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.
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