A weekend in break York is a deep dive into the chequered history of Britain. From the Roman roads that run beneath the city to the limestone battlements that have protected its residents since the 13th Century, to the web of winding narrow stone streets and alleyways, the two-millennia-old city has been beautifully preserved for visitors to explore.
But York has a wealth of 21st-Century charms, too. There’s a thriving food scene, thanks to a glut of quality Yorkshire produce and talented chefs setting up shop, not to mention the stunning country house hotels and luxurious spas that make for a truly relaxing staycation.
Just a 15-minute drive from the centre of town, this Victorian house hotel – all ivy-clad stone walls and high ceilinged guest rooms flooded with natural light – makes for the ideal base from which to explore the historic city of York. On-site there are two dining choices. Fine dining option The Lascelles serves up a seasonal menu of classic dishes, while The Fat Abbot gastro pub offers top quality British favourites.
And once you’ve returned from a day’s meandering York’s cobbled thoroughfares there’s the Cloisters spa, which boasts a steam room, sauna and aromatherapy salt room to help you unwind, plus treatments by Elemis.
Book your spa break at The Parsonage, from £99 per person.
A stretch further outside York, Rudding Park is closer to Harrogate. However this Hanoverian manor house-turned hotel set in 300 acres of landscaped grounds is well worth the extra 40 minutes in the car from central York. Its fine dining restaurant Horto features produce from the hotel’s own Kitchen Garden in it elegant and ever-changing menu. Or there’s the Clocktower bar and brasserie, open all day and serving everything from “Yorkshire tapas” to Sunday roasts and decadent afternoon tea.
But the exquisite Rooftop Spa it worth the trip in itself. The open-air hydrotherapy infinity pool looks out across the parkland, plus there’s a garden sauna cabin to let you spa alfresco even in the chillier months. Elsewhere there’s a further sauna, two steam rooms and a host of expertly crafted spa treatments. Heaven.
Book your spa break at Rudding Park, from £177 per person.
York is bursting with arresting Medieval architecture, but the jewel in the city’s crown is York Minster, seat of the Archbishop and often cited as one of the most beautiful buildings of its style in the world. Built between the 13th and 15th Centuries, it’s the largest Medieval cathedral in northern Europe. Its pièce de résistance, the Great East Window, is an intricate and imposing stained glass window – the largest Medieval work of stained glass in the world – that’s around the size of a tennis court.
The history of York spans 2,000 years: as a Roman capital, a wealthy site of Medieval trade and ocassional political uprising, and a Victorian manufacturing hub. For a taste of the city’s rich heritage – and some of the best preserved remains left by its early settlers – Yorkshire Museum is an essential stop on the itinerary.
Its collection of Roman artefacts, along with maps and models of the Roman city (known as Eboracum), give a fascinating insight into region’s capital. The verdant gardens in which the museum is set – rich flora and fauna surrounding the crumbling remains of the 11th Century St Mary’s Abbey – make for a tranquil afternoon’s stroll in the heart of the city.
York’s history is by no means the only reason to make the trip here. There’s a burgeoning art scene, with boutique galleries like the Art of Protest Gallery, which showcases the work of urban, contemporary artists. Check out According to McGee, an independent gallery that has carved an impressive reputation on the international art circuit for the exhibitions it runs, featuring both up-and-coming and established artists.
And of course there’s York Art Gallery. Its collection of paintings spans 500 years of European art, and there’s an impressive range of ceramics and pottery on show. The work of local artists features heavily too, with the Gallery’s “Works on Paper” collection, with more than 4,000 pieces, many of which depict the city of York or the surrounding landscapes.
York’s stellar attractions makes it a tourist honeytrap, which in turn makes it fertile ground for talented chefs and restaurateurs to set up shop. First stop on a visitor’s itinerary should be Melton’s, owned and run by Roux-trained chef Michael Hjort and the holder of a slew of awards for its exquisite but pleasantly unpretentious menu. Locally sourced produce (such as venison from Yorkshire farms) feature heavily on the menu; Michael is committed to the local food scene and is also a director of York Food Festival. Plus there’s an extensive wine cellar, with more than 200 bottles from vineyards around the world.
Mr P’s Curiosity Tavern combines some of the city’s top culinary talent with its historic charm. Housed in the 17th-Century, Grade II-listed (and supposedly haunted) building, it’s the venture of Michelin-starred chef Andrew Pern and dubbed “part old curiosity shop, part small plates restaurant”. In practice that means eccentric decor (expect taxidermy and charcuterie hanging from Victorian oil lamps) to gaze at while your sample the thoughtfully put-together menu.
If sampling local fayre is not enough and you’re looking to load up on treats to take home, head to Henshelwood’s Delicatessen. Their stock includes Yorkshire cheeses like Wensleydale and Swaledale, preserves made from centuries-old recipes, and homemade ready-to-eat pates and parfaits. Plus they do an excellent range of picnic hampers, a great choice of fuel for an amble in the nearby countryside. Another lunch spot to try within the city itself is Partisan, a coffee shop and restaurant that’s open for breakfast through to afternoon tea, plus dinner Thursdays to Saturdays. Although the ingredients used don’t travel far (many of the vegetables and herbs come from the owners’ nearby farm), the dishes hail from far and wide: brunch dishes include Persian Eggs or Italian-style Eggs in Purgatory, while the lunch menu includes Korean staple bibimbap. Plus there’s a tempting range of homemade cakes and patisserie.