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  • Jo Shaw

Familiarisation Trip to North Devon with Johnsons Quality Coach Travel

Day 1 – Johnsons offer their customers Door to Door Holidays, so I was collected promptly at 8.30am by a lovely driver who took me to Gloucester Services to meet the coach, along with the rest of my travelling party. All customers receive this service and they guarantee the driver will stay with their passenger until the coach is there. We had our first pit stop at Sanders Garden Centre, just off the M5, Johnsons always endeavour never to travel for more than 2 hours, and try to stop somewhere interesting like a garden centre rather than the usual motorway Service Stations. We were given 45 minutes to get a drink, use the facilities, and look at the enormous Christmas displays!

As we were early for our intended arrival at our first hotel, we made a quick detour to the lovely seaside town of Appledore to stretch our legs and get some sea air. We then went onto the Royal Hotel, Bideford, to enjoy a very substantial carvery, which we all overate! The Royal was the first hotel the founder Percy Brend bought in 1969, and is now joined by 10 other hotels in prime locations within Devon, all still very much a family run business which is very apparent with the level of attention and service.

After our fabulous lunch we were then transported to the Royal & Fortescue Hotel in Barnstaple, one of the 4 Brend hotels in this largest town in Devon on the River Taw. We were given tea/coffee and then the keys to our rooms where our suitcases had already been deposited, which was lovely (Johnsons always ensure a full Porterage service). At 7pm we met in the bar for a welcome drink before going into dinner, a 3 course Table D’hote menu with plenty of choices and full waiter service.

Day 2 – We met for breakfast next morning where we were offered full English table service. The coach was outside waiting for us after breakfast and we went on to the Barnstable Hotel for a full show around. The Barnstable Hotel has lovely rooms, a large gym, plus indoor and outdoor swimming pools. We then went onto Saunton Sands hotel which has to be my favourite of all the hotels. Set in an amazing position overlooking the long sandy beach this hotel offers outstanding luxury, with gorgeous rooms, an awe-inspiring spa which had views to die for! The fact that it was a beautiful sunny day obviously enhanced the whole experience.

We then went to visit the Quince Honey Farm, a local family run Bee farm, with a lovely café and gift shop. We then had a very informative and interesting talk on everything about bees, honey and wax (candles) which was fascinating, we also got to taste several varieties of honey, I was amazed how different they all were.

Back to the hotel for a quick change into our glad rags before walking to the Park Hotel for drinks and a look at their selection of bedrooms. This hotel had a more modern and contemporary feel about it and very smart. After seeing the Park hotel we headed to the next Brend hotel, The Imperial Hotel, a traditional luxury hotel set with riverside views where we were treated to a lovely dinner, with impeccable service.

Day 3 – Our cases needed to be outside our rooms by 8.30 am after which I headed down to breakfast and to check-out. After eating, the coach was waiting for us outside with our cases safely stored on-board. Not so nice weather today, but it was still a pleasure to arrive in Sidmouth and walk along the seafront, despite it being very breezy! A lifelong wish to visit The Victoria Hotel was at last experienced, and it did not fail to impress me. The Victoria still offers plenty of grandeur, with wide open staircases, grand lounges and still keeping its traditional feel plus the homemade shortbread biscuits were to die for! We had an extensive look at the various bedrooms on offer and as with all the Brend hotels, most of these have been updated with stylish décor and walk-in showers. The V ictoria offers a sizable indoor pool with spa facilities and plans are in place to extend these even more, keeping up with modern demand.

We then walked along the front to visit the Royal York & Faulkner and The Kingswood Hotel which both are part of Johnsons tours and really popular with their clients. With the added benefit of being in great locations on the seafront with fabulous sea views and although not as grand as the Brend hotels, they both offer a comfortable stay and apparently great food (according to a couple of guests we chatted to).

Another short walk led us to the Belmont Hotel, standing prominently up from the seafront. Like the Victoria, the hotel Manager was generous to guide us around their various levels of rooms which did not fail to impress. Following this, a full silver service lunch was provided which was really lovely.

Following our lunch, we all gathered back on the coach for our journey home. My trip with johnsons was a fantastic experience with exceptional hospitality and we all decided we had eaten and drunk enough to last us the week!

After a smooth and seamless journey we arrived back to Gloucester Services where a mini bus was waiting to take me back home and the driver even insisted on taking my case to the door for me which was a nice touch.

Johnsons coaches are very smart, comfortable and the company pride themselves in including lots of extras to enhance and compliment your tour with them. I would highly recommend them!

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