Exeter is a delightful, clean and historic city in Devon of about 120,000 where one finds accommodations ranging from small family-run inns to sparkling hotels with the ambiance of large museums. The city has a long history paralleling that of southern England, as it was founded by the Celts, conquered by the Romans, and nearly flattened by the Luftwaffe in World War II.
There are castles within the city, and its guildhall is reputed to be the oldest such building in England. But modern travelers will take pleasure in its easy, laid-back atmosphere.
Exeter’s standout hotel is the 53-room ABode Hotel (abodehotels.co.uk/exeter), once known as the Royal Clarence, centrally located across from the cathedral built in 1050. The rooms (rates go from approximately $220, to about $470 pp per night dbl) have undergone full remodeling and feature ultramodern amenities.
Its kitchen is manned by Exeter native son and Michelin-rated chef Michael Caines who specializes in dishes featuring Devon regional specialties. The ABode is a feast for the eye as well as for the palate. It does not disappoint.
A few days in Devon bring out a sense of tranquility ideal for unwinding after hectic London. Villages and towns straight out of an English travel log pop out unexpectedly to delight with their trademark hedgerows, narrow humpback bridges and the inevitable spire of a church breaking the horizon.
Totnes, a town as old as England, is a photogenic destination on the banks of the River Dart. It is a traditional English market town imbued with warmth even in bleak winter. Its center is a maze of narrow, cobblestone streets full of shops and galleries. Legend has it that Totnes was the first home of Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain. There’s even a granite stone that residents claim belonged to him. This town is well anchored in the past, yet it’s firmly planted in the present. It is constantly rated as one of the “world’s funkiest towns” by an irreverent travel guide.
The Royal Seven Stars Hotel (royalsevenstars.co.uk), with rates from about $130 to $200 per night dbl) is a marvelous, contemporary and graceful property that manages to retain the character of its ancient pedigree.
Cornwall, separated from Devon by the River Tamar, is an unexpected treat. Its population is a tad over half-million, but grows to more than 5 million sun-worshipping beach-goers in summer. A charming small town feeling prevails in the county of Cornwall captivating visitors. Newquay, for example, is a miniature fishing port with a picturesque appeal that far outweighs its small footprint.
The Headland Hotel (headlandhotel.co.uk), with 96 luxury rooms including 11 suites (rates run from approximately $350, per night dbl to about $500) sits on a dramatic bluff overlooking Newquay’s Fistral Beach and befits its label as “a sanctuary by the sea.”
This is a marvel that opened its doors in 1900 to instantly become a favored seaside retreat for royal guests like Edward VII who was a frequent visitor. The hotel was turned into a hospital for wounded RAF pilots during the Battle of Britain during World War II. But don’t let its history fool you. The Headland is an utterly 21st century property gushing sophistication and style.
Coastal Cornwall has a multitude of attractions, including St. Michael’s Mount, a dot of an island that is England’s version of Mt. St. Michel in France. Here one will find a number of marvelous towns like St. Ives where the festive mood of summer is a year-round affair. A fishing village at heart, St. Ives is home to Boskerris (it means “Place on the Hill” in Cornish), one of the premier hotels in the area. A boutique, Mediterranean-style jewel built in the 1930s, Boskerris (boskerrishotel.co.uk) is presently a family-owned establishment with striking ocean views that look like they came out of an iMax screen.
After having undergone a 3-year restoration, Boskerris is an elegant hotel where pampering guests seems to be the order of the day. Rates vary with the season, but generally run during the low season from $180 per night dbl to about $325.
If staying in a castle is your cup of tea, then Bovey Castle (boveycastle.com) in Devon’s Moretonhampstead should exceed all expectations. This property pampers its guests by making them feel as if they’re royalty while simultaneously extending the latest comforts and amenities.
It’s also a perfect setting from where to begin exploring Dartmoor National Park, a ghostlike zone full of hiking trails and bike paths where the beauty of the fabled moors is self evident.
Bovey Castle was built in the early 20th century and became a hotel in the 1930s. It underwent a £30 million renovation (more than 47 million dollars) in 2004, making it one of southern England’s most desirable, stylish,yet tranquil hotels.
Its style and modish amenities blend with an ambiance rarely seen these days. Bovey Castle’s exceptional service sets it apart from lesser properties and its sophistication is evident from the moment one enters its massive doors. Agatha Christie, a local icon, would feel at home here.
Annabel Elliot, a noted interior decorator, individually designed its 64 rooms and the cluster of guest lodges. The lodges are ideal for guests who treasure privacy. Rates vary with the seasons and generally run from about $250 per night dbl for a single room, to about $1,070 for a large suite.