Aside from the sweat-coated underground and ill-prepared levels of air-con, the skies in Britain this year have made it an easy decision to spend the majority of the summer Staycationing. Next to the big smoke, Manchester is one of my favourite cities in the UK; so when the opportunity came to head back Selfridges-style, with an itinerary including a femme-fatale of shopping, dinner and overnight stay, I signed up then and there.
Hopping on a Virgin, it takes just 2hrs to Manchester Picadilly. My first port of call was conveniently located up the road at The Cow Hollow hotel, romantically named after the area in San Francisco where its married owners first met. Slap bang in the trendy Northern Quarter, an area lined with quirky independents, I wasn’t surprised when I was greeted by a handsome boutique hotel, founded on memories and laced with character and charm.
The whole building is truly one of a kind – a fully restored, turn of the century textile warehouse, in which the original lift shafts have been converted into luxury bathrooms. They describe themselves as high tech, with a touch of the original Victorian majesty still present. It combines everything good about the 21st century, with a patriotic nod of respect back to the British history that got us here. This makes the Cow Hollow a rare merge of top tier luxury with the cosy friendliness and approachability of a family-run B&B in a new city.
The 16 beautifully designed, boutique rooms are surprisingly affordable, with prices starting from £99 per night. A price that’s especially impressive for a front row seat in the Northern Quarter, near the station and immersed in some of the best bars in the area. Not that you’ll frequent them all that much when there is a free prossecco hour every night, for guests and friends, from 6pm-8pm!
Manchester is the perfect place to get lost just roaming the city, as almost all of it is within walking distance. You can get your salivary glands working with homemade cakes in Home Sweet Home, or catch up over the cocktails in Sugar Rays. Every person I met directed me towards 20 stories Manchester, which I’m afraid I decided not to visit just anticipating the London-sized queues. However the Menagerie, Sky Bar at the Hilton and Neighbourhood bar are all equally worthy of attention.
To get away from the noise, stroll over to Castlefield and enjoy a drink by the canal on a summer’s day. The weather was tropical during my mini weekday-weekend retreat, but it’s no secret that Manchester is usually one of the wetter parts of the UK. I’d recommend the public art gallery or the infinity pool at the King’s Street Town House spa, which are a safe set of options come rain or shine.
Onto the main attraction – Selfridges Manchester. The two stores in Exchange Square and at the Trafford centre are the only stores in the North West. It is home to many of the familiar designer and high street brands, with a few worthwhile exclusives thrown in, as shown below. Given it’s reputation, I’m sure it doesn’t take me to tell you it doesn’t just sell-fridges.
I would honestly return even if it was just for the shopping, as it’s a far better experience than either Oxford Street or Bicester Village combined. The crowds are more manageable and you can comfortably move around without a growing contempt for the human race. Not to mention the sales prices – I’d found a pair of designer heels down from 600 to 350 in The Shop at Blue Bird, Convent Garden London, however in Selfridges Manchester they were the best value at 150. No one moves stock like Selfridges on a sales mission.
My first appointment was with the Personal Shopping service on the top floor. I was lead into a fragrant, candle lit area of the store and given a private room with champagne and an assortment of hand picked styles. Having filled-in a questionnaire before my arrival, the stylist had chosen knowledgeably, filling the rack with floral summer trends that were slightly more out-there (stylish) than what I’d usually pick up myself, yet still pieces that I’d actually wear enough on a day to day basis to justify the price. These are some of the pieces I took home:
Having discovered a few new favourite brands, I left with a novel wardrobe and outfit for the night and headed downstairs to the Suqqu concession for a ‘Gankin’ massage facial. This is actually the sister brand to every asian mother’s favourite, Kanebo – which is only stocked in institutions such as Harrods and Selfridges. Like it’s sibling, it is an equally high quality Japanese brand with a focus on a healthy routine and improving the fundamentals when it comes to good skincare.
The Gankin massage is a series of movements that help to improve blood flow around the face, combined with the Gankin cream which contains actives to help lift, hydrate and firm the skin. It’s become a weekly staple at home and a good excuse to give myself a mindful 5 min face massage every now and again. I also tried some of the makeup and was most impressed with the very natural, fluid foundation. Personally I don’t think any every-day foundation should be designed for high coverage as this often seems to result in a vicious cycle of masking. Suqqu’s version is light and airy, allowing the skin to breathe whilst artistically reflecting the light in all the right places.
Evening dinner was at Australiasia, offering Modern Australian cuisine combined with Pacific rim flavours and underpinned by European cooking traditions. With a secret underground passage for an entrance, framed by what looks like a fragment of the Louvre, you know it’s going to be good. The dishes here are a melange of Indonesian and South East Asian influences, combined with Australia’s strong ties with Japan acting as the inspiration for each of the recipes. We ordered a selection to share including Crab Rolls, Miso Aubergine, Black Cod, Tempura and Panna Cotta with Chocolate Cake for dessert. It is 100% worth the post-prandial fatty-feeling.
After a few catchup cocktails, I headed back to the Cow Hollow hotel for milk and cookies, which is provided for everyone in the foyer from 10pm. Up in the room, ear plugs, a thick mattress and Ren toiletries ensure a tranquillising night’s sleep. I hadn’t planned on scrubbing the day off my head as I couldn’t be bothered to carry all the hair necessities from drier and tongs to brushes and sprays. However the CH has you covered, with hair drier, curling wand and straighteners located in all bathrooms. Hilton’s of the world – take note.
Upon waking a little breakfast gift bag in bed is brought to your room as a gentle wakeup call. Checkout is at 11 so I said my farewells, including an apology for walking into the end of bed and adorning it with my blood as a leaving present; typical of my inability to move using my eyes. In weather like this there really isn’t any need to go abroad when everything you could need for a couple days of TLC is available on your doorstep. A big thank you to all parties involved for showing me the affordable luxury approach to enjoying the best of what such a charismatic city has to offer.