We Belgians all like to think that Belgium is the centre of the universe when it comes to appreciation of good food.
While Belgium is rightly renowned for its cuisine there are other places too, of course, where standards are equally high.
That, and this may come as a surprise to some, includes the UK.
In the south west cathedral city of Exeter, for instance, good food and drink is particularly highly valued, to the extent that it has even developed its very own “good food trail.”
To mark its unofficial status as a “capital” of good food, the city is also hosting at “foodies festival” later this year (September 16-18).
There is even a “food trail” which visitors can follow. This website took a closer look at what the city has to offer, not just on the horeca front but more generally too.
First, it’s worth noting that for travellers from the continent, Exeter and the south west is often overlooked as they head for the “usual suspects” on the travel itinerary such as London, Stratford and the Cotswolds.
If so, that is a shame as the city and its environs have much to offer.
Exeter’s compact size makes it great for shopping, all laced with good places to eat – which is where the “food trail” comes in.
In Devon, they love good quality, locally produced food and drink, and in Exeter there is no shortage of it, from bees producing honey on the rooftops of a shopping centre, to local wines being produced in vineyards on the sheltered slopes surrounding the city. There are plenty of opportunities to sample fresh, Devon produce in many of Exeter’s cafes and restaurants, or shop directly with the producers at the weekly Farmers Market.
A “top 50” of good and trendy places to eat are featured on the very informative Exeter food and drink trail which seeks to celebrate local producers, bringing them together on a map showcasing Exeter’s food and drink offering (a copy of the trail map can be downloaded, and you just scroll down to find out more about businesses to visit along the trail).
So, who and what is on the trail?
Well, for a start, there’s “Pieminister”, the place to go for award-winning pies in Exeter. With a wide range of pies to choose from (they’ve got over 15 different flavours, including classic, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan) they really do have something for everyone.
Another listed is “On the Waterfront”, housed on the ground floor of a magnificent 19th century warehouse on Exeter’s redeveloped Quayside, it offers a selection of tempting of locally renowned pizzas to fresh fish, meats, tapas and salads, along with gluten free and vegan options.
Open for about 6 years, “The Cosy Club”, another listed and located on the ground floor of the old Dean Clarke Hospital’s Halford (x-ray) Wing, celebrates the joys of relaxed dining, drinking and lounging in a fabulous, welcoming setting: think aristocratic abundance with a dash of, well, local village cricket pavilion pottiness.
A warm welcome and local, home-cooked food is also on offer at The Daisy Café where you can indulge in an English breakfast. This friendly café is fully-licenced and has featured in the BBC Good Food Magazine
Rockfish, which as several local branches in the south west, including at Exeter and nearby Exmouth, is a consistently award-winning restaurant showcasing sustainably sourced and locally landed seafood, often cooked within hours of being caught. From your table by the quay (or sea) side you can enjoy simple, relaxed, ingredient-driven quality food for the whole family. Mitch Tonks, the founder, is still very much hands on and they even have their own fishing boat that brings in daily catches of seafood.
Another place on the top 50 is Ten Fifty,a small café at Exeter Cathedral serving cake and hot drinks while close by is Eat on the Green, good for hearty English classics with a great view of the cathedral thrown in.
While making your way around the meandering trail, one highlight is sure to be the family run Darts Farm, just voted (again) Best Large Farm Shop in the UK. It is also still a working farm and has over the years become known to many as the home of West Country food and drink. Its brand new Cow & Cacao restaurant area is good for a light meal before browsing the local West Country produce in the food hall that they also sell here. They even make good quality chocolate here! With a 300 strong workforce, it’s good for local employment too.
Other recommendations include Coal Kitchen, known for its spectacular views of Exeter cathedral; Sacred Grounds, located in a small shopping arcade, where the emphasis is very much on wholesome, local and sustainable produce; Comptoir Libanais, showcasing Lebanese food and The Botanist, famous for its hanging kebabs.
Exeter is unrivalled in the region for the choice of things to do, whatever the weather, night or day. Explore the city’s many attractions all within close walking distance of each other. The city is segmented into distinct quarters to help you explore hidden gems and surprises along the way.
In many ways, the lovely cathedral dominates the city so why not opt for a cathedral-themed day? The cathedral is a magnificent example of gothic architecture and you can perhaps best discover it – along with what is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in England – with Exeter’s Red Coat Guides.
During sunny days, the Cathedral Green is a mecca for people wishing to spend their lunch and enjoying the views and these very informative walking tours depart from the Hooker Statue on Cathedral Green (apart from the Historic Quayside tour) and last approximately 90 minutes. They also take in the Bishop’s Palace Gardens and Cathedral Close. You can also take a roof top tour of the cathedral which provides great views across the city.
The city’s historic quayside, meanwhile, is located about 15 minutes walk from the city centre and is one of its most interesting and picturesque areas, with a fascinating history, interesting architecture, lively events and waterside pubs, restaurants and cafes. Activities on offer include cycle hire from Saddles and Paddles and one route takes you to the quaint, historic port of Topsham, a town that is easily reached by public transport or by bike. Cycling is an easy way to get around the city as everywhere is within a 30 minute bike ride.
Exeter has numerous cycle routes (including bus and cycle lanes) as well as quiet roads identified as part of a cycle network. These have been constructed to help cyclists and provide a route away from busier and heavier traffic.
Another good short excursion, time permitting, is 30 minutes away in Exmouth where you can jump aboard a Stuart Line ferry for a short cruise of the River Exe, stretching 50 miles and spanning a mile wide in places. The Exe is the longest river in Devon and a cruise is a great way to explore it.
Back in Exeter and close to the Quay is a very good spot for accommodation: a fully self-contained apartment owned by Aqora, a local business and the only serviced apartment provider in the city to be ASAP and COVID-19 Compliance accredited.
Its apartments are centrally located and within walking distance of the high street and all attractions, including the excellent Royal Albert Memorial Museum (free entry). They are fully furnished to a high standard with hotel grade beds, super fast Wi-fi and a cleaning service. Accommodation can be from just three nights with no maximum duration.
Having travelled so far from Belgium it would be sad not to explore a bit of the wider area which includes the terrific Exmoor national park. It’s also possible to do some great star gazing here with guides tours arranged by the Yarn Market Hotel in Dunster, located just over the border from Devon in Somerset. Several other themed events are organised throughout the year by the family run, 28-bed hotel including a South West Coast Path walking break from 10-14 April. It’s situated in the medieval village of Dunster which in itself is well worth a visit, not least for the fantastic National Trust-run castle whose origins go back 1,000 years, no less.
Nearby is some more great cycling to be had via Exmoor Adventures which can arrange guided mountain bike trips (along with other facilities such as archery. From its base you can ride into the nearby hills and trails.
As you may have heard the UK is also hosting a special event this year: from 2 to 5 June, everyone in the UK will come together and celebrate the Queen’s 70 year reign, with an extended Bank Holiday. To celebrate this unprecedented anniversary, events and initiatives will take place throughout the country, including Exeter which is marking the Queens Platinum Jubilee with a street party which will take place in the High Street. A Military and Community Village will also take place on the Cathedral Green. During the evening, the Lord Mayor and the Exeter Sea Cadets, will join the nation in lighting a beacon on the Quay.
A local tourism spokesman told this site, “We hope both residents & visitors to the city will come along and join in all the celebrations.”
Look out too for other big events in the city this year,including the 80th Anniversary of the Exeter Blitz (2-4 May), Exeter’s Armed Forces Day (18 June) and its renowned Christmas market,.
So, there you have it – if you are looking for a bit of inspiration for a break, maybe over Easter (or some other time this year), then this lovely part of the UK is well worth thinking about. It is relatively easy to get there, either via a flight to Exeter airport, or by car/ferry, and the lovely reception you are guaranteed from the locals means that the (long) journey is well worth it.
Top tip for Belgians: look out for the Flemish architecture in Topsham and sample the Belgian style waffles at Sacred Grounds!