One ordinary Saturday, 20 years ago this year, some IRA terrorists ignited a bomb in Manchester.
They created mayhem and loss, a scar that will always be there, but it also created a momentum that saw the city bloom into the extraordinary, fascinating and stronger place it is today – a phoenix from the ashes of disaster.
At no time of year does this transformation become more apparent than at Christmas, when the city centre lights up with an energy that sees hundreds of glittering market stalls snake down the streets, past the high end department stores and quirky shops and restaurants linking together history with modernity.
Here novelty hat stalls rub along with Harvey Nichols, German sausages with Selfridges, the streets filled with a glorious aroma of Gluhwein, frothy hot chocolate, food, conversation and laughter in a non-stop, all-day Christmas party for all.
It is irresistible, a web of sparkly, joy-filled, German-inspired retail therapy stretching from its hub in Albert Square, where a giant Santa Claus clings to the side of the lit-up town hall over hearty wooden bars and , through numerous streets, like a festive trail.
These days, Manchester boasts an unashamed glamour alongside its proud industrial heritage, something which was confirmed to me at breakfast, during my weekend stay in this amazing city.
‘The glamour of Manchester’ mural built into the tiled wall above the restaurant in my hotel – the newly revamped and renamed Principal (formerly the Palace) on Oxford Road right next to the Palace Theatre – proved the point.
‘The glamour of Manchester’ mural at the Principal Hotel
This grade 2 listed building, originally built to house the Refuge Assurance company, is an extra special old lady of the city which after a £25m revamp, re-opened a month or so ago as a fabulous five-star which reveals its stunning Victorian excess to perfection, starting with the huge, welcoming, marbled,reception area under a domed glass ceiling.
Detail is everything in this hotel, where dated decor has been stripped out and every historic tile, piece of marble and thousands of pieces of stained glass have been restored to their original glory, the theme extended to its modern trappings, with travel luggage-styled furniture and chests, shining brass – it feels Titanic in its grandeur and unashamedly luxurious in its transformation.
My room was spacious, comfortable, and every detail is taken care of.
No expensive mini-bar here, there is free water and milk in the fridge, a box of tea bags, chocolate and crisps in a ‘tuck box’.
The phone is a lovely, red, old-school, dialler complete with instructions but in contrast the TV a huge but not intrusive plasma, positioned perfectly on the wall for in-bed viewing.
The toiletries in the sparkling bathroom, which you are encouraged to take, are Neal’s Yard and the shower a huge torrent of gleaming chrome.
If you don’t use the lift, you can glide down grandiose staircases, tiled in Victorian green, past, elegant windows, before reaching the ground floor, where you can dine in sumptuous surrounds in the huge ‘Refuge’ public bar and restaurant, a place so hip it was buzzing the entire time I was there.
We ate breakfast in the restaurant in the Winter Gardens, an enclosed glass courtyard complete with sparkly trees, it really is beautiful and the breakfast (both to order and buffet – you can order a proper bacon butty) is comprehensive.
Manchester is a city where you can eat like a Queen – we dined one evening at Albert’s Chop House, an atmospheric dining pub and restaurant built into the once neglected and iconic Memorial Hall warehouse built by Thomas Worthington in 1886 and right next to the Christmas Markets hub on Albert Square.
Albert’s Chop House. Pic @jabberingjourno
Famous Mancunians adorned the walls as we ate in a industrial;-chic cosy booth, chowing through an excellent British menu – we went literal and started with posh bread and dripping, I then enjoyed a beautiful fillet steak, accompanied by an excellent red wine.
The food was all excellent and the service friendly.
From from part of the city’s history to another as we headed under the railway arches ( and minutes from the hotel again) for industrial chic with a grill menu, sampling sumptuous steaks and chicken in the hugely busy, buzzy, Gorilla bar which also houses a live music venue and a gin parlour.
Pic @jabberingjourno. A feast at Gorilla
And on Sunday, the culinary piece de resistance where, despite a weekend of food,we were tempted into baskets of delicious artisan breads, stunning roast dinner and even a delicious doughnut trio at the fabulous, Albert Schloss.
The marvellous Albert Schloss. And yes, that is a dog sitting at a table..
Serenaded by a fabulous gospel choir, we took in the undeniably festive sights and sounds of the ‘Bavarian Bier palace’, where even dogs are welcomed with open arms..
Manchester is fabulous and even more so at Christmas – there is an invitation for all to this party.
- Nicola stayed at the Principal Hotel, Oxford Street, M60 7HA. Call 0161 2881111. Website: theprincipalhotel.com/manchester Doubles from £134.50 including breakfast.
- Albert’s Chop House: Memorial Hall, 14 Albert Square, M2 5PF. Website: AlbertSquarechophouse.com Call 0161 834 1866.
- Gorilla: 54-56 Whitworth Street W, M1 5WW. Call 0161 407 0301. Website thisisgorilla.com
- Albert Schloss: 27 Peter Street, M2 5QR. Call 0161 833 4040. Website: albertschloss.co.uk
- For more information on the festive markets and where to stay and visit look up visitmanchester.com/christmas they also post on Facebook and Instagram and can be followed on Twitter @visit_mcr
This piece has also appeared in Johnston Press titles in North West UK including Lancashire Evening Post HERE
A return to my misspent youth outside Afflecks Palace, Manchester, this time in a sensible bobble hat. Pic @jabberingjourno