So many institutions are being converted into hotels these days that one should feel no great surprise at staying at a former eye hospital. But I must confess to feeling a shade queasy at spending a night in the operating room* at the Magdalen Chapter in Exeter - particularly when I spotted the drain in the floor down which many unspeakable fluids must have been sluiced . . .
Enough! It had of course been superbly made over with a super-king-size bed and a neat arrangement of basin, bath and power shower all subtly illuminated by a hi-tech and incomprehensible lightling system (did I want Relax 1 or Relax 2?) And I slept like a baby, blissfully untroubled by thoughts of scalpels and stiches.
The nibbles along were worth the trip - fine slices of jamon iberico, miniature fish cakes and superb ham and cheese croquetas - you simply can’t go wrong with something fried, particularly when it’s washed down with a glass of Perrier Jouet.
The meal was more uneven - scallops and broad beans were a little miserly though a crab bruschetta was lovely. Roast chicken was perfectly pitched with simply cooked new potatoes, while the brill was a shade overcooked (only 3 weeks since opening coupled with the pressure of a busy Saturday night, giving them the benefit of the doubt) Homemade strawberry jelly and ice cream however delivered everything you wanted from a summer dessert - except sunny weather (it had been pelting down for days).
There was a great breakfast too including an outrageously good ham hock and black pudding hash with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce that must have clogged up my arteries for the next 24 hours at the very least.
The hospital - ooops, hotel - has some great open spaces on which a considerable amount of money must have been lavished. The lounge looks out onto a lawn and can have an entire wall of windows opened should the thermometer inch above 20°C. There’s a lovely library with proper books - including a great selection of cookbooks. And there is to be a state of the art spa and outdoor/indoor swimming pool that should make The Chapter the perfect West Country getaway
As for me, I revisted old haunts - I was at university here longer ago than I care to remember. The beautiful cathedral close is an easy 7-8 minutes walk away and still contains one of the tearooms (now Tea on the Green) in which I remember whiling away hours dodging lectures. The other has sadly become a Pizza Express. In fact the centre, like most cities these days, is dominated by chains. The only businesses who can afford the rents.
Living in Bristol, Exeter is near enough for an indulgent night away so I’m going to keep track on spa deals for those grey, dreary winter months - or even those grey, dreary summer ones . . .
* I like the fact that it's euphemistically referred to as The Theatre ;-)
Where else to eat in and around Exeter
The queues were so long for this popular all-day café (also with branches in London, Lewis, Cambridge and Brighton) that we we weren’t prepared to wait. Looks a good spot for breakfast though
Tea on the Green
Has obviously changed since my student days but still offers a pretty mean rarebit and all-day breakfast menu. Good value
Michael Caines at the Royal Clarence
Up to now, Exeter’s most glamourous hotel with a great location overlooking the cathedral. Restaurants are all run by celebrity chef Michael Caines - brownie points for suggesting wine pairings
The Nobody Inn
Down twisting lanes not far from Exeter you find yourself in the heart of the Devon countryside. The Nobody Inn is the quintessential old-fashioned pub (I used to go there years ago for scampi in a basket!) Good food and an amazing winelist as you can see above. There is also a very nice B & B, Town Barton, just up the road run by the former Nobody landlord Nick Borst-Smith.
I stayed in the Magdalen Chapter as a guest of the hotel. Room rates start from £150 per room per night, including breakfast.