Exeter is something of a forgotten gem – it’s one of the oldest cities in the UK, with the sort of Quintessentially English charm that is lifted from the history books. Where else could you see a troop of Morris dancers performing in front of a 900-year old cathedral, while locals sip their pints in the (occasional) sunshine?
For centuries, Exeter has been attracting a more discerning type of visitor – culture vultures, countryphiles and fans of the city’s hidden hotspots, making it the perfect place for a long weekend, or a multi-tasking spa break.
At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking that Exeter was frozen in time. The city is all Victorian buildings and Tudor facades, with an enormous 12th century cathedral right smack in the middle. But behind the vintage doors there is a surprising variety of unique spas.
The REN Spa at the Magdalen Chapter lies within the walled garden of a former Victorian hospital. It boasts a heated ‘inside-out’ pool, as well as a full range of organic REN treatments for both men and women.
*Image – Magdalen Chapter Outdoor Heated Pool
For something a bit more family friendly, there is the vast Exeter Golf and Country Club, which features a world-class 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, squash courts, fitness classes, swimming pools and a gym. Exclusive ESPA treatments and packages are available at the spa, although booking is highly recommended!
Along one of the city’s famous cobbled streets, you will find the uber-modern Purity Boutique Spa, specializing in collagen stimulation treatments, threat vein removal, and highly sought after Environ facials.
Castle Street is the main shopping area of Exeter, and most high street names have a presence here. But for something really different, visit the monthly Exeter Innovations Market at the Guildhall Shopping Centre.
Exeter is full of restaurants, bistros, cafes, pubs and tearooms, offering classic English fare as well as more exotic cuisines such as Thai (try the Jasmine Thai Restaurant) and Moroccan (try the Al-Farid Restaurant next to Exeter Cathedral). For something traditional and filling, grab a sandwich at The Sandwiched Inn, or treat yourself to a gourmet meal at La Petite Maison in nearby Topsham.
No visit is complete, however, without a visit to La Cantina Street Kitchen (pictured below), headed up by award-winning chef Tim Golder. Travelling the streets of Exeter, they use seasonal, locally sourced ingredients to create an ever-evolving menu, which is certain to tickle your taste buds. Expect to find anything from classic fish and chips to spicy burgers on the wallet-friendly menu.
In Exeter, it’s more about pub life than bar life, and the older the better. Nurse a pint at the stunning Five Bells Inn, or settle in for a day of people watching at the Half Moon Inn.
Wine lovers will not be disappointed with the selection at the ABode Hotel bar (formerly known as The Royal Clarence, aka the oldest hotel in Britain).