Get away without going away…Manchester
Just about everyone could use a weekend break or even a fortnight’s holiday however, the economic downturn paired alongside the weakened pound can make you rethink your plans. Fortunately, there is a happy medium between an extravagant weekend away and your usual old boring routine. The next time you’re itching for a new experience why not take the chance to explore your own city living through a new vantage point as a happy carefree tourist? A chance to discover what travelers from around the globe already know, which you may ordinarily overlook and miss out. A chance to get away without going away….
I initially presumed a weekend in Manchester meant ‘making the most’ of what is available locally – but ‘making the most’ doesn’t necessarily mean second-rate. Indeed the feeling of ‘escapism’ is the biggest enticement for a foreign holiday yet, it doesn’t mean that one can’t unwind, explore or indeed discover new things to see and do in the local area.
You’re going on holiday, so remember…. treat it as one (though wearing Bermuda shorts and straw sombrero can be optional!)
On arrival we enter a theatrical reception area with exposed brick walls, chandeliers, black slate floors and rich baroque velvet chairs. This is impressive.
This unique and rather spectacular building originally started life as Victorian school for the traveling barge community. Four years ago it was transformed into a 5* townhouse hotel and now represents the epitome of ‘chic’. Opening the door to our room (a former classroom) we were greeted with magnificent towering ceilings and rather splendid school-house windows. The lavish hand-carved bed could easily fit a family of four and the mezzanine floor hosts not one, but two free-standing roll top baths. Everything from the bed linen to the sound system and the chrome light fittings oozes style and quality.
They say it’s the little things that matter and with this hotel they certainly do. Personal hand written letters, the indulgence of chocolate coated strawberries and above all a rather ‘novel’ rooftop terrace with hammocks. Ok, so the only ‘Weather(field)’ we had was the view from our room, but nothing could stop us taking a plunge in the hot tub plunge until 3am! To combat our hangover we were able to make it down for fluffy apple and chocolate pancakes in the morning which will surely soon put ‘Roy’s Rolls’ out of business?
A Standard hotel? Never. The ‘great’ in Great John Street is merely an understatement!
The Northern Quarter…
The Northern Quarter is rich with culture and it’s labyrinth of streets, one can find plenty of galleries and sculpture. The Northern Quarter name came into use when the run down streets around Tib Street began to develop in the 80s as a bohemian district. Like SoHo in New York or SoMa in San Francisco, The Northern Quarter is as much a ‘lifestyle’ as a place to go shopping. Between the à la mode restaurants, stylish bars and wonderfully original shopping there is still an edge. If you are searching for something that is a little bit different, the Northern Quarter is certainly it…
Part Aladdin’s Cave part cultural icon, Afflecks Palace is no longer an underground part of Manchester: it’s the hub of the Northern Quarter. Stalls and kiosks offer not only clothes but jewellery, ceramics, tattoos and hairstyling. This emporium of eclecticism is a must-visit destination for retro fashionistas and for the more experimental. If anything it provides the perfect original shopping experience..
The Ithaca restaurant is an oasis of Oriental calm amid the city centre bustle. Fabulous mirrored chandeliers and opulent furnishings combine to offer a sense of comfort and class in a sophisticated haven. Understated it’s not. Packed with glamorous, young and well-heeled folk the vibe is to see and be seen. But don’t be distracted by this. The real ‘must sees’ here are the food and drink.
An eclectic mix of culinary delights cleverly designed for lovers of Japanese and Pan Asian fusion fine dining. The Patagonian Toothfish might not be the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen however, as a dish it was a work that would give Tracey Emin a run for her money. What my fellow diner could only describe as melt in your mouth texture steeped in chili saikyo miso, then roasted, there was clearly a winner here.
As well as a restaurant, complete with two dining rooms, Ithaca doubles up as a bar on the second floor with a dress code of ultra smart being the minimum standard required. From the moment you’re welcomed by the hostess, to when we entered the sumptuous interior, you realise there is something that little bit different in the ‘Astoria Bar’. A sophisticated playground it certainly is, yet surprisingly intimate enough to relax in. ‘Enter the Dragon’ put together by clearly some of the UKs leading mixologists is a reason itself to come to the place to be seen!
Bringing a little bit of the East… to the North West
The Manchester Buddhist center is an urban oasis bringing Buddhist wisdom alive in the heart of Manchester – and you don’t even have to be Buddhist to go there.
Looking around, the people in here appear so happy. Walking without a care in the world, making eye contact, smiling at each other. What if the Buddhist Centre is really just an alter ego for a swingers club?!
My time at the centre was mainly spent “in the deep blue ocean, breathing in sync, as the waves rushed over my head”. I left feeling surprisingly more content. I took the time to speak to the other people, and was genuinely interested. Maybe it’s some kind of cult to make everybody seem nice, but they actually are.
With an instantly calming monastic atmosphere, this is the place for a lunchtime break away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Continuing with the calmness, situated below the Buddhist centre, Earth is a place of peace and reflection. Decorated in an effortless minimalist style there is nothing frosty about the atmosphere and there is an enticing ‘poet’s corner’ – a tight booth for one complete with bookshelf and writing desk… just enough room for your notebook, pen and your ‘Tiger Chai’. A truly five star vegan cafe which can even keep committed carnivores content… a rare find in any city.
The beauty of tourism in your own backyard is that you don’t have to plan far ahead – you can enjoy it at the spur of the moment. I guarantee that once all the fantastic things to see and do on your doorstep are revealed, you may find it difficult to resist the urge to try them all again next weekend.
So what have I discovered through this trip as the lastminute.com Globe Trotter? Manchester really does have so much to offer that getting away without going away really does make sense. Whatever the weather, set to work creating your new to-do’s, and just do them.