‘The passion of creating clothing comes from the idea that if they are stylish, yet practical and robust, they allow you to be carelessly elegant and have confidence to look good.’ Paul Walker
Walker Slater, the Scottish tweed tailoring company, was founded in 1989 in Laggan before opening on Victoria Street, Edinburgh, followed by stores in Glasgow and London.
Specialists of fine casual and formal clothing for ladies and gentlemen, it was named Retailer of the Year 2015 at the Scottish Fashion Awards.
From traditional tailoring to contemporary style, Walker Slater is renowned for tweed jackets, trousers, waistcoats, three piece suits, overcoats and knitwear in quality wool and tweed produced in the Borders, Shetland and Harris. What could be more classic than a beautifully designed, made-to-measure three piece suit for a special occasion.
The Caledonian Hotel, Princes Street, Edinburgh is celebrating its fifth birthday in September as a Waldorf Astoria. With the grand art deco hotel as a backdrop, Walker Slater will stage a fabulous fashion show – a sneak preview of the Autumn/Winter 2017/18 collection.
This style event will take place in the hotel’s glamorously elegant Peacock Alley on the afternoon of Friday 15th September, hosted by Scottish broadcaster and Deacon Blue drummer, Dougie Vipond.
During the catwalk show, guests will experience a luxury Afternoon Tea inspired by the botanicals of Edinburgh Gin. Enjoy a seasonal selection of sweet and savoury treats, complemented by a crafted gin cocktail, delicately flavoured with orange, lemon, heather, coriander, juniper, and pine.
The new curated WS clothing range is sure to keep you warm during the Autumn and Winter months. Ladies may relish beautiful Scottish cashmere, everyday clothes from city street to country walks, and day to evening wear.
The preview will also launch ‘Messrs,’ a youthful collection with a contemporary look, fit and colour palette, from Harris Tweed suits to leather jackets.
“As an old Victorian railway station, The Caledonian has over 110 years of rich heritage in Edinburgh, of which we are very proud. Walker Slater also has a strong Scottish heritage and worldwide reputation for style, offering the perfect synergy with Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh.” Dale MacPhee, General Manager, Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh, The Caledonian.
The much beloved “Caley” hotel today as part of the Waldorf Astoria portfolio, represents the epitome of international luxury travel, and this classic Scottish fashion brand, creates the ideal partnership.
Walker Slater boutiques also presents a range of fabulous, must-have accessories for women and men including bags, gloves, scarves, shoes, tweed-wrapped hip flasks and gifts, perfect for the winter season and Christmas.
“They have an attention to detail befitting a Parisian couturier and the flair of a Tokyo street-wear brand.”
Tickets for the Waldorf Astoria & Walker Slater fashion show with Afternoon Tea, are priced at £45 per person.
Be the first to join the A –List FROW * by reserving your place soon! (* Front Row @ fashion show)
Book tickets at Eventbrite at: http://bit.ly/2g4WiqA
Throughout the month of September, an inspiring diary of events will celebrate the 5th birthday of The Caledonian as a Waldorf Astoria. Highlights include a luxurious stay in the Caley Suite, an Oyster & Champagne Masterclass at Galvin Brasserie de Luxe and classic Cocktails in the Caley Bar.
For more information:
The British custom of Afternoon Tea was invented by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford around the 1840s. With a long wait until dinner, every day around 4pm, she felt ” that sinking feeling” and requested a pot a tea and light snack during the afternoon. She then began inviting a few friends to join her sociable soiree. This innovative idea soon spread, with ladies hosting afternoon tea parties where guests enjoyed a perfectly poured cup of tea, slices of cake and lively gossip and conversation.
As popular today as ever, traditional Afternoon Tea continues at many luxury hotels around the UK: In Edinburgh, it is served in elegant style at The Sheraton, The Balmoral and in the Peacock Alley @ Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh.
Warmly recommended is the colourfully-designed Cucina at the G&V Hotel, George IV Bridge, to sample a mini feast of tiny savoury sandwiches, scones, clotted cream & jam and patisserie, served with speciality leaf teas. And do indulge yourself with an ice-chilled, beautifully crafted Cocktail or a delicious sparkling Prosecco.
What a delightful, leisurely way to spend the afternoon, far from the madding crowd and cultural buzz of the Festivals this August. On sunny days, there’s an outdoor terrace outside Cucina, for a special summertime treat.
And, of course, you can always book a table here anytime .. . not just through this National Afternoon Tea Week!
Cucina @ G&V Hotel, 1 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1AD
“Venice: The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller” by Gillian Angrave – your perfect, personal companion in your pocket.
A recurring travel bug has certainly afflicted Gillian Angrave. Her globetrotting career began in 1967 as Assistant Purser with P & O cruise line followed by working for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Now enjoying a very active retirement, she continues to explore the world often returning to her favourite city, Venice.
She is flamboyant, magical and unique, like nowhere else on earth.”
“Venice – The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller,” volume 1, From Swamp to La Serenissima, begins in March 2015 when Gillian arrives for her first visit, describing her initial impressions and experiences. This is different from the typical guide book for tourists, full of historical facts and figures, a long directory on hotels and lists of key sites. Instead, this personal travelogue is for the independently-minded visitor, in search of art, culture, heritage and off the beaten track adventures.
To start, her advice if flying here, is to ensure you arrive into Venice by water, either by the efficient Alilaguna Ferry from Marco Polo airport or water taxi. “Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of the Canal Grande ..it really is awesome.”
There’s a brief history of Venice from 421 AD, when it had developed from the flooded River Po delta to a living “patchwork quilt” of 116 island communities around the Lagoon. Then follow in Gillian’s footsteps as she eagerly sets off around this flamboyant “water city,” in the Venetian manner of “andare per le fodere,” back-tracking the maze of narrow alleyways and a myrad of bridges to get from A to B.
Getting lost is part of the fun and it’s easy to find your bearings with signs for Rialto and San Marco to keep you on the right track. Soon this “virgin Venetian” is jumping on Vaporetti (water buses) here, there and everywhere – “Hop on and off with a three day pass” she recommends.
Where to eat is always a difficult decision, but Gillian very soon finds Le Café, Campo Santo Stefano, to relish the perfect Spaghetti Bolognaise – a friendly, family run Ristorante which she returns to again and again.
A walking tour takes her to La Merceria district, “a shopper’s paradise” followed by an excellent lunch at Café Saraceno. She zigzags her way along and around Il Canalazzo (Grand Canal), with its four famous bridges and iconic architecture, taking a stroll one day along the waterfront promenade, Zattere Ponte Lungo, lined with bars and pizzerias, overlooking the island of Guidecca. She also illustrates how the historic vision of the city has been preserved: the view of the Entrance to the Arsenale as painted in 1773 by Canaletto is virtually unchanged today.
Day by day, we tour Venice with Gillian as our personal guide. An early morning visit to see the Campanile, the 328 foot high Bell Tower in St. Mark’s Square, relating how the original tower collapsed on 14 July, 1902, but was rebuilt in just nine years. Further restoration in 1962 included the installation of a much appreciated lift.!
And of course, there are stunning Churches galore, such as Santa Maria della Salute, in such a perfect location near the mouth of the sweeping S shaped Canalazzo. “ I do like La Salute with its octaganol cupola, six chapels, Titian’s great works and organ recitals are held regularly. …”
For an exhilarating day trip by Motonavo, (a large Vaporetto), three charming islands out in the Laguna are Murano, famous for glassware and Burano with its row of former fishermen’s pretty coloured houses, giving its name Harlequin Island.
Torcello is renowned for its beautiful cathedral and where gourmands flock to eat at the legendary Locanda Cipriani restaurant. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip once visited for lunch, when the menu included ravioli, fried fish, pasta, beans and risotto!
Although Gillian doesn’t cover this, here’s a little more of its fascinating story. Its founder, Giuseppe Cipriani was a hospitality entrepreneur, first inventing Harry’s Bar in 1931, (near Piazza San Marco), which was like a private club for Hollywood stars, who sipped the house cocktail, Bellini and dined on Beef Carpaccio. A typical lunch here for Orson Welles was shrimp sandwiches, washed down with two bottles of Dom Perignon. Following the Bar’s celebrity success, in 1935 he founded the Ristorante on Torcello, ( beloved by Ernest Hemingway and other Harry’s Bar clientelle). Then in 1953, he planned his grand Hotel Cipriani on Giudecca, today the luxury, hideaway Belmond Cipriani Resort (a favourite of George Clooney).
At the end of Chapter 1, Gillian writes, “ My love affair with Venice had now begun – I knew I would be back”. Chapter 2 begins on 28 September, 2015, the diary of her second visit, where she stays at Hotel Flora, “ a 17th century palazzo tucked down a little alley off the Calle Larga XX11 Marzo” and she was soon back at her favourite Le Café for dinner.
And so her exploration continues, this time on a literary-inspired journey, visiting the former homes of Marco Polo, the intrepid traveller to the far East, and also of Robert Browning whose former address is now a museum. As the poet wrote, “Open my heart and you will see, graved inside of it, Italy.” Gillian enjoys “sauntering .. soaking up the atmosphere” and is an expert at finding hidden gems such as a music museum of vintage instruments, and the statue, Il Gobbo de Rialto, a character in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice. ” The Venice Biennale Festival of Modern Art since 1895, proves an enlightening experience as she tours around the galleries.
It is also interesting to read about the Venice in Peril Fund, an appeal first launched by UNESCO in 1966 following the devastating flood to protect the city from further disaster. Residents say that “Venice is not sinking, the water is rising”. The fasinating chapter, Watercraft of Venice tells the colourful history of the various boats, barges, ornately painted gondolas and the traditional role of the gondolier.
Gillian ends the book, with a fond farewell, “my love of Venice will grow ever stronger with the years to come. Ciao Venezia, e grazie mille”.
“Venice” by Jan Morris, (first published 1960) is now a modern classic and described as one of the best travel books about Venetian life and character, its waterways, architecture, bridges, tourists, curiosities, brought vividly to life.
In similar vein, Gillian Angrave shares her love affair with Venice, capturing its timeless, dreamlike sense of place. In his “Guide to Alexandria”, E. M. Foster advises the best way to look at the city is to “wander aimlessly about”. That is exactly what Gillian accomplishes on her own wandering, meandering and sauntering around La Serenissima.
Her observations are not intended to be a comprehensive city guide covering the usual list of where to stay, eat, drink and what to see. Instead, her humour, enthusiasm, knowledge, passion and quirky anecdotes offer a most enlightening narrative. Pack a copy of this slim, well illustrated book as your perfect travel companion in your pocket for your next trip to Venice.
Venice: The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller – Volume 1, From Swamp to La Serenissima
by Gillian Angrave
(available on Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0995573948
P.S. See also Venice: The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller, Volume 2. (review to follow soon).
Experience the Oyster Happy Hour for a sophisticated taste of summer at the Galvin Brasserie de Luxe, Edinburgh
Kick off the Summer and Festival season in Edinburgh with a sparkling celebration of Oysters and Fizz evenings at the Galvin Brasserie de Luxe.
It is nearly five years since the much beloved Caledonian Hotel was imaginatively restored after a glamorous, art deco design facelift to be reborn as the luxury Waldorf Astoria and join the elite collection of elegant hotels around the world from New York to Paris. As part of the new look, Michelin-starred chefs, Chris and Jeff Galvin took over the fine-dining Pompadour Restaurant and also created the classic French Brasserie de Luxe offering authentic Parisian cuisine, style, service and atmosphere – recently named the Best Informal Restaurant (Edinburgh) for the third time at the Scottish Hotel Awards.
An innovative idea, just launched for summer in the city, is an indulgently, romantic Oyster Happy Hour.
During the week, Monday to Friday, from 6pm and 7pm, it’s now Champagne O’Clock combined with Lindisfarne Oysters, (at the value price of just £1 a shuck). Pop in with a few colleagues after work or meet family and friends for an appetising pre-dinner aperitif and shellfish “canapés” to celebrate the long, light evenings.
Take a stool at the Island Bar in the Brasserie and share a platter of the freshest oysters, served on ice with traditional accompaniments – Mignonette (shallot vinegar), spicy Tabasco and a squeeze of tangy lemon. And on the side, what could be better than a flute of chilled Galvin Champagne, a glass of wine (choice of house wines on tap), or your favourite cocktail. A dry Gin Martini might hit the spot!
Lindisfarne Oysters, a family business in Northumberland, produce these Pacific oysters (Crassostrea Gigas) grown along the seashore within the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. Starting off in a hatchery, they are later placed in mesh bags on oyster beds, and then can take up to four years to mature.
Historical records show that these oyster beds were established by the Monks of Lindisfarne Priory in 1381, after they bought an oyster boat for 100 shillings.
Having sampled a few of these silky soft little molluscs, the oysters are expertly “chucked” so that no utensil is required to extract the oysters – just add your preferred garnish and they slide out of the craggy shell, then swallow in one mouthful to relish that salty-sweet flavour. Simply delicious.
Guy de Maupassant
There’s a casually relaxed mood in the Brasserie, with cool, jazzy -blues on the soundtrack, blending with the buzzing chatter of diners.
Of course, after sampling a few oysters and a couple of drinks, this will be the ideal Appetiser and you may well be tempted to stay on for dinner in the Brasserie .. if there’s a table available! (Reservations highly recommended).
Oysters were first introduced in Britain during the Roman times – shells have been found at many archaeological sites from the Roman Fort in Richborough to Hadrian’s Wall. After this period, it would take centuries for the oyster to become popular again. By the end of the 18th century, they were the typical food served in Public Houses, washed down with a pint of strong Stout, as cheap, readily available shellfish was part of the staple diet of the working class.
“The poorer a place is, the greater call there seems for oysters …when a man’s very poor, he rushes out of his lodgings and eats oysters in regular desperation.” Charles Dickens, ‘The Pickwick Papers’ (1836)
How social class, food and diets have changed since then!. Today prime shellfish, lobsters, scallops and oysters are synonymous with a luxury lifestyle and gourmet cuisine.
Casanova, who allegedly seduced over 100 women, used to breakfast on 50 oysters, due to their aphrodisiac qualities to improve his virility and performance. Recent scientific research has proved they are rich in rare amino acids which increase levels of sex hormones and stimulate libido.
So if you are planning a special date or romantic night out with your partner, this Happy Hour with Oysters and Champagne is sure to be the perfect start to your evening with a stylish sense of Joie de Vivre.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and succulent texture, drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy! ” Ernest Hemingway
I think Hemingway would approve of Oyster Happy Hour at the Waldorf Astoria.!
Oyster Happy Hour, Monday-Friday, 6-7pm
Galvin Brasserie de Luxe, Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian
Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 2AB
tel. 0131 222 8988 www.galvinbrasseriedeluxe.com
“The Man & the Monarch” – Sir Edwin Henry Landseer unveiled @ Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh – The Caledonian
Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) is synonymous with the powerful depiction of animals, from Queen Victoria’s hounds and horses to lions and polar bears. However, more than any other animal, the Highland Red Deer is most associated with his art, notably ‘The Monarch of the Glen’, painted in 1851.
This majestic portrayal of a royal stag against the moody backdrop of misty mountain peaks led to numerous reproductions, engravings and marketing images from whisky to shortbread and even butter, spreading the image worldwide.
This iconic image of Scotland’s wild, natural landscape encapsulates its sense of tradition, heritage and romance. As one critic noted, ‘Landseer may be said to have mastered other animals, but the deer mastered him”.
Having been on loan for seventeen years to the National Gallery of Scotland, in 2016 the owners Diageo, decided to put the painting up for auction through Christie’s, which sparked the very real threat of a sale to an overseas gallery or collector.
Following an urgent appeal by the NGS to save the Monarch for the nation, Diageo agreed a partnership deal offering a £4 million purchase price, half its market value. Financial support came from Heritage Lottery Fund, Art Fund, Scottish Governnent, private trusts and an international fundraising campaign (#loveitdeerly), with generous donations from art lovers around the world.
On 17 March 2017, it was announced that Landseer’s famous Stag had been secured, now in public ownership to remain in the permanent collection at the National Gallery of Scotland.
To celebrate this extraordinary painting, an exhibition entitled “The Man and the Monarch” is on display throughout April in a pop up gallery at the Peacock Alley, the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh, The Caledonian.
The Art Consultancy firm, Artiq advises on and selects works of art for private homes and public spaces. Companies and clients can also lease artworks on a regular revolving basis. It is the perfect opportunity for restaurants and hotels to enhance ambience and decor for the benefit of guests: “In the hospitality industry, a great piece of art can leave a lasting impression and resonate on a deeper level than any other aspect of design or service.” Hotels which have collaborated with Artiq on art collections include London Heathrow, Marriott, and Gleneagles, Perthshire.
Kate Terres, an Art Consultant from Artiq, is the enthusiastic curator behind this fascinating showcase of prints, photographs and portraits with works by Landseer, John Ballantyne, Albert Mendelssohn and eclectic range of contemporary artists.
A stunning, stark photograph is “White Stag” by Kristian Bell. Perhaps snapped at dusk, the pure white of its coat illuminates the soft tones of green and brown foliage with the two central deer staring directly at the lens.
As Kristian explains “I had heard a few rumours of a white stag hanging around the Arne RSPB in Dorset so was pretty pleased when we came across a group of deer including two white stags…. they were flighty and this was the closest I could get.”
The award winning London-based German artist, Alma Haser specializes in carefully constructed portraits using imaginative paper-folding techniques which distorts the face, Picasso-esque style, such as in her series Cosmic Surgery.
“I hope that people find them beautiful but at the same time are taken aback because they are so awkward and weird. I just want them to look closer.” Alma Haser
Haser also alters the shape of a head and facial expression with decorative adornments in a series entitled Brainstorm, and here you can see her powerfully enigmatic portrait “Thistle Face,” showing a man’s face obscured by the flower of Scotland. Landseer suffered bouts of depression throughout his life and this vibrant image of sharp, spiky leaves and purple tone, subtlely reflects the blocked mind and dark thoughts of mental illness.
To complement a fine print of “The Monarch of the Glen” itself, there is also “Scene in Braemar – Highland Deer”. In 1888, this Landseer painting was purchased at Christie’s for 4,950 guineas by Sir Edward Cecil Guinness, remaining in the family, (on loan to the National Gallery of Dublin) until sold to a private collector over a century later. The dramatic painting, nearly 9ft high, portrays the artist’s most familiar subject, the Red Stag, surrounded by young fawns and a cute little hare with a soaring eagle overhead against menacing grey storm clouds.
This small yet comprehensive exhibtion captures the essential spirit of Landseer’s life and work: a violent scene of eagles attacking three swans, portraits and photographs which illustrate his close association with Queen Victoria (who commissioned numerous pictures), and his epic project to model the lion sculptures for Trafalgar Square.
It would have been fantastic to have also included a print of Sir Peter Blake’s own striking interpretation, “After The Monarch of the Glen” (1966), hanging side by side Peter Saville’s dynamic tapestry, “After, After, After The Monarch of the Glen,” (2012).
Within the former Caledonian Station concourse, the Peacock Alley is a most elegant Salon for hotel guests and non residents to relax over afternoon tea or a coupe of champagne. The Bartender has invented a special Scotch Whisky, Earl Grey and orange-flavoured “Monarch” cocktail, the perfect tipple as you browse around this artwork.
It makes you wonder that if Landseer were alive today, he would be invited to work for fashion houses and jewellers to create promotional advertisements .. you can just visualise Landseer’s Stags, dogs and lions joining Cartier’s Panther as a symbol of artistic style and luxury.
“The Man and the Monarch” is on show until the end of April 2017
The Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian
Princes Street, Edinbugh EH1 2AB. tel. 0131 222 8888
Best Theatre in Scotland
“I can’t rate this place highly enough. It’s a repertory theatre so you can see different shows each night, and two shows on matinee days. The standard is excellent, there’s a lovely restaurant and always delightful staff.”
The comments of a happy theatregoer this summer who clearly shares my passion for Pitlochry Festival Theatre, which I have been visiting since a young teenager during summer family holidays at Loch Tay; we would drive over to see a matinee, (such as a thrilling performance of “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier), followed by fish and chips in town and then head back to Kenmore. Happy memories!.
Latterly, I have continued to visit most years to see a few productions from the usual culturally diverse programme – the wit of Oscar Wilde, sizzling satire from Noel Coward, bittersweet romance from Somerset Maugham, murder mysteries, (more please!), American drama, (ditto), whimsical fantasies by J M Barrie and contemporary Scottish plays. Artistic Director John Durnin balances period classics with comedy and a lavish musical to suit both the local residents and visitors who flock to Pitlochry every summer.
The PFT’s Repertoire Season 2016 featuring an ensemble cast of eighteen actors, kicked off on 27th May with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical, “Carousel” which quickly proved a hit with theatre-goers .. “Carousel was absolutely marvellous – acting, singing, costumes, set, orchestral music could not be faulted.”
and Critics …“The opening production of Pitlochry’s 2016 season has set the bar high for the rest of the year with a sparkling version of Carousel”. The Stage
Ayckbourn’s trilogy, “Damsels In Distress” offers three comedies – GamePlan, FlatSpin and RolePlay – featuring totally different characters and plots but sharing the same stage set, a smart Docklands penthouse apartment, and performed by the same seven actors. Each play can be enjoyed on its own, see two or three, and if you fancy a farcical feast, a trilogy marathon in a single day.
GamePlan – “The set is sumptuous – a riverside apartment with large sliding doors leading out to a balcony with an impressively realistic view across the Thames”. RolePlay – ” Vintage Ayckbourn performed by a capable cast – the highpoint in Pitlochry’s ambitious three-play revival.” The Stage
5 star visitor review: “We were in Pitlochry for 3 nights. Game Plan and Flat Spin were excellent and the theatre restaurant a good place for a meal before the show“. 27 July, 2016
“Thark” is a vintage Ben Travers classic from 1927, an hilarious comedy of manners in a country house featuring a disparate bunch of English stereotypes, the philanderer Sir Hector Benbow, who fancies the delectable, sweet Cherry Buck; but his romantic plans for the weekend are scuppered by the unexpected arrival home of his wife.
Noel Coward is back with a timely revival of his family saga, “This Happy Breed” in which he starred himself in the 1942 premiere.
In contrast to his inimitable, romantic encounters between fashionably glamorous martini-sipping socialites such as in “Private Lives” and “Design for Living,” this play observes the gritty suburban life of the lower middle class Gibbons family between the wars, illustrating heartfelt patriotism with warm affection.
The final summer season production is “Hard Times” based on the novel by Charles Dickens, a master chronicler of Victorian life and family strife; set in 1870s Lancashire, Thomas Gradgrind is a retired merchant and schoolmaster, who abides by his philosophy of rationalism and fact, lacking any sense of imagination much to the despair of his children and his young pupil, Sissy.
The wonderful, romantic history of the Festival is all due to a passionate vision to create a Theatre in the Perthshire town by its founder, John Stewart.
“When staying in Pitlochry during the early part of the war, I chanced to see a stately house with a fairly large garden, quite close to the town. I at once realised that here my dream theatre might well be established in this fashionable resort right in the heart of Scotland”
His dream did came true, and in 1951, the launch of the Pitlochry Festival Theatre took place in a huge tent in the garden at Knockendarroch. The house became the theatre headquarters and the home of Kenneth Ireland, the Artistic Director.
A tea room and box office were built and soon after, the tent was replaced by a more permanent Marquee where the theatre remained until 1981; on a gloriously sunny May day, with bagpipes heralding the occasion, the new spacious, sleek, glass-fronted theatre opened in such a perfect location on the banks of the river Tummel.
The tranquil Highland setting is surrounded by gardens, woodland and hills, yet an easy walk from the town centre. The Theatre has recently been shortlisted as one of Scotland’s favourite buildings of the past century as part of the Scotstyle Festival of Architecture.
2016 marks the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Theatre and 35 years since the opening of the new auditorium. In recent years, the summer season (May to October), has gradually been extended with a Christmas-time Musical, the Winter Words Festival as well as a concerts, talks and shows on Sunday evenings.
In the Autumn, the entertainment continues with “Para Handy” by Neil Munro about life on board the Vital Spark puffer, featuring stories, songs and a live band. And then it’s time for the Musical, which this year is “Scrooge”, based on A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Having been wowed in recent years by “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street”, this will once again offer a great Festival show for all ages.
With an international reputation for high quality productions, over 100,000 visitors every year have the opportunity to see six or seven plays in six days. The theatre with an art gallery, shop, Restaurant and café bar, is a buzzing social hub day and night. Pitlochry is the ideal holiday town with a wide choice of hotels, award winning B&Bs, cafes and restaurants, (see below); shops galore, (gifts, tweed, country clothing, jewellery, arts and crafts), and Edradour whisky distillery. Perthshire is an outdoor playground for hiking, biking, river rafting, hill climbing and scenic drives around Loch Tummel.
The PFT is now looking ahead to its 70th birthday celebrations and has launched a £25 million fundraising scheme, “Through the Vision 2021,” a major project to establish a national centre of theatrical excellence in Perthshire. Across several phases over the next five years, the plan is to extend and improve the front of house, refurbish the auditorium and build a full height fly tower.
In addition, to create a second, smaller auditorium as well as a national centre for production services for skills training, set design, costumes, lighting, sound, technology, which would be available to other theatres. The architectural design includes new riverfront terraces, landscaping, improved access and an enlarged car park.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre is already one of Scotland’s leading cultural tourism destinations, which economically for the local community, is far greater than any comparable UK theatre, and in Scotland, second only to the Edinburgh Festival. By 2021, with a longer season running from Spring to Winter and two auditoria, it is estimated that theatre attendances will rise by 40% to around 140,000 annual visitors.
The PFT aims to play more of a significant and key role within the performing arts sector in the UK through partnerships with other theatres, producers and venues. It will programme the best touring work across theatre, opera and dance and in turn, tour a selection of own productions around Scotland and further afield. The artistic programme will be increased and greatly diversified with more drama, concerts, events and tours year-round.
“Through the Vision, 2021” is a challenging and exciting development, which preserves the legacy of John Stewart and his inspirational dream to establish a Theatre in the Hills.
” ….if you’ve never been to Pitlochry Festival Theatre, you really are missing out. Just try it!”. Theatre visitor, July 2016.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Port na Craig, Pitlochry, PH16 5DR. 01796 484626.
Recommended places to stay and eat:
Craigatin House & Courtyard – Guesthouse of the Year, 2016, Scottish Hotel Awards
Craigmhor Lodge – Best Breakfast award, 2015, Scottish Hotel Awards
Fisher’s Hotel – Old Coaching Inn near the train station; 2 bars & restaurant, lovely garden.
The Old Mill Inn – Scottish Inn of the Year, 2016, Scottish Hotel Awards
Killiecrankie Hotel – Charming, luxury country house with first class, homely hospitality.
Fern Cottage Restaurant – 10 minutes walk from PFT, perfect for pre-theatre meals.
Victoria’s Restaurant – Morning coffee, lunch and dinner – open all day.
To step on board the Venice Simplon Orient Express is a dream of journey and an exquisite privilege to step back in time to the glamorous era of train travel.
“I would like to say that I was born on the Orient Express as my mother took her bi-monthly trip to Istanbul, or that I was smuggled out of China as a tiny baby wrapped in silk and hidden in the guard’s van in a trunk of geological specimens” Lisa St. Aubin De Teran – Off the Rails.
Like Lisa who is a self-confessed train addict, I have a passion for the gracious, golden-era of train travel. My partner and fellow world traveller Ken and I have been fortunate to experience several classic railway journeys – the 1920s vintage Al Andaluz around Andalucia, Spain, Belmond Northern Belle (for dinner), Belmond The Royal Scotsman for a marvellous tour from Edinburgh to the Highlands and West coast of Scotland, and an enriching few days on board the Belmond Eastern and Oriental, right across the Malaysian peninsula from Bangkok to Singapore.
But now it was time for a truly aspirational adventure: the excitement began when our Orient Express Venice-Simplon Travel Journals arrived, like a slim novella full of facts, city guides, photographs and official train tickets from London to Venice:
“Welcome …You are about to embark on a journey like no other, travelling across Europe in a fashion redolent of the glamorous 1920s…… to rediscover the sheer pleasure of elegant rail travel.
The first part of the journey is from Victoria Station, London to Folkestone, on board the Belmond British Pullman departing at10.45am on Thursday 26 June. We therefore take the very comfortable East Coast train, First Class, from Edinburgh to Kings Cross the day before, to ensure we are there in a timely manner.
The Guoman Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria is a grand Heritage Railway hotel, where train travellers have stayed, wined and dined since 1862. The Reunion Cocktail Bar is the former First class Waiting room. The next morning, the concierge takes care of our luggage and personally escorts us out the side entrance directly onto the concourse and over to Platform 2 on the far side.
Here is the red carpet and box trees outside the Orient Express Lounge where we check in at Reception. Passengers may have a small overnight bag in their Wagon Lit suite, while all other luggage is stored in the Guard’s van until we reach Venice … rather like trunks on a transatlantic crossing which were labelled, “Not wanted on voyage.”
A few guests dressed appropriately in 1920s – 30s, ladies in vintage frocks and veiled pillbox hats and men in cream blazers and panamas. We are very smartly dressed for a summer’s day, but had not thought of such theatrical flair (next time we shall!).
“ Everyone was smiling, chattering, wrapped up in the romance and the glamour. They had all dressed for the occasion, and were groomed and coiffed and polished. The air was heavy with scent and cologne and expectation”.
Vernonica Henry “A Night on the Orient Express”
Dashing past us are the daily commuters, day trippers and shoppers, pausing briefly to observe, perhaps rather enviously, this distinguished group of travellers, as the magnificent chocolate brown and cream Pullman train, pulls gracefully into Platform 2.
Within a few minutes, the doors in the glass partition open and with uniformed staff directing passengers, we are soon walking along to find our compartment, named Gwen. Now we feel like time-travellers, stepping not so much on board, but back to the Edwardian era. Settling into velvet armchairs, we can admire the plush furnishings, brass, glass lamps decorative pearwood and marquetry of this 1932 carriage.
Our table for two is elegantly set with white linen, OE-crested crystal glasses, silverware and fine china; A waiter serves Bellinis, Prosecco with fresh peach juice, invented at Harry’s Bar, Venice – the perfect taster to herald our final destination.
We enjoy a delectable Brunch – fresh fruit, Scrambled Egg with Scottish smoked salmon, pattiserie dessert and coffee – as we saunter at a gentle pace through the Garden of England, via Canterbury and finally reach the White Cliffs of Dover.
Folkestone is a pertinent port for the next section of the journey. This was the first link between London and Paris from 1843, when the SE Railway company launched the paddle steamer for the 26 mile crossing to Boulogne. From the Channel Tunnel terminus at Cheriton, we are whisked through the Channel Tunnel by coach on board the dark, windowless freight trains, which is rather surreal.
The anticipation is almost over as we arrive at Calais station to see the gleaming Blue and White OE V-S wagons-lit cars, the team of staff standing in military precision at each carriage door. The traditional royal blue frock coats with gold buttons uniform for the Stewards was designed by Balenciaga.
Our reserved Cabin Suite is Carriage D, Cabin 3 and we are welcomed on board by Rupert Aarons, our ever smiling and attentive steward for this iconic journey to Venice.
The exquisite woodwork, fabrics and furnishings is all so authentic, especially the vintage porcelain washhand basin hidden in a cupboard complete with fine toiletries and crisply laundered towels. With just an overnight bag we unpack quickly and settle down in our comfortable compartment. A bottle of champagne awaits our arrival. Bliss.
Don’t think about booking a ticket if you cannot be bothered taking part in the time-travelling experience. It’s like being extras in a Noel Coward play or a Marple or Poirot film (although hopefully there is not likely to be a murder in the night!) – you don’t have a script to learn, just look the part. As part of maintaining tradition, you are expected to wear formal attire for dinner.
And it’s such fun dressing up in our glad rags and jewels as the train speeds through the French countryside towards Paris; at around 6.30pm we make our away along to the Cocktail Bar where like us, the majority of men in smart Tuxedos and the women in cocktail dresses and evening gowns, with a few in 1920s flapper frocks and boas.
The pianist plays all the familiar American song book tunes, while Walter, the senior barman and his team are shaking and stirring delectable cocktails. Ken sampled a speciality martini called Guilty 12, inspired by Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”, a mystery concoction of twelve ingredients.
“All my life I had wanted to go on the Orient Express, Trains are wonderful, to travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches and rivers – in fact to see life”. Agatha Christie, My Autobiography.
Like a house party, we mix and mingle with other guests, many of whom are celebrating a special occasion – 50th birthday, honeymoon, 25th wedding anniversary – couples of all ages and nationalities; everyone agrees this is a Bucket List trip of a lifetime.
Le Diner is grand, gracious and leisurely: classic French cuisine, (Lobster, Beef Carlois, Fromage, Chocolate noir et creme brulee), artistically presented dishes, beautiful plates, silverware and crystal glasses matched with exemplary service.
After a night cap in the Bar, we eventually retire to our small, yet luxurious Suite where Rupert has transformed the daytime sofas into two lower beds with soft pillows, white linen, bathrobes and blue embroidered slippers.
The adventure continues as we slumber, fitfully with the rocking movement, whistles and signal stops, through eastern France and into Switzerland. Raising the blind around 6am the view is of green fields, grazing cows, chalets and mountain peaks.
Breakfast, served in our cabin, is Swiss-themed, creamy yogurt, fresh fruit, Emmental cheese with bread, coffee. We enjoy a lazy morning browsing the route map and seeing panoramic views of lakes and mountains all the way.
12 noon and time for a Bloody Mary in the Bar, followed by a pre lunch aperitif – an ice chilled glass of champagne – to keep up this glamorous lifestyle.
Lunch is a late, leisurely affair after we have crossed the border featuring distinctly Italian cuisine …Caprese Salad, San Daniele ham and melon, Eggs with truffle, Aubergine cannelloni, Pan fried Turbot and king prawns, Black and Red berries & gelato ).
6pm – the train glides gracefully into Santa Lucia Station, Venice on schedule, as stewards and staff rush around assisting passengers with luggage and onward travel arrangements. The journey is over but the ethereal beauty of Venice awaits as we step aboard a gleaming teak motor launch to be whisked off down the Grand Canal to our 5 star hotel, the Danieli. Slow, slow, elegantly sophisticated train travel is the way to arrive in La Serenissima.
Plan your luxury Belmond journey here:
London to Venice
Paris to Istanbul
‘Please, sir, I want some more.’
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel and then clung for support to the copper. ‘What!’ said the master at length, in a faint voice.
‘Please, sir,’ replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’
Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist.
It was in 2009 when Relish Publications was launched by food lovers Duncan and Teresa Peters, a series of Regional guides to the best restaurants across the UK. Relish Scotland (2010) was followed by Relish Scotland (Second Helping, 2013). And now, rather like Oliver, hungry for more of the same, restaurateurs and readers have asked for Relish Scotland (Third Helping), just hot off the Press – or should I say, hot off the Grill.!
Scotland is a food lover’s dream destination. Farmland, Highland moors, rivers, lochs and sea provide prime produce which is a global best-seller – Exports to the US, Singapore, Japan, Middle East and across Europe now reach £1.1 Billion. If you add Scotch Whisky and Gin, Food and Drink exports totals over £5 Billion.
Relish Scotland (Third Helping) takes us on a road trip across Scotland, from Ayrshire to Argyll, Edinburgh to Skye, Fife to the Hebrides to the best places to stay and eat.
Here are a few of my own favourite hotels, restaurants, bars and bistros which I am delighted to say are included in this book.
The Isle of Skye is an ancient land of wild scenic beauty, outdoor adventures, hill climbing, whisky bars and romantic hotels.
Kinloch Lodge is the ancestral home of Lord and Lady Macdonald, welcoming guests for over 40 years, with exemplary hospitality and house party ambience on the shores of Loch na Dal.
Marcello Tully, the Michelin starred Head Chef creates an innovative tasting menu of local Langoustines, Rabbit stuffed with venison and prunes, Mallaig Hake and Mussels, Chocolate Ganache, with wine or whisky flights to complement each course. The next morning, experience a classic breakfast fit for a King. Residential Cookery courses from Lady Claire Macdonald too.
The Torridon is a former Victorian shooting lodge, surrounded by majestic mountain peaks in Wester Ross –a twice winner of the top award, Scottish Hotel of the Year. Luxurious bedrooms, superlative cuisine and wonderful country sports for the perfect rural retreat.
Chef David Barnett is able to source beef from the hotel’s herd of cattle, pork from their own Tamworth pigs, Estate venison and fish from Gairloch. Speciality dishes include Isle of Ewe Smoked Haddock ravioli, Roast Grouse & Savoy cabbage, Malt whisky parfait with fresh raspberries for a true taste of the Highlands.
Heading over to the Moray Firth, Boath House, is an art-filled Georgian mansion owned and personally created with care by Wendy and Don Mathieson. Based on the Slow Food ethos, the cuisine is always seasonal and local – lamb, beef, shellfish and artisan cheese. The kitchen garden supplies vegetables, herbs, salads, flowers and fruit.
Head Chef Charles Lockley goes foraging for wild leaves, mushrooms, berries and flowers and bread, ice creams, jams and biscuits are home-made. A distinctive Michelin Star dining experience – and for breakfast too!
Perthshire is a wonderful county for outdoor sports, fishing, shooting and woodland walks. Ballathie House is a traditional country house with a warm, welcoming hospitality from afternoon tea in the lounge to a G&T in the Bar before dinner.
Start perhaps with Terrine of Salmon and Sole followed by Venison with butternut squash fondant. Head Chef Scott Scorer and his team work with the gamekeeper and ghillie to source Ballathie Estate beef and lamb and freshly caught fish from the River Tay.
Pitlochry is a year round visitor destination thanks to the Festival Theatre, Erdradour Distillery, House of Bruar (Harrods of the North), and fine places to stay.
Fonab Castle is a stunning redstone turreted hotel on Loch Faskally with two restaurants, the casual brasserie and Sandemans for fine dining. Selected dishes in the book include Beef Fillet with Foie Gras & Morel mushrooms, and finish with a palate cleansing Lemon Posset and sorbet. Head Chef Paul Burns goes foraging for wild mushrooms in the woodlands nearby and picks berries through the summer.
Look at this fabulous scenery over loch and forested hills as you enjoy a superb dinner. Fonab Castle is the place for a time at leisure – culture, sports, touring around by day, relax in the Spa and experience fine wines and cuisine.
Set off again south to Fife an the quaint historic town of St. Andrew. The Old Course Hotel, is described as “ the home of Scottish cuisine in the home of Golf,” under Executive Chef, Martin Hollis.
As part of five venues to eat and drink at the Resort, do visit the Road Hole Bar (specialising in 250 whiskies, Scottish Caorunn gin and classic Cocktails) and the adjoining romantic Restaurant, both with stunning views over the golf course and West Sands beach beyond.
Hollis strongly advocates Food From Fife, following a seasonal calendar to serve fresh produce from crab to asparagus. Signature dishes include East Neuk Lobster and Heather honey parfait with home-grown rhubarb sorbet.
The Adamson is a popular place for local residents, students and golfers to St. Andrews, the decorative Brasserie now extended with a new Bar. The selected starter is Quail, Sweetcorn, Soy and Mushroom Broth, garnished with a soft quail’s egg on the top.
Explore further around Fife – eating well all the way; warmly recommended is the Peat Inn, dating back to the 1750s, now a Michelin starred Restaurant with Rooms run by Geoffrey and Katherine Smeddle – so the best plan is to stay the night, or two, after a sumptuous dinner of Warm Duck salad and Roast salmon.
Let’s now zoom south east, over to the tranquil countryside and seashore of Dumfries and Galloway. Knockinaam Lodge is the place for a peaceful getaway – log fires, antiques, lovely bedrooms, vintage bathrooms and sea views.
Winston Churchill stayed here for wartime meetings with Eisenhower. Head Chef Tony Pierce has held a Michelin star here for 20 years for his classic French menu: Galloway Roe deer, scallops, lobster, with garlic, aubergine, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, courgette flowers and peas grown in the kitchen garden.
Just outside Glasgow, on the banks of River Clyde, Mar Hall is a five star Golf and Spa Resort. It is sumptuously furnished with original period architectural features.
The elegant Crystal Restaurant overlooks the garden. Head Chef Jonny MacCallum and his team prepare such dishes as Roast loin of Lamb and Cranachan Souffle – modern Scottish cuisine indeed.
Edinburgh is home to several Michelin star restaurants – The Kitchin, Number One, Martin Wishart, 21212., Castle Terrace. Profile interviews with all these superlative chefs are featured in Relish Scotland.
Superb eating and drinking in Bars and Bistros around the city; On The Shore, Leith the charming old waterside pub, The Ship on the Shore is a classy place with a Champagne Bar and seafood Restaurant – Crustacean and Molluscs, classic Fruit de Mer platters, Fish Pie, Bar meals and Sunday Brunch.
In the urban village of Stockbridge, eat and drink well at the welcoming Hamilton’s Bar & Kitchen. Lunch: Salads, Burgers, Fishcakes, gourmet sandwiches & chunky chips; Dinner: Ale battered Oysters, Venison & Haggis fritters; Cool cocktails and Hamilton’s own label wine. I am just so pleased I live five minutes walk away from here – my Local!
This new edition of Relish Scotland is an excellent, appetising guide to a handpicked selection of restaurants. Stunning colour photographs illustrate locations, interior designs and the Kitchen brigade. It’s also a Cook Book of Recipes including suggestions for paired wines for the reader to prepare Masterchef and Michelin Star meals at home. Pick up a copy and plan your foodie tour of Scotland soon!
Relish Publications – details of all the books @ http://www.relishpublications.co.uk
“Yet was poetic impulse given, by green hill and clear blue heaven”
Sir Walter Scott
The Scottish Borders, Scott’s beloved countryside, offers gentle, rolling landscape, rivers, lochs and a dramatic sense of history with its abbeys, castles and grand mansions. The quiet Border towns and villages preserve a rich literary, cultural and rural heritage: this is the home of fine tweeds and knitwear, sheep farms, world class fishing, walking and mountain biking and the Rugby 7s.
Just an hour or so south of Edinburgh, Melrose in the heart of the Tweeddale valley is the ideal base to stay awhile and tour around. For perfect tranquility, scenic views and architectural beauty, I warmly recommend Fauhope Country House in Gattonside, just across the River Tweed from Melrose. Their private drive is up a rather steep and rugged road, but when you turn the corner at the top, my word!
Surrounded by lovely gardens, this stunning white-washed Arts and Crafts house was designed by Sidney Mitchell in 1897 for Major General Lithgow, a shipping tycoon. With its gable roofs, turrets and bay windows, it’s charmingly, graciously elegant. As you step into the spacious hallway, the windows frame a panorama of the Eildon Hills across the valley.
And this is the same magical view from our Turret Bedroom; decorated in calm shades of mushroom and cream, with antiques and period furnishings, it’s all very homely – soft towels, soaps, lotions and even emergency medication essentials in the spacious bathroom.
All one would need to feel at home – armchairs, flat screen TV, a bookshelf of classics, crime fiction, poetry & local travel guides, not forgetting the tea tray and decanter of sherry for the weary traveller.
The bedrooms are all indivually designed with care.
Fauhope has been owned by Ian and Sheila Robson since 1986 and for the past fifteen years they have opened their door to welcome Bed and Breakfast guests. It remains very much their family home decorated with personal photographs, artwork, ceramics, books and a child’s rocking horse; huge vases of flowers throughout the house, arranged with style.
In the Lounge, it was so lovely to sit in front of the log fire to enjoy a cup of tea and home made chocolate cake. Sheila and Ian love to chat with their guests to ensure that they experience a great time while visiting the Borders, suggesting what to see and do.
If they are free to do so, they will even offer to drive you over to Melrose for dinner so that you can have a drink or two!. There are some excellent places to eat out, such as the cosy Burts Bar serving hearty pub grub.
Marmions Brasserie is also a well established and popular place for locals and visitors. Its name is inspired by the epic poem, Marmion; A Tale of Flodden Field by Walter Scott. This is like a country inn with pine wood furnishings and paintings for sale around the walls.
Border country is renowned for its meat, game and seafood and the Marmion’s menu emphasises the provenance of food with local Salmon, Venison and Lamb. I selected delicious Fish cakes and Seabass, Mediterranean vegetables and crushed potatoes; across the table, Ken had Arancini and then a huge platter of Eyemouth haddock and chips. You can’t get fresher than this. The well selected Scottish cheese plate was excellent and with a bottle of fruity Merlot, this was a very tasty dinner indeed.
Then it was just a quick taxi ride back to Fauhope Country House.
You are sure to sleep well in this quiet rural retreat, with just the dawn chorus of bird song as a gentle alarm call. Breakfast is a gracious affair served in the blue-painted, art-filled dining room. Classical music on the soundtrack. Our table, with lovely garden views, was laid with linen napkins, vintage silverware, crystal bowls.
First a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a selection of cereals and fruit – berries, prunes, apricots and Sheila’s own rhubarb compote – this was all delicious with natural yogurt. You can then expect a choice of Full Scottish (bacon, eggs, mushrooms, potato scones et al), scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. and perhaps the Edwardian dish, kedgeree, all in keeping with the period of the house. With toast and marmalade and a large pot of coffee, this was a fine start to the day.
With this style of hospitality, no wonder Fauhope has received 5 star ratings from the AA and Visit Scotland and warmly recommended by two renowned hotel inspectors:
In Alex Polizzi’s Little Black Book, she writes “staying at Fauhope House is quite simply a joy because of the owners and hosts, Ian and Sheila Robson. The care and attention they spend on their guests would put many top-class hotels to shame, and if all B&Bs were like this I suspect most hotels would go out of business!”
And in his Special Places to Stay, Alastair Sawday describes it thus: “ Views soar to the Eildon Hills through wide windows with squashy seats; all is luxurious, elegant, fire-lit and serene with an eclectic mix of art.”
From the Visitor’s book at Fauhope, it seems that many guests stay here before and after setting off to walk the St. Cuthbert’s Way, the 62 mile, ancient pilgrimage trail to Lindisfarne, the Holy Isle. The Borders is an adventure playground for outdoor activities, fishing, biking, hiking and hill walking.
The magic mountain in the Eildon Hills was believed to be sacred by the Celtic priests, who had fire festivals to ward off evil spirits, and still a place of mystery evoked in ballads and legendary tales. And at the heart of this local literary tradition, you can Abbotsford, the former majestic home of Sir Walter Scott, where you can view his library, study, and stroll in the landscaped gardens.
After a tiring day of exploration out and about, return to Fauhope to relax on the sofa in front of the fire, or a seat on the lawn surrounded by trees, flowers and extraordinary metal bird sculptures brought back from a trip to Zimbabwe.
And you can also book a facial, massage or other beauty treatment from their in-house therapist.
While it is best to have a car to tour around, you could certainly enjoy a few days at Fauhope and enjoy walking here and there. It is just a 15 minute stroll down the hill and over the Chain footbridge to Melrose with its many restaurants, bars, attractive shops, (antiques, tweeds, woollens, books.). And of course, do visit the dramatic ruins of Melrose Abbey.
I completely concur with the comments of these guests and could not describe our stay at Fauhope House better myself. …
“ … a dream of a place to stay; it has charm and character ..extremely warm and comfortable. Sheila & Ian are very welcoming with nothing too much trouble..”
Fauhope Country House
Gattonside, Melrose, TD6 9LU, Roxburghshire, Scottish Borders
Tel. 01896 823184
Marmions, 5 Buccleuch Street, Melrose. http://www.marmionsbrasserie.co.uk
The new Borders Railway is due to start its passenger service on 6 September 2015 linking Edinburgh with Tweedbank, Scottish Borders. http://www.bordersrailway.co.uk
Check out the bus service from Edinburgh to Galashiels > Melrose and local Borders bus routes. http://www.firstgroup.com
My sister June lives in South London and I am in Edinburgh. As we were not going to be meeting up for Christmas this year, she suggested that we plan a Girly weekend – in Manchester. The perfect destination roughly half way between our two homes.
I set off on the Transpennine Express from Edinburgh Waverley at 10.08am on Friday 14th November, heading south west via Lockerbie, Carlisle, Preston and on to Manchester in just over three hours. It was a long snake of a train en route to its final stop at Manchester Airport.
A comfortable journey all the way, during which I had morning coffee and bagel breakfast and later, an egg and salmon sandwich with a tiny 37.5ml bottle of wine for a picnic lunch. The time passed quickly as I read my murder thriller. Scenic views too across the Border country and Lake District with its wild moorland dotted with grazing sheep.
Meanwhile my sister had taken a Virgin train from Euston and we both arrived around the same time, early afternoon. Our rendezvous at Manchester Piccadilly Station worked well.
The Doubletree by Hilton is a fashionably smart, modern hotel just five minutes walk from the Station – a perfect location for the weekend. The lobby is bright and spacious with rainbow coloured sofas; two bars and City Cafe restaurant are also on the ground floor.
Our standard Twin Room was compact in size but offered all facilities for a short break: shower-room (baths are available in the Suites), quality toiletries, bathrobes; Mac TV, fridge – bottled water, Tea and Coffee tray.
Armed with a map, we ventured out for a stroll to get our bearings. Just ten minutes up Piccadilly is Market Street, the pedestrianised shopping area. It is very easy to walk around – there’s a free city centre hop on hop off bus too.
Friday night we had tickets for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Royal Exchange Theatre, the classic 1950s American play by Tennessee Williams. First, supper at Annies nearby at 5 Old Bank Street. The logo is a top hat over the capital A of Annies. Founded by the actress Jennie McAlpine (Fizz in Coronation Street), no wonder it has a showbiz mood.!
I warmly recommend Annies – for coffee, lunch, afternoon tea, evening meals. Upstairs is a cosy café and downstairs, restaurant and lounge bar where we sat in comfy armchairs for a cocktail as we studied the menu.
The cuisine is traditional British hearty food. Soup, Prawn Cocktail, Lancashire Rarebit, Sirloin Steak. I selected Fish and Chips with mushy peas – delicious, lightly fried fish and fantastic hand cut chips. June had Annie’s Hotpot, chunky lamb and vegetables followed by Sticky Toffee Pudding. We sipped a couple of glasses of House white wine.
Casual ambience, good soundtrack (Michael Buble, Jazz, Blues) and friendly service. And well done, the Ladies Loos have small towel flannels, (not a blast of hot air!). Live Music on Friday nights, Cocktail deals and seasonal menus.
The Royal Exchange theatre is like a glass and steel Spaceship inside the historic Great Hall. We had excellent seats near the front of the stage for a perfect, close up performance. (See review on separate page of Smart Leisure Guide).
Saturday, 9.30am – Hotel Breakfast. We were to be out all day so needed extra fuel to keep us going. Buffet for juices, fruit, cereals and hot dishes. Alternatively, your choice of eggs and omelettes, freshly made to order.
Time to hit the shops: Christmas markets near City Hall – arts, crafts, toys, candles, woolly hats, Festive Hog roast, mulled wine.
Manchester is fashion shopping heaven from Primark and H&M to Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Armani and Vivienne Westwood and all very near each other and if it’s a cold wet day, go inside the Arndale Centre with dozens of stores under one roof.
From Market Street, it was just a short walk to Spa Satori, the Holistic Health & Beauty Retreat. (112 High St). Our therapists, Devon and Maria took us to a warm, candlelit room with two beds for our treatment.
We experienced a relaxing and rejuvenating 90 minute Massage and Facial each with silky Eminence Organic oils and lotions. Perfect pampering!.
From the Spa, it was then off to Bill’s (8-12 John Dalton Street) for a late lunch. You may have come across another branch of Bill’s café-bar-bistro-delis across the UK, which have the tag line, “Serving delicious food from breakfast to bedtime”. Industrial design with funky, vintage decor sets the scene.
The menu is mouthwatering, a fusion of Mexican, Greek, American and British. We had two fantastic dishes, Mac ‘n Cheese with butternut squash, and Smoked haddock fish cakes with avocado salsa and chunky chips. This is seriously fresh, healthy and global home cooking with pizzazz. Please open a Bill’s Bistro in Edinburgh!
Later on after more shopping, back to the hotel for a breather and then glammed up with lippy and posh LBDs. Next port of call was Cloud 23, the ultra cool Cocktail bar at the Hilton Deansgate on the 23rd floor of Beetham Tower.
Reservations are recommended – often essential at night – as this is a sassy, stylish place for a drink with a skyscraper view. Very romantic for a couple – or reserve a corner lounge area for a small party of friends.
Signature Cocktails feature five iconic drinks to celebrate historic people and places of Manchester. The Stratospheric blends Tanqueray 10 with passion fruit and Champagne for a sparkling celebration of the Hotel’s Tower. Gold Phantom (Cognac, Honey, Pineapple) commemorates Henry Royce and his famous motor car.
Described as a Forgotten Classic, June sampled the 1930s Cosmopolitan – the original version of the Vodka and cranberry cocktail made famous by Carrie Bradshaw on the girls’ night out around Manhattan.
At Cloud 23, this is a pretty pink Gin with Raspberry Cosmo and tastes divine. Non-alcoholic drinks too such as the refreshing Cloud 23 Lemonade. The Bar-tender will make anything you fancy, such as my fresh, tangy Marguerita, (Tequila with fresh lime) and a Dirty Martini, straight up with a twist – which hit the spot.
A cab back to the Doubletree by Hilton hotel for dinner at the City Cafe. First a glass of bubbly in the gorgeous little Blue Bar which is a hidden gem. Gorgeous black and white portraits, soft sultry lighting, it has a touch of class.
After our aperitif we were taken next door to the Restaurant and seated at a window table. The Terrace outside here is popular on warm days for alfresco wining and dining.
The A la Carte menu is small but select. We shared a platter of bread and olives as a starter. For my main course I loved the seafood pasta – thick pappardelle ribbons with a mountain of prawns, squid and mussels. Across the table, my sister had an imaginative Chicken and chorizo Risotto. And to finish – Cheese and crackers and Pear Tart.
After our buzzing day of retail therapy, beauty treatments, cocktails, good food and wine, we were ready for bed before the bewitching hour.
Sunday morning, after a Continental breakfast (coffee and croissants), it was soon time to pack, check out and make our way back to the station for our train journeys home – north to Edinburgh and south to London.
Tried and tested on this trip, Manchester is a fun, friendly, Cosmopolitan city for the ideal short break. With traffic-free shopping areas, theatres, arts festivals, buzzing bistros and style bars, it has a lively European Café society style; with sleek trams trundling around street corners, we felt we were in Amsterdam.!
Wishing you a marvellous, magical time in Manchester ….wherever you may wander.
www.doubletree3.hilton.com – Manchester Piccadilly
www.wheretogomanchester.co.uk – Colourful city guide
www.bills-website.co.uk – Bills Restaurant.
www.cloud23bar.com at Hilton Deansgate, Manchester