf courses, a relaxing spa, pool and Jacuzzi and two restaurants featuring both casual and fine dining, Woodbury Park has it all. Ideal for larger groups, The Mercure Southgate has 156 rooms and has seven flexible and comfortably sized meeting rooms all feature natural daylight accommodating groups of ten to 150. There’s also a spa with heated pool, sauna and fitness room for unwinding after a day of meetings.
This month (April 2022), a brand new 250-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel is opening at Sandy Park, home of the Exeter Chiefs rugby team. The £35m property features a lounge, a snack and coffee bar, a rooftop cocktail bar, a Fish & Steak restaurant that boasts picturesque views down the River Exe Estuary and towards Torbay and business centre.
Plymouth, England’s Ocean City, is steeped in history – its famous for the Mayflower setting sail to discover America in 1620 – and offers an array of hotels and meeting spaces. St Mellion International Resort offers ten versatile meeting rooms and 80 bedrooms and can host everything from the smallest of intimate meetings to large scale events with 500 guests. The Duke of Cornwall is an iconic and versatile hotel and conferencing venue in the centre of Plymouth. It offers 72 bedrooms, multiple meeting spaces accommodating events up to 300 delegates, and offers a fine dining experience in its 2 AA Rosette-rated restaurant.
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city at the five-star Boringdon Hall Hotel & Spa, offering 42 beautiful rooms and suites along with AA 4 Rosette and Michelin Plate award-winning restaurant Àclèaf, Gaia Spa and event space for up to 140.
Also located in Devon’s stunning countryside, Bovey Castle on Dartmoor National Park is a fantastic hotel for both meetings and incentives with 60 bedrooms in the main manor house and 22 lodges tucked away in the grounds, and meeting space for up to 120 with breakout rooms. The property offers an array of outdoor activities, making it ideal for incentive groups.
Torquay on the South Devon coast has one of the county’s convention centres, the Riviera International Conference Centre with capacity up to 1,500 delegates with hotel accommodation within walking distance to the centre.
Unique & historic spaces
Exeter has some wonderfully unique venues for events. Spark delegates’ imaginations with an event at an historic venue in Exeter, such as the Exeter Cathedral or the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM). An iconic symbol of Exeter and Devon, Exeter Cathedral dates back 900 years and offers six spectacular spaces accommodating a variety of events including meetings, lunches, receptions, dinners and award ceremonies. The galleries at the Grade II-listing RAMM building are suitable for seminars and board meetings as well large receptions for up to 500 guests, with optional private tours available.
On the outskirts of the city, Powderham Castle provides a stunning setting for your conference or event, or head out on the water for panoramic views with a conference onboard a passenger vessel, with Stuart Line Cruises. Powderham Castle, built in 1392, is set amidst a beautiful Deer Park with breath-taking views across to the Exe Estuary and elegant spaces such as The State Dining Room, minstrels gallery and splendid libraries.
Be motivated by the adrenalin of Exeter’s sporting venues, such as Exeter Racecourse, a fully established conference and events centre, catering for three to 300 people, or rugby ground Sandy Park.The latter has capacity for up to 1,500 and spaces include the impressive Exeter Suite, which has hosted many notable events, including exhibitions, award shows, charity gala evenings and Exeter Rugby Club’s annual End of Season Dinner.
Meanwhile in Plymouth, corporate groups can host a meeting with 4,000 marine animals at the National Marine Aquarium with spectacular views of the Waterfront or sit back and relax in the wonderful surroundings at Pentillie Castle. Situated on the beautiful banks of the River Tamar on the Cornwall and Devon border, Pentillie Castle is a grand and unique backdrop for business meetings, small conferences and receptions.
If historic venues are what you are looking for, try Mount Edgumbe House & Country Park, which can cater for groups up to 200, or the Tower at The Mountbatten Centre. The latter is one of Plymouth’s oldest iconic landmark buildings and offers groups of 12-25 a 360-degree views of Plymouth – try the ‘Prosecco and Canapes’ package for a drink’s reception with a difference. Groups can also host a meeting in the state-of-the-art conference centre in the grounds of the historic Buckfast Abbey, Dartington Hall, where you can be a farmer for the day.
Take a roof tour of Exeter Cathedral – climb up the narrow, winding steps to the north tower for stunning views. From the roof of the city to the depths, visit Exeter’s Underground Passages to discover an extraordinary network of subterranean passages, originally built during medieval times to house freshwater pipes.
Foodies can brush up on their culinary skills at the Exeter Cookery School situated in a converted 1830s warehouse on Exeter’s historic quayside and and have a go at making the traditional Devon scones. Or visit Lympstone Manor, the ultimate foodie destination, and vision of renowned chef Michael Caines to dine in the Michelin-starred restaurant with stunning views across the River Exe Estuary.
Head to the waterfront in Exmouth, where a range of activities on the water are available for groups. Take a private cruise on Stuart Line Cruises along the Jurassic Coast or up the river Exe estuary to Topsham and watch the sunset accompanied by fizz and canapes. If your delegates are feeling active, they can try their hand at paddle boarding, kayaking, kite surfing and more at the surf school on Exmouth Seafront, which offers taster sessions and lessons. Afterwards, they can feast on delicious fresh dishes at Mickey’s Beach Bar & Restaurant, run by Michael Caines.
Groups looking for a less strenuous experience should head to Wear Park Spa, a multi-award-winning spa located in the Georgian manor house at Exeter Golf and Country Club, for some rest and relaxation. Take an early morning hot air balloon flight with Aerosaurus Balloons to view the beautiful Devon rolling countryside from above, or sail across the Plymouth Sound and see both the beautiful Devon and Cornish coasts from one glorious vantage point.
Gin-loving groups can take a guided tour of Plymouth Gin Distillery and learn about the art of making this award-winning drink. Enjoy a tutored tasting of the range and then relax with a cocktail in its Refectory cocktail lounge – where the Pilgrim Fathers are said to have spent their last night before setting sail in the Mayflower to the New World.
Dartmoor National Park, less than 10 miles from central Plymouth, is the perfect backdrop for a raft of team building activities, including climbing, hiking, kayaking, cycling, riding, walking, fishing, all with expert guidance – and in the most stunning surroundings. After your activities, retire to one of Dartmoor’s many country house hotels for a very well-deserved traditional Devon cream tea of scones, cream, jam – washed down with a glass of Champagne.