(Click here to read this in magazine format in Benchmark Middle East)
Love letters are hard to write, you want to get them just right, not leaving anything out, and so often you don’t know where to start.
Writing about York in England is almost as hard, as it has so many appealing facets it’s difficult to choose which one to highlight first.
Just two hours by train from London – a huge draw for Gulf tourists – lies this beautiful city which oozes class, sophistication, charm, safety, hospitality and great food to boot.
Connected to the UK’s capital by the excellent Virgin Trains East Cost rail line, York is the most compelling reason for Gulf tourists to take a few days off from their frenetic shopping (like we don’t have enough of that here??) and connect with this oasis of calm, where the past and the present mingle together like ingredients of a delicious dish, one complementing the other.
York’s history is almost too long to go into, being home to the Vikings, the Romans (their walls still abound) and Northumbrian kings. Guy Fawkes, who famously tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, hails from this city.
Everywhere you turn in York history echoes into everyday life, and somehow this city is both antique and contemporary at the same time.
Nowhere is perhaps a greater example of the Grand Hotel & Spa – Yorkshire’s only five-star hotel.
Originally the headquarters of the North Eastern Railway Company in the 1900s this hotel was painstakingly crafted from the embers of its history, with original features such as oak paneling, stone arches, and Belgium marble all retained.
The result is a hotel that has all the character of a period drama, and yet modernity is artfully woven in throughout. While the lobby, bar and hallways all shout nostalgia rooms themselves are clean, almost minimalist, luxury. Smooth white marble in the bathrooms, muted calm tones provide a haven of relaxation.
Top-hatted staff greet you with warm smiles as you arrive, and all possess that light touch one could expect of a butler from Downton Abbey times. All thoroughly competent, none too in your face.
The Grand’s location is as big a draw as its history and luxury, Station Rise is almost the perfect spot from which to explore York.
A short walk away is the picture postcard Lendal Bridge which spans the River Ouse.
Alongside the waterway the beautiful Museum Gardens roll down to its edge, a favourite for residents when the sun is shining, the crumbling ruins of St Mary’s Abbey forming the backdrop to many happy wedding photographs.
Rambling past them you turn right to dive into the York’s inner sanctum, past the renowned Betty’s Café (afternoon tea is a must) you find the modern-day high street shopping mingled with chocolate box scenes of olden times.
The Shambles is this city’s prime slice of days gone by, timber frame buildings, which date back to the 14th century, crowd in on each other, a scene straight from a Dickens novel.
Where to eat and drink:
York famously has many watering holes are varying prices and quality. As far as places go to wet your whistle the Grand Hotel and Spa’s Grand Bar is one of the finest spots.
Deep plush chairs evoke memories of Phileas Fogg, especially for explorers flying from the Gulf to the UK and travelling into unknown territory ‘up north’.
It also serves up a treat at its fine dining restaurant Hudsons at The Grand, here again contemporary flavours mix with traditional dishes to provide an excellent dining experience.
However if you want to walk out into the city, there really is only one place to eat – The Whippet Inn. The brainchild of co-owners Martin Bridge and Andrew Whitney, this quirky and intimate restaurant has rapidly become one of York’s worst kept secrets, so popular has it become. Here an A-Team of chefs and servers deliver exquisite food in relaxed, informal and yet sophisticated settings.
Named the best restaurant in the Visit York Awards in 2014, this ‘steak and ale’ house is worth the two-hour train ride from London alone. Note the restaurant has a no children policy.
What to do:
York abounds with museums and culture, and perhaps its year-long attraction is itself, picturesque in summer or winter.
However fans of the Dubai World Cup should head to York Racecourse for some action. A
huge draw for the city, thousands get suited and booted for this day out, Sheikh Mohammed has been known to run his horses at some of the events. The racecourse is one of the best designed in the UK and provides a lively day out.
It’s biggest event of the year is this month with the Ebor Festival, a four-day celebration featuring the oldest, the fastest and the richest races in the UK.
It also holds meetings in September and October.
How to get there:
You can fly direct into Manchester from Abu Dhabi via Etihad, however let’s not pretend you won’t be going to London while heading to the UK. From the UAE there’s plenty of options into London, if you are in Oman then the best option is Oman Air‘s direct flight.
Once in London there is an old saying which says ‘let the train take the strain’.
The drive north to York can, depending on traffic, take five hours and can be a proper headache.
However London and York are served by the high-speed rail link operated by Virgin Trains East Coast. Departing from Kings Cross station in London this speeds travellers there in under two hours.
Gulf travellers are used to the VIP service and here again going First Class pays dividends. A lot more relaxing that in standard, passengers here get free food and beverages for the duration, served up by the friendly rail team, and free wifi.
As you are watching the country speed by you almost feel sorry for those stuck in their cars.
For more information on York go to www.visityork.org
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