Get There in Style via Cross Country Trains
For my weekend escape to The Principal, one of Manchester’s most iconic Victorian hotels, I used Cross Country Trains, which transported me from my home town of Bournemouth to Manchester.
One of the UK’s most extensive rail networks, Cross Country rail calls at more than 100 stations and stretches from Aberdeen to Penzance and from Stansted to Cardiff. Given my journey was nearly five hours, I decided to travel first class – a treat that was well worth the investment as it meant that I’d arrive at my destination refreshed and ready to explore the city. Key highlights of the journey included fresh food offerings - not a pre-made processed wrapper in sight – and endless green tea and scrummy stem ginger and fruit and lemon biscuits. They also had a decent free WI-FI signal too, a well-appreciated rarity. I'll definitely be travelling with Cross Country Trains again when the opportunity presents itself.
The Principal Hotel in Manchester is a place of architectural wonder. Centrally located only a short taxi ride or a 10-minute walk from Manchester Piccadilly train station, it stands proud in the North of England’s ‘capital of cool’.
From the exterior, its Art Deco signage and striking clock tower gives onlookers a glimpse of its opulence. Inside, guests are greeted with a spellbinding reception foyer, which recently received a £25 million refurbishment. One of the key focal points within the foyer is a striking bronze stallion, which stands in the space that was once a turning circle for horses and carriages in years bygone.
The hotel was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1891, the same architect behind my favourite building, The Natural History Museum, in London. The expansive hotel has 270 guest rooms, 17 conference suites, a business centre, private dining spaces, and one of the largest ballrooms in Northern England that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests. At every turn guests are treated to enchanting Victorian splendour thanks to the exquisite décor in the public areas, bars, restaurants and the lobby, which features decadent design touches such as stained glass, marble and bronze.
Given the hotel’s large size, it lacks the charm of smaller hotels or a B&B, however, the staff are incredibly polite and efficient, nonetheless. What really makes the hotel stand out are its distinctive character and the grandeur it radiates, which make it easy to fall in love with the place. Handy services for guests to enjoy include a concierge, dry cleaning and 24-hour room service.
In addition to its facilities reserved for hotel residents, The Principal also offers non-residents an array of standout venues, including the Winter Garden, a restaurant within a conservatory, which was full of lovely indoor trees and palms lit with white fairy lights to create a magical atmosphere.
For guests who love a sophisticated cocktail bar, The Refuge by Volta, which serves an extensive menu of drinks and simple plates, is a great space to relax with a tipple. For bar-games enthusiasts, there’s The Den, which offers table-football and pool.
The Director’s Penthouse Suite
Upon my arrival I was greeted with a complimentary gin and tonic delightfully presented in a mini corked bottle complete with a cloth-covered lemon, and a delicious vanilla custard tart topped with fresh raspberries – a truly memorable welcome!
The suite itself was huge and fit for a king, or a director of a substantial financial firm, as a nod to its heritage. The room’s impressive 30-foot ceilings and traditional oak-panelling set the scene for a luxurious stay. Furnishings included a three-piece sofa, a coffee table, a 4-seater dining area, a bureau and a large flat screen TV.
Great John Street, Manchester, England
A Victorian townhouse hotel that's bursting with character
Eclectic Hotels’ Great John Street townhouse hotel is a beautiful former Victorian schoolhouse constructed with traditional red brick that’s brimming with original features from a bygone era.
Positioned perfectly in the heart of Manchester, Great John Street is conveniently located near the canal waterways and bars of Castlefield, a trendy area in Manchester’s city centre. Fans of Coronation Street will be pleased to learn that the hotel sits opposite the original Granada Studios, where Coronation Street was filmed for more than 30 years until 2013.
The hotel has recently been refurbished with exceptional high-quality furnishings and unique touches throughout, which add to its character. Its sophisticated yet relaxed charm is evident throughout the hotel, while the aubergine and olive-green colour palette add a contemporary luxe feel to the décor.
Great John Street is well designed to cater to a variety of guests thanks to a wealth of room options and facilities for guests to enjoy including the Oyster Bar and The Library and Penthouse Terrace, which can be hired for private events. So, whether its locals looking to treat someone special to an afternoon tea, business executives seeking a stylish hotel or couples looking for a romantic weekend escape, Great John Street doesn’t disappoint.
The Oyster Bar
The gorgeous Oyster Bar with its dramatic chandelier, which serves as a key focal point of the room, and the ornate wrought iron railings that frame the mezzanine area above the bar, help to create a sumptuous environment where guests can unwind in style with a sophisticated cocktail or two.
The Rooftop Lounge
For me, the standout feature of Great John Street is its rooftop terrace lounge and function suite. Originally the school’s playground – complete with separate boys and girls’ staircases at either end of the building - the space has been perfectly designed to accommodate weddings and private functions as well as serving as the perfect place for residents who fancy a tipple to drink in the views of Manchester’s skyline.
Gorgeous and unique rooms
Each room within the hotel is individually designed, providing its own unique personality. Original features such as exposed steel girders remind guests of the historic nature of where they are staying and the exquisite attention to detail makes guests feel right at home.
Upon entering the room guests are welcomed by serene classical music, a unique touch that sets the tone for a lovely stay.
Enjoy a spacious suite spread over two floors
I stayed in one of the spacious duplex suites, which is spread over two floors, making it more akin to an apartment than your typical boutique hotel accommodation.
Downstairs, the room was equipped with a deluxe king size bed with a brass studded leather headboard, mirrored bedside tables, an illuminated wardrobe and desk, a bookcase filled with complimentary hardcover classic books and a TV and CD/digital radio docking station. Additional facilities include an iron and ironing board, bedroom slippers and a matching bathrobe to help guests feel at home.
Upstairs, there was a cosy lounge area complete with a corner sofa, a complimentary butler tray with delicious biscuits and chocolate, and a fridge and hot drink-making facilities.
The piece de résistance was the magnificent Victoriana tiled bathroom with its freestanding heritage enamel bath and huge monsoon-shower wet room.
Enjoy dinner in your bathrobe – should you so choose
As I wanted to take full advantage of spending as much time as possible in my fabulous room, I ordered the fish and chips from room service, which was exactly as you want it - white flaky fish with light and crispy batter, accompanied with lovely tartar sauce and mushy peas. Heavenly.
The lady at the end of the phone from whom I ordered my dinner was funny too, which made the experience even more memorable. Splendid banter as an aperitif to my main course!
Rooms from £120 (rates dependent on season).
Great John Street
Eleven Didsbury Park
King Street Townhouse
A luxurious Victorian town house in a gorgeous leafy suburb
Eclectic Hotels’ delightful Victorian townhouse, Eleven Didsbury Park, is an elegant and intimate property featuring 20 individually designed rooms and suites. Thanks to the care and consideration that has gone into every detail of the hotel and the attentive staff who make you feel truly special, it’s easy to see what sets it apart from larger, local hotel groups.
Throughout the property, the décor is an exercise in tasteful refinement. The calming, neutral colour palette helps guests to instantly relax. Those who love period features will adore the high ceilings, the grand staircase and the restful lounge, which beckons guests to linger.
The Roof Terrace Room
This standout room is incredibly bright and spacious. Features include a super king size bed, a free-standing iron bath, a monsoon shower room with complimentary Temple Spa products, a corner sofa, a large bureau, a widescreen TV with Sky, digital radio and CD stereo with iPhone dock, a mini bar and a complementary butler tray. Where the magic really happens, however, is the stunning private terrace, which guests access through the French doors.
Overlooking the lovely south-facing garden, a private walkway takes guests to a luxury canopied terrace with a balcony - perfect for couples and honeymooners – that includes another freestanding iron bath and a table and chairs. It has the look of a well-restored dove shed, complete with chicken wire and shabby-chic pictures and furnishings.
This high-quality accommodation presents no end of surprises that make you smile continuously, ensuring that it stands head and shoulders above other hotels. Bravo!
Our experience overall
The property: ★★★★★
Food and drink: ★★★★★
Staff attentiveness/friendliness: ★★★★★
Prices from £105, depending on time of year and availability.
Eleven Didsbury Park
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