Secular Retreat

  • Location: Countryside
    Kingsbridge for shops and restaurants: 8 miles (20 mins by car)
    Lannacombe Beach: 2.5 miles (9 mins by car)
    South West Coastal Path - Lannacombe beach:
  • Newquay Cornwall Airport (NQY): 79 miles (2 hs by car)
    Exeter International Airport (EXT): 48 miles (1h 15 mins by car)
    Car recommended
    Free parking
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An introduction to Secular Retreat

How would you describe Secular Retreat in a nutshell?

Set amidst the rolling hills, patchwork fields and centuries-old stone villages of South Devon, Secular Retreat is a hilltop “villa” for small-group stays. It offers guests a rare opportunity to experience the architectural philosophy of Peter Zumthor — one of the world’s greatest living architects. 

What is the story behind Secular Retreat, what was the architect’s inspiration to create it?

While Secular Retreat was one of the first Living Architecture projects conceived, it was one of the last to be completed, taking over a decade from start to finish. But most will agree that it was worth the wait! It is located on a site once known as Middledown, which had a 1940s residence on it when we purchased it in 2008. There are photos of the original home in Secular Retreat.

Peter Zumthor first visited the site in the spring of that year and came up with a concept of a house that could accommodate up to 10 people for workshops and other activities. Renowned for the baths at Vals in Switzerland, Zumthor designs buildings that have an eternal quality and is an expert when it comes to materials.

For this project, he produced a 21st-century “villa” inspired by the rocky outcrops of the Devon Moors and the vertical nature of the Monterey pines that existed on the site. From the communal living space, with its hand-rammed concrete columns and cantilevered roof, he added two bedroom wings with sweeping views across the surrounding landscape. 

Construction took place over five years on what is a challenging and exposed site. The house was finished in 2019, complete with furnishings and lighting custom-designed by Peter Zumthor for the house. 

What was the architect’s philosophy when designing the house?

While Peter Zumthor prioritises the design of “socially relevant” buildings over private residences, he saw the possibility of Secular Retreat being “more than just a vacation home”. His work is strongly informed by ecclesiastical traditions, so the philosophy was centred around designing a secular retreat “evocative of the monasteries of the past” and a place where people could gather to do things together.

Secular Retreat
Living area
Living area
Dining area
Dining area
Living area
Bedroom 1
Bedroom 2
Secular Retreat
Secular Retreat
Secular Retreat
Secular Retreat

Secular Retreat rooms & rates

Guests enter Secular Retreat beneath the overhang of the cantilevered roof, arriving in the fully glazed, open-plan living area. Here, you’ll find bespoke armchairs originally designed for the “Dear to Me” exhibition by Markus Landolt and sofas created specifically for the house. While the views are magnificent from throughout the living area, the best are reserved for the writing desk located within a semi-hidden nook. 

Aside from a thoughtfully designed kitchen with joinery designed by Peter Zumthor, there is also a large dining table (also designed by Zumthor) and a cosy fireplace. The dining table chairs were originally designed by Max Ernst Haefeli in 1926. 

Across the two bedroom wings are five ensuite bedrooms, one of which can be configured as a twin room. All enjoy stunning views across the gardens and surrounding landscape, which are best enjoyed while soaking in the tub or relaxing on the custom-designed leather stools. The pedestal basins and bespoke curtain rails in the bathrooms are designed by Peter Zumthor while the taps are by Dornbracht. 


Stays are only possible from Monday to Thursday (3 nights) or Thursday to Monday (4 nights). Weekly stays are also possible with arrival on Monday or Thursday.

  • Secular Retreat for 10 people / 375 m²
    975 / night
    • 1 Twin bedroom
    • 4 Double bedrooms
    • 1 Bathroom (ensuite)
    • 4 Shower rooms (ensuite)
    • 1 Living room
    • 1 Dining room
    • 1 Kitchen
    • Terrace
    • Fireplace
Included in the rates
Rates include towels and linen, an arrival pack with coffee, tea, bread, butter, olive oil and biscuits.
Optional extras
PLEASE NOTE Stays are only possible from Monday to Thursday (3 nights) or Thursday to Monday (4 nights). Weekly stays are also possible with arrival on Monday or Thursday.
Children & Extra beds
Children of all ages are welcome. There is no space for any extra beds. Please bring your own baby cot.
Minimum stay
3 nights
Check in time
after 15:00
Check out time
before 10:00

Facilities & services

  • Children welcome
  • WiFi
  • Terrace
  • TV
  • Fireplace
  • Garden
  • Washing machine
  • Music system
  • Central heating
  • Iron & Board
  • Hair dryer

High-quality Egyptian cotton bedding by Peter Reed and hypo-allergenic pillows/duvets are provided for guests, as are hand and bath towels. In the bathrooms, we have natural body products (shampoo, body gel and hand soap) from Land&Water. 

Complimentary Wi-Fi is provided at Secular Retreat but guests should be aware that due to our location, the reception can be intermittent. We also have a television and DVD player, a CD/MP3 player and a library of books that will keep most readers happy. 

Designed by David Mellor, the kitchen is equipped with high-quality cookware, crockery and cutlery, plus two cafetières for making filter coffee and a Nespresso machine. We provide filter coffee, tea bags, milk, bread and other kitchen essentials for guests to use, plus some wood-burning logs for the fireplace.

Please note: due to the location, mobile telephone reception can be intermittent.


  • Internet-enabled television and DVD player.
  • CD/MP3 player.
  • A library of books to keep the most avid reader happy, from local travel guides, to books on architecture and philosophy
  • Land&Water natural body products provided
  • Luxury Egyptian cotton bed linen by Peter Reed.
  • Hypo-allergenic pillows and duvets (suitable for guests who may suffer from allergies)
  • Hand and bath towels (please bring your own outdoor towels, if required)
  • Hairdryers, Iron, ironing board and clothes airer.
  • Fan oven, combination microwave oven, induction hob, fridge, freezer, dishwasher, washing machine, dryer.
  • Kitchen equipment provided by David Mellor - including DM kitchen knives, chopping boards, sieves and colanders, graters, whisks, tongs, cooking utensils, a range of DM saucepans (suitable for the induction hob), food blender, scales, mixing bowls, a rolling pin and pastry brush, glassware (tumblers, wine glasses, champagne flutes), DM cutlery (including children's cutlery), a tea pot and mugs.
  • Arrival pack (tea bags, filter coffee, biscuits, semi-skimmed milk, bread, butter, olive oil, bin bags, washing up liquid, kitchen roll, hand-wash, dishwasher tablets, foil, toilet paper.)
  • Two cafetières for filter coffee & Nespresso machine.
  • Open fire (some logs to get you started, additional logs can be purchased locally)

Things to do in Devon & Kingsbridge

  • Art / Culture
  • Shopping / Markets
  • Wine tastings
  • Hiking
  • Cycling
  • Sailing / Kayaking
  • Boat trips
  • Fishing

South Devon is a popular English holiday region, with everything from sailing to surfing, fishing and golf on offer. Within a few miles of Secular Retreat are beautiful beaches, such as Beesands, Lannacombe and Great Mattiscombe, and the South West Coast Path is easily accessible from the house. Bicycles can be hired nearby to explore the area, including Dartmoor National Park. 

Guests can visit the Start Point Lighthouse, the Dartmoor Prison Museum and the Morwellham Working Village, as well as the famous Eden Project. Historic sites nearby include Buckland Abbey, Dartmouth Castle and Kirkham House, not to mention the Royal Citadel in Plymouth. Dotting the area, are plenty of farm shops and fishmongers where you can pick up locally caught and produced food.

The location of Secular Retreat

Secular Retreat enjoys a private hilltop location, partway between Salcombe and Hallsands in South Devon. The closest railway station is a 40-minute drive from the house in Totnes, with taxis and hire cars available here. Exeter Airport is just over an hour away.