“WE’D like you to come and visit Salford in Greater Manchester for a travel review,” they told me.
“You’ll be staying in a hotel right next to Old Trafford football stadium.”
At this point, my bags were mentally packed. The notion, for this life-long Manchester United fan, of sleeping literally within the shadows of the neighbouring mighty Theatre of Dreams had already made this a done deal.
All domestic arrangements on the busy home front were swept aside (luckily not many as it happened) in favour of an impromtu two-day city break.
It’s many years since I watched my team on their home turf – BC (before children) in fact! So it was with excited anticipation that I dusted off my trusty team shirt and whisked the family off up north.
Appropriately then, we stayed in the world’s first football hotel, Hotel Football.
Owned by former United legends Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, the hotel opened a couple of years ago next to Old Trafford Football Ground on Sir Matt Busby Way. In fact, it’s so close to the stadium, the aforementioned players could easily kick the ball from their top floor into the stadium with limited effort!
The hotel offers everything travellers need to a high standard – and who says size doesn’t matter? Big is beautiful seems to be the motto here, from the large wall-mounted tellies to the huge walk-in rainshowers.
And kids – of all ages – can feast on a mini fridge of complimentary retro drinks and snacks. A fun touch.
The theming is throughout the hotel, but heaviest in their ground-floor Café Football restaurant. This seemed extremely popular with non residents too.
But the stand-out feature for any footie fan is the little piece of heaven they offer on the top floor. Heaven is what they’ve rather appropriately named their rooftop astroturf pitch that even boasts a retractable roof. Many a game is enjoyed when the room is not doubling as private function space.
If you’re staying, do visit, if only briefly, to appreciate the panoramic views of Manchester from this delightful vantage point. A perfect perch too of course, from which to stare and dream, till your heart’s content, at the stadium’s sporting grandeur. (Once again, I make no apologies for this critic’s emotional bias!)
If football’s not your thing, don’t be put off. The purpose of our visit was to be introduced to the city’s stunning waterfront destination called Salford Quays.
The vibrant area houses a whole host of sporting, cultural and leisure attractions within just one square mile, in that respect, the perfect location for a short city break.
Visitors will find everything from history and heritage to sport and shopping interwoven throughout The Quays’ venues and programmes.
So, here, is my hit list of what to do and where to eat while in Salford Quays – and why it’s worth tempting you a little bit further out from the usual lures of a city centre. Plus, evidence, that there really is something for everyone within this area.
Heritage: Do not leave without taking time to visit the award-winning Imperial War Museum North.
Its two large exhibition spaces tell the stories of people affected by war through mediums including galleries, action stations and the Big Picture shows which are emotive and impressive in equal measure.
The imposing architecture of the IWM building cannot be missed and is one of the most iconic features of The Quays skyline.
Admission free, but donation requested.
Culture: The Lowry is simply a must for art lovers.
This spectacular waterside venue offers visitors the chance to enjoy the very best of visual art and performance, housing two main theatres as well as a studio showcasing a world-class programme of productions and two art galleries featuring the works of contemporary and new artists. Named after the famous local artist LS Lowry, it houses the largest collection of his works, including, arguably his most famous pieces, Going to the Match and Coming from the Mill.
You don’t need to be an art aficionado to appreciate the gallery and it’s certainly worth a viewing.
A pleasant surprise was catching the first weekend of a unique new commission at the Lowry. Iris is a seven-minute digital artwork of laser light sculptures which is visually stunning and runs for selected performances over the next few weeks. Check out their website at www.thelowry.com
Shopping: The Lowry Outlet shopping centre, right opposite The Lowry, offers an affordable and relaxing shopping experience with savings of up to 70% off RRP. The Outlet boasts 80 stores, restaurants and cafes, including high street favourites M&S Outlet, Molton Brown, Cadbury’s, Whittard of Chelsea, Gap Outlet and The Body Shop.
It’s the perfect place to satisy that craving for a bargain and all within footsteps of where all the action is.
Dining: With a busy first day of our interesting city break behind us, we had a dinner date to keep.
We’d worked up an appetite with all our exploring – and were looking forward to seeing if the modern waterside restaurant we’d been booked into lived up to the hype.
So it was back to the Quays and a warm welcome at The Lime – an independent restaurant and bar where their promised ‘passion for sourcing local, seasonal produce setting it aside from its competitors’ did not disappoint.
An extensive and mouthwatering a la carte menu made our decisions anything but easy. I think I’d narrowed it down to three main course after 10 minutes!
After winding down with a well deserved cocktail as a treat for the miles I’d put in that day, it was time to order and we opted for the Mexican Sharing Platter to kick things off.
Overflowing with Cajun spiced chicken wings, quesadillas, chilli con-carne, nachos, guacamole, tomato salsa, soured cream and jalapenos, it proved to be an ambitious start to the feasting – but was duly demolished.
For me, then followed an 8oz sirloin steak which was cooked to perfection, accompanied by piping hot and delicious chunky chips (you can choose between chunky or skinny for your delectation!)
My husband’s King Prawn and Chorizo Risotto proved to be a winning choice while my sons’ burgers (start with the basics and build your own!) barely touched the sides.
I would add that there is a children’s menu available for the little ones with little appetites too.
Plus there are Sunday lunch and pre-theatre menus, so catering for every occasion.
For dessert (it would be rude not to!) the family favourites of sticky toffee pudding and chocolate brownie options lived up to our exacting expectations.
We found Lime to be a refreshing departure from the chain establishments we predominantly frequent, and the friendly serving staff who made sure we were positioned by one of the many big screens in a booth showing the final throes of a nailbiting FA Cup Final, was appreciated by us too.
Overall, a fantastic family dining experience that left us satisfied. . . in every way.
Sunday’s sustenance was set against a backdrop with yet another change of pace.
City Centre Cruises were our hosts for the afternoon as we enjoyed a fully licensed bar and table service of a hearty four-course Sunday lunch freshly prepared in the on-board galley. And all this while taking in the, now familiar sights of Salford and Media City, from a less familiar vantage point.
The family business has been operating cruising canal passenger, restaurant and party boats and barges in Manchester for over 30 years. It operates two luxury purpose built barges – Emmeline Pankhurst and L.S.Lowry, named after famous local people who were born, lived and worked in Manchester and Salford.
But this was so much more than just a floating restaurant, with intermittent commentary en route about the local area. As well as learning a lot, we were impressed by the level of comfort and personal service that went into making this cruise a fitting final leg for our Salford adventure.
And, at a tad under £30 per head (£14.95 for children) in my opinion this also proved excellent value.
City Centre Cruisers, which depart from Castlefield, also offer a variety of other dining packages, for up to 50 passengers, including evening dinner cruises and buffets as well as afternoon tea and even private charter party bookings. – It occurred to me what a perfect setting this would be for a celebration party – a hen night for instance – especially as a resident DJ and karaoke machine can also be thrown in to crank up the fun factor.
Come rain or shine (but preferably shine!) this is a unique adventure for tourist and local alike and one to be highly recommended.
Our visit to Salford Quays, albeit a whistlestop one, was fun, informative and flavoursome in equal measure.
While it may not have initially been our first ‘staycation’ of choice, it’s one we will pleasantly surprised by.
Glimpses of armed police and local newspaper headlines were a reminder of the testing times facing Manchester’s tight-knit community of late. But certainly for us, the memories will be happier – and ones we” treasure for many years to come.