Very limited visiting hours, you’ll agree, for the West of England Eye Infirmary.
Thankfully, I’m happy to report no hospitalisation for the Burgess family. This sign is located inside the former eye hospital which is now a very chic and contemporary hotel, The Magdalen Chapter, in the centre of Exeter, .
Having previously chosen a fairly anonymous chain hotel near the motorway when visiting our son at university, we made the most of good last minute rates, to book this fascinating hotel for our latest jaunt. It proved to be an excellent decision.
Behind the austere red-brick Victorian building of the former eye hospital a stunning transformation has taken place. Without the original visitor’s sign, you would have no inkling about its history, though the stripped back design in the bathrooms - white brick-wall tiles - hints at its functional past. Standing in the shower I felt a little like Moaning Myrtle, haunting the girls’ lavatories in Hogwarts.
For special occasions, I try to choose hotel accommodation which has a bit of history or is a little different. There is definitely a sense of connection spending the night in a place which hasn’t always been a hotel or has a curious background story.
When I planned our fly-drive around Sweden a few years ago I searched for unusual places to stay: not necessarily expensive hotels, but accommodation that would be memorable.
In Stockholm we plumped for the Nobis Hotel as it had originally been a bank where, in 1973, a famous robbery had taken place: the Norrmalmstorg Drama. Four employees of Kreditbanken were held hostage in the vaults for six days. The emotional attachment the hostages developed for their captors became known as the psychological phenomenon, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. I can assure you our room wasn’t in the basement but after four nights of luxury in Sweden’s beautiful capital, I was also loathe to leave.
It might be a new build, but The Thief Hotel in Oslo also has an interesting tale to tell. It was the choice for our joint 50th birthday treat last year, partly because the name was so arresting. It is located in Tjuvholmen, ‘Thief Island’, so named because it was a district of the city where thieves were executed in the 18th century. The area is now very upmarket but as Oslo is very expensive you’ll still leave with an empty wallet.
Nearer to home, Kesgrave Hall near Ipswich is a superb family hotel and restaurant with a fascinating past. Constructed in 1812 it has been home to five different boarding schools, the last one only closing in 2007. During World War II, it was a base for the RAF and pilots of the USAF 359th Fighter Squadron, part of the 356th Fighter Group, which operated out of nearby RAF Martlesham Heath. For a decade from 1995 it was even the trading office for a timber firm.
Being aware that previous occupants of your hotel may have been having their cataracts done or held up at gunpoint certainly adds a little frisson to that complimentary ginger biscuit.
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