The city of York in northern Yorkshire, England, lies in the Vale of York, a flat area of farmland bordered by the Pennines, the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Wolds. Pretty dreamy, huh?
Myself and a small group of Canadian journalists were lucky enough to spend some time in York. More good fortune — we were booked into what is colloquially known as The Grand. Built in 1906, the landmark hotel was reinvented in 2010 when Cedar Court Hotels bought the former headquarters of the North Eastern Railway.
We arrived by train and it was only a short walk to Cedar Court Grand Hotel & Spa. This luxury accommodation is deserving of every one of its five stars and its many awards. You’ll feel its warm welcome as you approach the handsome exterior and your heart may skip a beat when you walk along the beautiful mosaic-tiled corridors to your room.
The Grand overlooks the ancient city walls of York and is in a direct beeline to the renowned cathedral of York Minister after crossing the River Ouse. This makes walking around when you first arrive a piece of cake ... or should I say chocolate?
By the late 19th century, the railways chugged into the region and with them came the sweet life — confectionery manufacturing. KitKat, Aero, Chocolate Oranges! Lean in and smell these words.
Savoury pies on display in a shop window in York, England. Patricia Job/QMI Agency
But before we really get indulgent, let’s stroll The Shambles, a medieval area of twisting lanes. The name “Shambles” comes from the Saxon “Fleshammels,” which means “the street of the butchers.” The city’s butcher market was located here. On the wide windowsills, many dating back to the 14th century, the meat was displayed.
Character overflows here. Tea shops, store windows crammed with savoury pastries -- such as steak-and-ale pies or traditional pork pies -- tourist shops, beautiful clothing and jewelry shops, even real estate offices, are all set in these tiny, sloping historic buildings. Diagon Alley in Harry Potter is said to be inspired by The Shambles.
At the end of The Shambles, press on through the doors of York’s Chocolate Story, a museum store that opened in 2012, and head upstairs. Take a tour and then head down to the shop, where you can swig back a luxe chocolate drink or buy a few bars to take home (or eat in the bus, whatever). I quickly selected two brightly wrapped bars — both from Guppy’s Chocolates, handcrafted in York.
At the website, yorkschocolatestory.com, you’ll find a page of factoids. My favourite: U.S. research suggests the higher a country’s chocolate consumption, the more Nobel laureates it spawns. Sweet!
That evening, we dined at Star Inn The City, a riverside restaurant on Museum St. Just mull this over with your tastebuds: Salad of English pea shoots and lemon-balm mayonnaise, roast sirloin of Waterford Farm beef, duck-fat roasties, Harome honeyed-carrots and parsnips. Musical, right? And dessert? A vanilla panna cotta with a bramble salad. Just gazing at these words is a lyrical treat.
Things to do while in York? Besides a chocolate trail, there are ghost tours, a cat trail (really), pub crawls, and bus and walking tours.
Give a bit of time as well to the Jorvik Viking Centre. The Vikings raided and captured York in the 9th century. There’s a reconstruction of Viking-age streets that you will ride over, experiencing the sights, sounds — and smells — of the time. A fun, unusual venue.
Our guide, Alan Rowley, made our stay in wonderful Yorkshire a delight. A real gentleman, full of interesting tidbits of information. Rowley even shared his award-winning Yorkshire Pudding recipe with us!
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