Cheshire’s finest: Welcome to the historic city of Chester
Chester is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK. Travel writer Nilufer Atik got a taste of this ancient city…
It was voted one of Europe’s prettiest tourist spots, dates back over 2,000 years, and houses Britain’s oldest sporting venue. But that’s not all the ancient city of Chester in Cheshire has to offer. Known for its extensive Roman walls made of local red sandstone, walking around this picturesque destination is like stepping back in time.
Founded as a fort known as Deva by the Romans in AD 79 and once an important historic port for northwestern trade, each chapter of this city’s history is etched into its walkways and buildings. Tudor and Victorian shops and houses line cobbled streets and the classically Victorian Grosvenor Park is a delight to stroll around.
Then there is the River Dee – a 70-mile long river that stretches through Wales and Chester. On its bank you’ll find a paved promenade complete with a bandstand, cafes, restaurants, and public houses with motorboats, rowing boats and pedalos for hire. The 14th Century Old Dee Bridge which crosses the river in the centre of Chester, is a fascinating example of medieval engineering.
Also built from red sandstone, it stands on the site of former Roman and Norman bridges, overlooking the scenic Queen’s Park on the southern side and the Cheshire Military Museum on the northern side. Over the river, there are meadows and woodland perfect for picnics in summer months.
One of the biggest attractions to Chester however is its famous racecourse. Nick-named the Roodee, it is, according to official records, the oldest racecourse still in use in England and one of the smallest. The sport itself dates back to the early sixteenth century in the city and almost six million people attend meets each year, meaning hotels around Chester become packed out.
A lot of visitors opt to stay just out of the city where there are plenty of accommodation options available, such as Overleigh Cottage, which offers self-catering accommodation just 0.5 km from the centre, and the historic Crabwall Manor, which boasts elegant rooms and an indoor swimming pool and is five minutes from the M56 motorway.
If you want a more boutique, pampering experience during your stay however, the Grosvenor Pulford Hotel and Spa, situated just a ten minute drive from Chester city centre is ideal.
Situated within its own landscaped grounds, the hotel offers 73 bedrooms all with modern, en-suite facilities. Some of the deluxe rooms are set out over two floors with a spiral staircase separating them, a hospitality tray, and night porter. The plush Superior rooms also include 24-hour room service.
Two of the biggest draws to this hotel however are its spa and restaurant. Spa by Kasia is a relaxing space with red chandeliers, assorted steam rooms and a menu that includes Elemis facials and massages, tanning, brow and nail treatments, and even non-surgical face lifts. Post-pamper, you can venture from the relaxation lounge to the Asian Sensory Garden, which has water features and a faux Japanese bridge. There’s also a gym and pool for those who want a workout.
There are two restaurants at the Grosvenor Pulford, yet it’s the Palm Court which was recently revamped and relaunched, that is the real pull. This 180-cover garden-room restaurant, offers special-occasion dining for both residents and non-residents, serving up a British and European menu.
Tables are surrounded by palm trees, exotic plants, bubbling water fountains, antique mirrors and sparkling chandeliers – not to mention a self-playing piano at the far end. It feels like stepping inside a glamorous speakeasy rather than a modern eaterie.
With all-day dining, everything from breakfast and brunch to afternoon tea is served here, offering all sorts of cuisine, from smoked bacon on brioche or a wild mushroom and truffle risotto for lunch to a light-bite super food salad. You can get a cocktail at any time too, including a Palm Court Bloody Mary which includes a home made spice mix.
The evening a la carte menu really makes booking a table at Palm Court worthwhile. Starters including mouth-watering concoctions like spiced parsnip and caramelised apple soup, Pan roasted Black Pearl king scallops, with truffled cauliflower puree and chorizo, and a melt-in-the-mouth chicken liver parfait decorated with a port and Madeira conserve beside toasted brioche.
Main dishes include a monkfish and tiger prawn jungle curry with fragrant jasmine rice, beansprouts and coriander, a classic beef bourguignon, or roasted loin and braised shoulder of Welsh Valley lamb complimented by minted peas.
On Sundays there’s a special carvery with roast honey glazed gammon, roast crown of Cheshire turkey, and roast rib of beef, all of which come with a selection of seasonal vegetables and potatoes, traditional accompaniments and rich roast pan gravy. If you can still manage to fit in any more food, deserts include traditional sweet treats like apple and blackberry crumble with anglaise, or sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and honeycomb ice cream.
The restaurant also houses an exclusive Laurent-Perrier wine cave with giant floor-to-ceiling racks housing almost 100 different varieties of old and new world wines, Champagnes, and fine cellar wines. With a communal table seating up to eight people, the cave can be hired for private dining or tapas-style tastings too.
For those who want a more casual setting, Nelson’s bar situated behind the reception area offers gastro pub style food in classically furnished surroundings complete with soft leather sofas and real-wood fires.
The hotel can also organise trips to Chester Zoo in Upton a short car journey away. It is one of the largest zoos in the UK at 125 acres.
The hotel’s refurbishment reflects how Chester itself has changed over the years. Once a major industrial drop-off point, the city has become a place where high earners in the northwest now aspire to live, largely due to the number of footballers and celebrities who reside there.
With its gloriously preserved high street housing unique, expensive stores, numerous swanky bars and vibrant cafe culture, it seems to have come a long way since the Roman days.
A weekend stay at the Grosvernor Pulford in a Superior Double room costs around £390-£410
Address: Wrexham Road, Pulford, Chester CH4 9DG
Phone: 01244 570560