Tag: city break

How to a spend a perfect weekend in Nimes — my ultimate guide

My first assignment for a few months — long story.

But it was a good one: a trip to the Occitanie region of France for the opening of the new Museum of Roman Civilisation.

It was a Roman-heritage-themed trip, visiting the Pont gu Gard, the Unesco-listed aqueduct, and the city of Nimes — one of my favourite cities in the south of France.

The new museum is opposite the Roman Amphitheatre [pictured above], home to one of the largest bullfighting festivals outside of Spain.

Here’s a sneak preview of one of the stories that came out of my trip:

It brings together the city’s huge collection of Roman antiquities with its four sections tracing the development of Nimes from the Iron Age, through the halcyon days of the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages, and concludes by considering the legacy of the Roman era today.

Read more with my Ultimate Guide to Nimes in Independent Travel and look out for my Nimes feature in the August issue of France Magazine.



Story of the week: Chester city focus for Britain magazine


Chester continues to reinvent itself.

The city in England’s northwest has flirted with shopaholic footballers’ wives and Roman heritage fans over the years.

It remains home to the largest stone-built Roman Amphitheatre in Britain and to the Duke of Westminster, one of Britain’s richest men.

But the opening this year of Chester’s new flagship arts centre, Storyhouse, ushers in a new era as a cultural destination with its vibrant summer festival programme backed by a slew of new places to stay, eat and drink.

“Chester is bigger than it thinks sometimes and, as a returned Cestrian, I see it as an increasingly cultural, creative city,” says Alex Clifton, Artistic Director at arts producer Storyhouse [pictured above].

“Our new arts centre will be a beacon to light up the city after dark.”

The £37m building, adapted from the city’s 1930s Odeon Cinema with an added new wing, will feature two theatre spaces, an arthouse cinema, the new city library and exhibition space when it opens this winter.

Prior to that, the Chester Summer Music Festival returns in May, while the Open Air Theatre in the Grosvenor Park starts its run on July 1st with As You Like It and Stig of the Dump.

Roman history 

Roman legions founded the city of Deva as the largest fortress in Britain around AD70, encircling it with their trademark Roman city walls.

Today Chester wears its rich Roman heritage with pride (you can still walk around the city walls to soak up the historic ambiance), but it also celebrates its status as a living city through shopping, family attractions and a vibrant nightlife.

The centrepoint remains the ironwork Eastgate clock, Chester’s answer to Big Ben.

The clock was conceived for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, albeit not actually completed until two years later, and today towers above the shops and cafes of Eastgate Street, the main shopping thoroughfare.

The latter is also home to the Chester Grosvenor Hotel, which last year celebrated its150th anniversary and retains its Michelin-stared restaurant under head chef Simon Radley.

 One of ten key features of the city centre is the distinctive split-level Rows, the two-tiered medieval shopping galleries finished in black-and-white timber.

The Three Old Arches that form part of the Rows in Bridge Street are said to be the oldest shop front in England, but these erstwhile medieval merchants’ shops are packed today with contemporary boutiques.

Visitor attractions 

Heading north along St Werburgh Street, Chester Cathedral has dominated the cityscape since 1092.

Originally constructed as St Werburgh’s Abbey, the sandstone Benedictine Abbey was transformed into a cathedral in the 1540s by decree of Henry VIII.

An oasis of cool and calm, its cloisters and stained-glass windows are its most distinctive features, while a stroll around the cathedral gardens is perfect for some quiet contemplation.

It’s not Chester’s oldest holy site, however. That distinction goes to St. John’s Church, which is believed to date from the 7th century and today houses community events on the fringe of the Grosvenor Park. 

Heading south via The Cross, where the town crier still delivers a regular proclamation of the day’s news during summer, Bridge Street leads to the River Dee.

The river was Chester’s best form of defence during medieval onslaughts from Wales and now boasts summer leisure cruises.

Strolling along The Groves, the tree-lined promenade that lines the riverbank, is a perennially popular mooching spot. From here, the city walls lead to Chester Castle, home to the Cheshire Military Museum.

The opening of new cultural attractions this year will keep Chester evolving but the residual charm of the 2000-year-old city is unlikely to change.

“For me, Chester has always been ahead itself for its size with quality attractions,” says Rachael Hill, owner of Heald Country House, a winner at last year’s Marketing Cheshire annual awards. 

“Chester has everything a city has to offer without being too enclosed and is the gateway to glorious countryside.”

Side panel: Live like a local — Alex Clifton, Artistic Director, Storyhouse

When I’m not preparing for the opening of Chester’s new arts centre, I love: 

  • Going for tapas at Porta, the informal sister restaurant to Joseph Benjamin
  • Taking the kids to the Falconry Centre at Chester Cathedral to admire the birds of prey
  • Nipping out of rehearsals for the Open Air Theatre for a lunchtime dip in the River Dee
  • Stopping for a pint at The Malborough and getting stuck into the huge list of whiskeys
  • Stopping for afternoon tea at Tea on the Walls, a hidden-gem cafe with elevated views

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This story was first published in Britain magazine this month.

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Story of the week: Exploring the art scene of the British Midlands


The British Midlands is the unlikely setting for a new cultural revolution.

The formerly industrial cities of Nottingham, Leicester and Derby have been slowly re-inventing themselves in recent years with the opening of boutique hotels and chic eateries.

The cultural renaissance comes full circle this year with a triumvirate of new arts hubs to showcase the burgeoning Midlands arts scene.

Derby’s QUAD, the first to open, combines gallery spaces, two independent cinema screens and multi-media facilities.

In April it plays host to the Format’09 International Photography Festival, featuring works by David Lynch and Cindy Sherman.

Leicester’s Curve opened late 2008 and features an innovative ‘inside-out’ design, whereby audience members and actors break down traditional dramatic divisions.

The Light In The Piazza, the European premiere of a romantic musical evoking the glamour of 1950s’ Florence, runs April into May.

The final opening, Nottingham Contemporary [its bookshop pictured above], has been pushed back to September 2009, but exhibitions are currently running in various Nottingham venues as a preview.

The landmark gallery, built at the entrance to Nottingham’s famous Lace Market, will be the largest single gallery space in the East Midlands.

The venues bring outstanding architectural design to the region. They offer a range of facilities to attract internationally renowned artists and encourage local people to get involved with the arts.

Laura Dyer, Executive Director, Arts Council England, East Midlands, said:

“This is one of the most exciting periods for the arts in the region, providing world-class facilities which, together with the region’s existing attractions and strong cultural scene, will put us firmly on the cultural and tourism map.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This story was first published in High Life magazine in 2008.

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A home from home in Chester


* Image credit www.chestergrosvenor.com

I took a holiday in home town recently.

It was easy: walking from home to the hotel reception to check in; no resetting my watch for time zones and unpacking my wash bag in the reassuring knowledge that I could always pop home if I had forgotten my toothbrush.

It was refreshing, too.

I slipped out in the evening out for a walk around streets I know well — yet I still felt like a tourist.

I threw back the curtains the next morning to gaze up on the upper floors of the shops from my second-floor window.

I know these shops from ground level but never before had I appreciated the architectural flourishes of their upper floors, the dates elaborately carved into the stone.

It was practical, too. After years of negotiating airport queues, train delays and volcanic ash clouds, it felt good to be away yet so close to home.

Maybe we should take a holiday in our him town now and then. It was a refreshing to start a new year with a new persecutive on a place I thought I knew all too well.

I may well be back in the summer for another stay. After all, it’s just a 15-miute walk from my front door.

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

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