Location: Exeter, a vibrant historic city
Perfect for: Cream teas, fine dining and rural city living
Farmers’ markets, rugged coastlines, and sun-drenched beaches; wild Dartmoor ponies, winding streams, and pretty little villages – Devon is a county full of Old English charm. Home to Britain’s oldest known settlement, a 400 million year old UNESCO Global Geopark, and one of Europe’s top Neanderthal ice age caves, it also hosts the stunning English Riviera and part of the Jurassic Coat. One of its most central hubs is Exeter, a bustling city of culture, history and heritage, that’s well positioned for those who want explore other parts of the county. When you do, be sure to stay at Southernhay House – sister hotel to the famous art deco hotel, Burgh Island – it’s a classic Grade II listed townhouse, in the heart of Exeter’s Georgian business quarter. Once owned by a colourful character who spoke five languages, had two Indian children, and a Devonshire male lover, Southernhay House is now one of the most immaculate luxury hotels in Devon, with a fantastic restaurant, private dining room, romantic veranda, smart bar and 10 gorgeous bedrooms…
“Aah, traffic!” sighs Monsieur 2 as we stroll along Exeter’s bustling High Street. “Look! John Lewis!” he practically squeals. “Oh, a McDonalds!”. He’s being facetious, but he’s made his point – at the end of a week in rural Cornwall, it does feel good to be in a city again.
We walk through the grand Cathedral Close, past the looming bulk of Exeter’s magnificent cathedral, and after negotiating a last tricky stretch of cobbled lane with our wheelie-case we arrive at Southernhay House – our boutique hotel in Exeter.
“Good afternoon gentlemen!” a smartly-suited manager says warmly, opening the door for us. Looking around at the elegant, restrained decor and oil paintings on the walls this could be someone’s very grand privatehome.
As we climb the winding staircase to the top floor – there’s no lift – our host tells us the history. Southernhay House was once the home of Major General William KirkPatrick, a fascinating Georgian character known as ‘The Orientalist’. He worked for the East India Company, had a laudanum habit and a male lover a short ride away from this very house. Racy!
The ten bedrooms of Southernhay are named after goods that were traded by the East India Company; ours is Sugar – “Not Lord Sugar then?” Monsieur 2 quips. “You’re fired!” I retort.
Our room’s huge, split about 50/50 into living and sleeping space and bathroom. The furniture is sleek, curvy Biedermeier-style, and the only obvious modern note a massive wall-mounted SMART TV.
The open plan bathroom, tiled in brown marble, has a free-standing tub and twin basins, as well as a roomy shower cubicle. Everything is generously proportioned, and just perfect for deux messieurs.
We Messieurs love our tea. And we’re impressed with the lightning-speed at which fresh milk is brought up to the room when we call for it. Extra points for there being a teapot, too!
“That would look great in our hallway” quips Monsieur 2 as we pass a magnificent light fitting at the very top of the house. I sigh. “If only it would fit… Come on, let’s go and see some city life.”
Exeter’s got some great shops and we waste no time in giving our credit cards a bashing. To counterbalance our consumerism we pop into the Royal Albert Memorial Museum for some culture. The fine art collection is fantastic.
Back at Southernhay House we drop off our shopping bags and head to the bar for cocktails.
I order an espresso Martini, while Monsieur 2 goes for a Southernhay Sling – a potent blend of tequila, mandarin liqueur and pineapple juice.
We adjourn to seats by the fire to enjoy – they’re both excellent, and very, very welcome!
“Beans On Toast!” I exclaim to Monsieur 2 – now sitting opposite me in the uber smart, but intimate dining room. He peeks over the menu, raising an eyebrow.
The menu is creative with some intriguingly named dishes, and I can’t resist ordering this playfully-titled dish. It’s not Heinz’s finest, of course, but a pretty medley of runner, borlotti and broad beans on a slice of toasted brioche. Monsieur 2 enjoys his starter of a rich, tarragony chicken chowder.
He also loves his main course, a hearty 7oz entrecote steak with crisp French fries. My turbot with 72-hour-braised short ribs – an imaginative variation on surf and turf – is clever but overwhelmed by its intense sauce; when I mention this to our waitress some palate-cleansing grapefruit sorbet is brought as if by magic – I’m impressed!
Puddings are wonderful. Chocolate delice with salted caramel and banana satisfies my sweet tooth, while Monsieur 2 polishes off a steamed ‘Exeter pudding’ containing apricot marmalade no less. A bottle of Chilean Cabernet rose from the fairly-priced list washes it all down a treat.
“Nightcap?” I suggest; “It’d be rude not to,” Monsieur 2 replies, pushing back his chair, and we make our way back to the bar which is buzzing with fellow guests and Exeter locals.
We’re tempted to hit Exeter’s gay club – Vaults – but decide to hit the hay instead, and back in our room a sweet surprise awaits – a plate of dainty petits fours to enjoy before bed. “Oooh!” we sigh in unison as we slip under the covers – taking the petits fours with us – and feel the sublime comfort of the Vi-Spring mattress.
After a great night’s sleep a bracing shower is very welcome, and we notice the bespoke bath products made for Southernhay’s sister hotel Burgh Island, where we’ve also stayed, are provided here.
Grabbing the Sunday papers, we take our seats at the large communal table in the Private Dining Room.
We forego the full English and have eggs instead – Benedict for Monsieur 2 and Royale, with smoked salmon, for me. The delicious hollandaise sauce with each is obviously home-made, and there’s plenty of it!
The coffee’s good too; we take ours outside to enjoy on the terrace.
“I can see why The Orientalist liked this place so much” Monsieur 2 says, smiling as we leave this grand colonnaded house, the staff waving us off as if we were friends who’d come to stay, not guests. “Right in the heart of a lovely city, but all the comfort of a country house.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Don’t forget to mention les Deux Messieurs if you book a stay here, or ask us to book it for you!
N.B. Southernhay House has no facilities for small children, but older children are welcome to book into rooms on an adult basis.Not what you’re looking for. Discover other amazing UK cultural destinations and city breaks here
Stayed here? Tell us what you thought.
Southernhay House is a gay friendly luxury hotel in Exeter, Devon, South West England. Civil Partnership Venue Devon
Powered by Facebook Comments