Escape to Exeter
Looking to book a winter city break? Emma Davies explores the excitements of Exeter
estled away in south-west England, it’s easy to pass over Exeter when choosing your weekend break. If you’ve ever fancied visiting Devon, though, Exeter is the best hub for your trip – easily accessible by road and rail and with good transport links to the rest of the West Country. Its location – close to both breathtaking beaches and rugged moorlands – coupled with its vibrant yet laid-back atmosphere, makes it the ideal choice for a relaxing winter getaway.
Top photo: JoeDunckley @ Flickr. Bottom photo Glamhag @ Flickr
If it’s luxury you’re after, look no further than Exeter’s ABode hotel. Situated on Cathedral Yard – less than a minute’s walk from the High Street – it combines the convenience of centrality with opulently elegant design. Rooms start at £99 per night for a “comfortable” room and go up to £250 per night for a “fabulous” room. Western Way’s recentlyopened Jurys Inn also offers comfortable accommodation at affordable prices. The hotel is around five minutes’ walk from the city’s main shopping areas and is close to public car parking facilities. Rooms booked in advance start at £59 per night for room only, or at £84 per night for bed and breakfast. For a warm, family-orientated welcome, the city’s New North Road area offers a multitude of B&Bs – including the Woodbine Guesthouse, Locomotive Inn and Braeside Guesthouse – with rooms starting at around £50 per night.
Above: The charmingly-cobbled Gandy Street
Above: Exeter Cathedral is a one of the city’s top attractions
Two of Exeter’s best-kept lunchtime secrets can be found on Gandy Street, just a few minutes from the High Street. John Gandy’s offers a wide range of meals for just £5, made from the best locally-sourced ingredients. Just opposite, stylish wine bar Coolings has a daily-changing specials menu (around £7.50) and a formidably-stocked home-made salad bar. Great Italian food is also in abundant supply, with family-run restaurant Nico’s (St Bartholomew Street East) renowned as the best place in the city for a hearty Italian meal – main courses start at around £8. Pizza fans should also consider visting On the Waterfront, located on the quayside, where you can enjoy exquisite views of the river along with one of their famous “dustbin lid” 16” sharing pizzas (around £15). Fans of gourmet cuisine will be enchanted with Michael Caines’ restaurant at the ABode hotel, which features a menu of seasonal local produce starting at around £22 for a main course.
Exeter is now one of the south west’s most desirable shopping locations, thanks to the 2007 opening of its Princesshay retail redevelopment. The large pedestrianised precinct features more than 50 shops and restaurants, from the high-end fashion of Reiss to the High Street stylings of Next. If you fancy a break from the retail therapy, Exeshed’s cocktails are divine. For something more individual, the charmingly-cobbled Gandy Street provides some of the city’s independent stores, as does Fore Street. There is also a weekly farmers’ market between 9am and 2pm on Thursdays, situated at the top of South Street. The market features retailers from across Devon, selling delicious, reasonablypriced produce which takes in everything from cider to cheese and from preserves to pasties.
Exeter’s beautiful cathedral is one of its most-visited attractions, featuring the longest uninterrupted Gothic vaulting in the world. Entrance costs £5 per person, and the cathedral is open from 9am until 4.45pm. At the very heart of the city, the surrounding Cathedral Green is also immensely popular as a relaxation spot for tourists and locals alike. More historic interest in the city centre can be found at Rougemont Castle. The volcanic stone ruins date back to the days of William the Conqueror, as do the remnants of the city wall. The Castle also has small yet stunningly verdant gardens which are well worth a visit. On the outskirts of the city centre, Exeter Quay is another site of interest. In addition to its many cafés and trinket shops, this is the perfect spot for an enjoyable walk along the banks of the River Exe – or even a trip across the river on the quirky cable ferry which has been going since the 17th Century.
There’s a lot to see in Devon beyond Exeter’s city limits, so it’s really rewarding to venture a little further if you’ve got the time. Less than half an hour away by road or rail, the beaches of Dawlish Warren or Exmouth are sure to bring back a flush of nostalgia for childhood seaside holidays. These are equally lovely against a backdrop of stormy seas, so they’re perfect destinations for a winter daytrip. Also easily accessible by car is the rough-hewn landscaping of Dartmoor. Among the most popular destinations are the famous Hay Tor – the highest point above sea level on the moor – and the beautiful riverside spot of Bellever. For more information about Exeter, have a look at re:new’s website www.journalism.cf.ac.uk/renew for details.