One of my favourite cities in England, York, with its magnificent three-tower Minster, historic network of cobbled streets and topsy turvy ancient buildings, is well worth a lengthy train journey. In fact it seems only fitting that you reach it by train when you consider York’s railway heritage. Nor is there any finer place to reside than the striking Grand Hotel, originally the impressive Edwardian headquarters of the North Eastern Railway Company. Proud to be the only five star hotel in Yorkshire, the Grade II listed Grand is easily accessible from the bustling railway station, adjacent to the National Railway Museum housing an unrivalled collection of locomotives throughout the decades and the legendary Flying Scotsman until 9th December.
The red brick Grand Hotel looms large indeed when you approach it on foot, with doormen who offer a true Yorkshire welcome. Reopened in 2010 after a 25 million pound renovation, annexing a 1970s office block to incorporate more bedrooms, the design team have sought to contrast the new space rather than blend it with the period features the hotel is famous for; high ceilings, tall windows, lofty arches and wide corridors with wood-pannelling and colossal doors that hark back to the property’s days of commerce.
A cornerstone of the multi-million renovation is the elegant, 130 cover Art Deco-inspired all-day brasserie, The Rise, where we relaxed over the Grand’s famed Champagne Afternoon Tea on arrival. Overseen by their acclaimed Executive Chef Craig Atchinson, a three-tier silver stand features a traditional selection of finger sandwiches, freshly made fruit and plain scones and an utterly divine assortment of patisserie including lemon tartlet with raspberries, pistachio roulade, chocolate and hazelnut profiterole and a shot glass of elderflower and berry cheesecake featuring a crumbly, buttery base. Besides lunch and dinner menus highlighting the best of Yorkshire produce, breakfast is also served at The Rise each morning, with its appealing open kitchen offering à la carte dishes such as kedgeree and eggs cooked to order by the chefs in addition to a generous continental buffet. The snazzy cocktail bar and lounge seating makes this a highly versatile space, as does the heated terrace for all year round al fresco dining.
One hundred new bedrooms have doubled the hotel’s capacity, with spacious accommodation designed in masculine grey tones. Our standard twin room had the surprise of both overlooking the new triangular annexe and being overlooked – requiring us to draw the curtains when changing or risk giving the builders working outside our window a show they weren’t anticipating. The luxurious bathroom with underfloor heating, Bose speaker system and Molton Brown toiletries was undoubtedly the best feature of the room, although the mini bar, unstocked save for a couple of bottles of mineral water, should at least have included fresh milk for tea and coffee. The hefty tray charge of £10 doesn’t encourage guests to call for room service, with one gentleman I spoke to having decided against ordering a bowl of soup.
The original part of the building has also been updated to encompass a smart check-in area befitting the hotel’s five star status, along with the clubby 1906 Bar, taking its name from the date of the building’s completion, which offers a modern take on Edwardian glamour with tall wing arm chairs that encourage quietude and intimacy. The vaults of the hotel have meanwhile been converted into a spa and fitness centre with a 14 metre swimming pool, whirlpool, aromatic steam room, dry sauna and relaxation lounge – elevating the hotel’s weekender appeal. Suite guests have access to the stylish White Rose Lounge which serves complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, evening canapes and unlimited soft drinks between 6.30am and 10.30pm, and offers dedicated workstations with iMacs and printers, alongside TVs, newspapers, guides and comfortable seating.
A highlight of our stay was the exceptional three AA Rossette-awarded fine dining restaurant, Hudsons by Craig Atchinson, also housed within a small but splendid oak-pannelled room which adds to the ambiance tenfold. It’s a major oversight that the Grand don’t advertise this destination experience anywhere throughout the hotel, nor do they position the tantalising five or nine course tasting menus outside the ominous closed door outside service times.
The Grand’s central location is an undisputed merit and you don’t have to be a train spotter to have fun in York, whether you’re thing is luxury spa breaks and high-end shopping, theatre, or absorbing history through museums such as the authentic Georgian townhouse Fairfax House. It’s also a great place for families due to the countless attractions such as Yorvik and the York Chocolate Story, whilst budding Harry Potters will find wand shops galore in The Shambles. Foodies will delight in a visit to Betty’s tea room and cake store, the York Cocoa House where you can watch choclatiers at work, and the buzzing new Spark food complex, a community project that’s transformed an empty city-centre space into a foodie hub. 23 upcycled shipping containers, arranged over two levels are lined with tempting street food stalls including everything from crêpes, gourmet dirty burgers and Thai food to the Brew York beer hall boasting the largest artisan selection of beers, largers and ciders in York and the surrounding area.
Countless ghost walk tours capitalise on York’s title of ‘Europe’s most haunted city’ (don’t ask me how they worked that out) and it seemed apt that we arrived on Halloween and were able to soak up the atmosphere with a scary and hilarious evening visit to York Dungeon where, bumping into the Grand Hotel staff on a group outing, we shared many a giggle in the mirror maze. My friend having had her head chopped off, we dined at the suitably candlelit and Halloween decorated Mr P’s Curious Tavern, complete with skulls, cobwebs and a waitress brandishing a creepy eyeball which popped out through service – thankfully not into the food.
Christmas is an equally magical time of year in this diverse city, with wooden chalets lining St Nicholas Fair as part of the York Christmas Festival (15 November – 23 December) and City Cruises running a Santa Experience on the River Ouse. The Grand York will meanwhile host a Gala Ball, an imaginative Alice’s Winter Wonderland Afternoon Tea on selected days in December, besides a three-night, adult-only residential package (from £720pp based on two sharing an executive room) beginning on Christmas Eve with a private evening drinks reception with carols and a sumptuous three-course dinner in The Grand Ballroom.
The Grand Hotel York, Station Rise, York YO1 6GD. For more information and reservations please visit the website.