Destination focus: meet in Torquay

Europe Features
Destination focus: meet in Torquay

CMW‘s Martin Fullard takes a trip to the English Riviera, and explores the area’s offering for meetings.


Torquay is a classic example of British seaside town, and can be reached by train from London Paddington in little over three hours. The Grand Hotel has been a fixture on Torquay skyline since 1881, and offers fantastic views out over Torbay. The ground floor public areas blend modern fittings with that archetypical seaside feel. While the rooms aren’t the most modern you’ll find, they maintain that popular Victorian grandeur.

The English Riviera International Conference Centre is a mixed-use facility, but while the public and their kids can enjoy with swimming pool and play area, conferences can make use of the vast facilities in total isolation.

I met Nicky Harding and Simon Jolly. Harding is the convention bureau, and has worked at the centre for more than 30 years. Jolly is the centre’s MD, and again has been around for many years.

The head chef served up what can only be described as the best food I have ever had at a conference centre. While that may sound like the ramblings of a sycophant, be assured the mixed seafood starter and chicken breast mains were worthy of any of London’s top restaurants.

To complement the courses, local wine experts laid on a selection of tipples – this writer may have polished off the lot.

There are 10 meeting rooms and five larger event spaces, and the venue is a popular choice for associations, with medical and science associations making up a key pillar of the centre’s annual calendar.

The Forum is an impressive room with large stage and sea views. It spans two floors with removable seating and has direct access to catering areas meaning fast service is a given. The versatile room lends itself equally well to conferences, gala dinners, and music concerts. In theatre style it can hold up to 1,500, expanded to 1,840 for a reception or 405 for a cabaret dinner.

The largest room in the venue is the Arena, and like the Forum has floor space across two levels. You may not have recognised it, but the BBC has used the multi-purpose entertainment space numerous times to host Question Time. In theatre layout it can hold 500, but up to a whopping 4,330 in reception layout.

The L-shaped Rositer room has been recently refurbished and, with sea-views and direct access to the terrace and public gardens, is a light and airy space ideal for conferences. It works well as a reception space and can handle 700 delegates, while a more conventional theatre layout comfortably seats 400.

Elsewhere in the venue there is the Burdett suite, which is best used as a classroom for 90, although can easily sit 200 in theatre layout, and the Grace Murrell Suite, a room that can be partitioned into four separate spaces. When it is opened up in full, the panoramic view out over the gardens and English Channel are superb, making it a superb choice for banquets (up to 100). A reception event can run here for up to 300.

For dinner I was booked in to dine at John Burton-Race Hotel and Restaurant. First class service was complemented with an elegant take on fish and chips and a wine pairing chosen for me specifically by the hostess.

Torquay is a picturesque seaside town with plenty of hotels and bed space, top restaurants and bars and unique attractions, all just a 3-hour train ride from London Paddington.