THE MAGDALEN CHAPTER , EXETER
The Magdalen Chapter may take inspiration from its history as an eye hospital but the hotel also firmly has its eye on the future with its contemporary design style and well-thought out details.
When it comes to places to stay the night, you’d probably put a hospital and hotel at opposing ends of the ‘desirability’ scale. Until now, that is. The Magdalen Chapter in Exeter has fused its heritage as the former West England Eye Infirmary with everything you’d want from a 21st century hotel, to stunning effect.
The second UK property by Swire Hotels, which has made its mark with cutting-edge urban offerings such as The Opposite House in Beijing and EAST in Hong Kong, continues with its strong design ethos here in Exeter. The imposing 19th century architecture has been softened in the bedrooms with contemporary wallpapers and velvet drapes but I was also glad to see that a sense of building’s back-story has not been lost. High ceilings and long corridors remain, bathrooms are clad in white brick tiles and lots of original features (such as fireplaces, terrazzo flooring and even the hospital visitors’ sign) have been restored. If that’s your cup of tea, then ask to stay in Room 220, the original operating theatre that retains its wooden, double entry doors and a surgical drain.
It may be a little too stark in a few places for some (our bedroom had a tad unexciting, monochrome colour palette) but the fantastic, buzzy public spaces more than make up for that – for it is here that the hotel is at its strongest.
Overall a sense of locality is key at The Magdalen. The specially curated art collection, put together by Kate Sweeney of Perspective art consultancy, is a highlight and includes bronze sculptures by Alison Crowther and Hugo Dalton and prints by Tracy Bush and Kate Maestri, all reflecting a local flavour. The snug-come-library offers a nice touch with an edited collection of books all with a local theme, while The Restaurant has award-winning chef Ben Bulger at the helm, serving locally-sourced, fresh-from-the-field produce across his seasonal British menu (a must is the Roast Sladesdown duck breast with polenta, artichokes, Parma ham and broad beans).
The hotel also doesn’t fall short when it came to the little details that matter so much when staying away from home. We experienced quite a few ‘ahh’ moments – such as the Nespresso machine in our bedroom, the complimentary iPads on which you can order your morning paper, browse the menu or even ask for a hair straightener, if needs be, and the bespoke range of furniture designed by Russel Pinch. The indoor/outdoor pool was a bit breezy when we visited but will no doubt be a delight in the summer months and the Cowshed Spa offers a comprehensive menu of REN treatments. You won’t want to be discharged early.