Spotlight on Stratford upon Avon
Steeped in culture & history
Stratford upon Avon
It’s difficult to escape the legacy of Shakespeare in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon. While the town and its most famous son are delightful to discover, there are also some beautiful places to visit nearby, says Jayne Howarth
Think of Stratford-upon-Avon and The Bard will immediately spring to mind. The two go together like a hand in glove, like salt and pepper, like good old fish and chips.
Naturally, it is William Shakespeare who is the major attraction and the reason why so many international visitors descend on the town. Listen as you take a short stroll around the streets and you lose count at the number of languages you hear as tourists lap up every morsel of this quintessentially old English town.
Stratford-upon-Avon was founded in 1196 by the Bishop of Worcester, who declared that the part of land at the “strete ford” should be used to create a town. Basing the layout on a medieval cross system, he sowed the seeds of a settlement and from these very humble beginnings, the small and prosperous town grew in shape and stature.
But it is the world famous poet and playwright that put this market town on the map. Rich with cultural heritage, it is no surprise to find that in 2011, this small Warwickshire market town was voted the sixth best travel destination in UK - beating historic York - by the users of travel website TripAdvisor.
More than one million people voted in the Travellers Choice Awards, which saw London and Edinburgh top the table, followed by Bath, Oxford and Cambridge.
In fact, last year 805,000 people visited the Shakespeare properties alone - an increase of ten per cent from the previous year and the highest number for seven years - dwarfing the town’s population, which stands at about 24,000.
There are five Shakespeare properties to see in and around the town: Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the half timbered house where the Bard was born in 1564; New Place/Nash House, where he lived from 1597, but which was demolished in the 18th century; Hall’s Croft, where Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna lived with her husband; Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, in Shottery, the childhood home and farm of Shakespeare’s wife; and Mary Arden’s House, the birthplace of Shakespeare’s mother, in the pretty little village, some three and a half miles from the town centre.
All have their own charm and are worth a revisit if you haven’t been for a while. And if you are paying homage to the world’s most famous playwright, then a visit to Holy Trinity Church, where he is buried, is a must. Although it is free to enter the church, there is a charge to see his grave.
With Jubilee festivities underway and the World Shakespeare Festival already drawing crowds, the numbers of visitors to the town could easily soar again this year. The festival, which was launched in April, is a global celebration of the poet’s works and will be staged until October. The world-famous theatre company is presenting 12 new productions of its own, some of which reflect the mix of cultures within British society, while actors from the USA, Mexico, Russia, Iraq and Brazil will also perform in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the event. A number of the productions are being staged across the UK.
If you are planning to visit the area on June 30th-July 1st, then take in the lively and fun annual River Festival in the town. From live performances to demonstrations, myriad family activities, craft stalls, artisan food and market traders, organisers promise a bumper event this year.
All the action takes place on the banks of the River Avon, at the recreation ground, opposite the grand denizen of the arts, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
All this culture and heritage works up an appetite and thankfully there are plenty of fantastic places to eat in the town, from delightful tea shops and coffee houses to pubs and restaurants offering fine dining options.
While there are the chains that you see in other towns, such as Strada and Café Rouge, Stratford also boasts a high number of independent and family-run establishments that pride themselves on high quality food and great service.
The Church Street Town House, which is a stone’s throw away from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, is a busy bistro that is open for lunch, afternoon tea, pre-theatre dinner or relaxed dining.
Owned by Sue Hawkins and her niece Rachel, the historic building - parts of which date back to 1600 - is a boutique hotel with 12 luxury rooms that offers an array of excellent food thanks to the talents of head chef Nick Rowberry.
From eggs Benedict in the morning to a robust braised blade of beef for dinner, the Church Street Town House offers fine foods from 8am until 9.30pm daily.
Also in Church Street is No.9 Church Street, a vibrant town centre restaurant with a friendly neighbourhood feel. Open for brunch, lunch and dinner, owners Wayne Thompson and Dan Robinson aim to serve guests the best of British food in relaxed surroundings. Summer menus include steak bavette, grilled free range ham, pot roasted monkfish tail and Loomswood Farm duck breast.
Grants of Sheep Street is another fabulous restaurant in the town centre that is perfect for dinner à deux as well as larger parties of eight. Lunch, pre-dinner or full à la carte all offer superb choices for discerning diners , including sharing platters and tapas, roasted rump of lamb, seared calves liver and shallot Stilton and fig galette.
If you have eaten at Essence Restaurant in Alcester, you will be pleased to know that you can now dine at its sister restaurant in Stratford-upon-Avon town centre. Located in Old Red Lion Court, this bright and modern restaurant serves tasty dishes such as lamb’s liver and steak and kidney pudding and there is also a good children’s menu featuring cornflake chicken strips, meatballs and mash, and fish goujons with salad and chips.
For a quaint English afternoon tea, try the delightful 1940s-inspired tea shop The Fourteas, which picked up the Outlet of the Year award, just six months after opening. See why its star turn, The Ivor Novello Afternoon Tea is causing such a stir among visitors who appreciate the art of an excellent cup of tea.
After refuelling, you can browse the shops in Stratford. Known for its eclectic collection of antique and curio shops, a few hours can easily go by if you browse the Aladdin’s caves of furniture, china, art and books or treat yourself to unique little knick knacks from centuries gone by.
Visitors can while away a good few hours in the shops in the town. From lovely little independent boutiques selling quality clothing and homewares to larger high street department stores, there is something for everyone.
Independent clothing outlets include Domino Fashion, Sarto menswear, Gemini Woman, where you can pick up the season’s key looks and co-ordinated accessories, Cordelia for mother of the bride and special occasion wear, and Nuha where you receive personal shopping advice for beautiful designer shoes and handbags.
Foodies will also love the range of artisan suppliers of unusual and luxury foods such as cheese and chocolate. Select some of the finest cheeses from the local area and Cotswolds from the gorgeous Paxton and Whitfield shop in Wood Street and complement those tasty delicacies with a bottle or two of fine wine from premier independent wine merchant Vine Neuf in Union Street.
Family run Vin Neuf supplies both the restaurant trade and retail customers with some of the finest wines from around the world.
On June 21st, it is marking its tenth anniversary since the launch of the wholesale business - and six since the store opened - with a showcase of more than 30 wines at the rose gardens in Hiller’s Garden restaurant. To book tickets, telephone 01789 261 747.
It also holds regular wine tasting events in its cellars and at local restaurants throughout the region, so visit www.vinneuf.co.uk to see when the next one is.
If you are lucky enough to live locally or are in the region for a few days, it’s worth finding the time to travel even a short distance to some of the prettiest villages on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon and discover just why Warwickshire is famed for its beauty.
Alderminster is just a short drive away from the town centre and has a population of about 500 people. This tiny parish is home to a very upmarket local pub - The Bell - the award-winning traditional pub, restaurant and boutique bed and breakfast, which sees guests coming from far and wide to try its excellent fare.
Ettington is another pretty little village that has its roots firmly in history. It was a Roman settlement and later, during Saxon times, continued to thrive. The Neo Gothic ancestral home of the Shirley family, who were lords of the manor, is now the luxury Ettington Park Hotel, which sits in 40 acres of parkland and grounds.
For a touch of chocolate box England, head four miles west of Stratford to the gorgeous Welford on Avon. This pretty little village centre is designated as a conservation area and boasts a number of traditional thatched cottages. Its church, St Peter’s dates back to the 12th century.
On the Heart of England Way lies Quinton, a parish that lies about six miles south of Stratford, while close by is the ancient riverside village of Bidford on Avon with its impressive stone bridge that dates back to the 16th century.
The Falcon Inn in Bidford on Avon is said to have been a favourite drinking hole of Shakespeare’s and legend has it that the Bard took part in a drinking competition between teams from Stratford and Bidford. It is said that he refused to take part in a return bout after the Bidford team outdrank the Stratford men very quickly.
Unfortunately, the Falcon Inn is no longer trading, but has been converted into a set of pretty villages.
The poet and playwright is also said to have an association with Wellesbourne, having been accused of poaching deer from the stunning Charlecote Park, now a National Trust property and grounds, which is close to the village. However, it is unclear if there were deer there when Shakespeare was alive.
If you find yourself near Wellesbourne, take a detour to the award-winning Compton Verney Art Gallery, which houses a fantastic collection of art from across the world.
Another small town worth a visit is Alcester, a town that has its origins rooted in Roman times. A number of lovely Tudor buildings survive in the town, which is just a short hop from two stately homes - Coughton Court and Ragley Hall.
Wine lovers should head to Snitterfield, which is less than five miles from Stratford, the home of award-winning Welcombe Hills vineyard, which was established in 2001 but which already produces up to 6,000 bottles of English wine every year.
So, why not raise a glass to Stratford-upon-Avon and its nearby villages? It’s not difficult to see why this beautiful area of England is lauded by both locals and visitors.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is a jewel in Stratford-upon-Avon’s crown. Home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, undoubtedly the world’s most famous theatre company, it reopened in November 2010 after a three-year building programme that cost £112.8 million.
The main auditorium seats 1,040 people, while its sister venue, the Swan Theatre, can seat about 450 people.
Following the World Shakespeare Festival, which runs until October, the RSC is looking forward to launching its winter season with a family show, an adaptation of Russell Hoban’s classic children’s story The Mouse and His Child.
The show will play in repertoire with the light-hearted Shakespeare comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor, further details of which to be announced.
The Swan Theatre premieres a trilogy of newly-adapted international plays, in repertoire from November.
A World Elsewhere, curated by chief associate director Gregory Doran and associate director Roxana Silbert, opens with The Orphan of Zhao. This piece dates from the fourth century BC and is known as the Chinese Hamlet, being a tale of self-sacrifice and revenge.
The second in the trilogy is an adaptation of Alexander Pushkin’s play, Boris Godunov. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it centres on the ruthless Boris Godunov, Tsar from 1598 to 1605.
The final work is set in Italy - Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo, which will play in repertoire in a new translation by Mark Ravenhill.
For more details about the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, visit www.rsc.org.uk
Spotlight on Stratford
Speciality teas and coffees - Cakes - Refreshments
The Fourteas tea shop in Stratford-upon-Avon has been named as Outlet of the Year, just six months after opening.
The traditional 1940s-themed tea room in Union Street picked up the accolade in the Touch FM Pride of Stratford Awards after owners Rachael and Ian Barber created a beautiful tea room that is packed with old photographs, posters, newspapers and bunting.
The couple met while working at the Royal Shakespeare Company, but Rachael decided to take a confectioners’ course to pursue her dream of opening a tea shop.
Fourteas serves a selection of delicious home made cakes, scones and sandwiches and hot and cold drinks and welcomes visitors from all over the world who want to enjoy a traditional tea experience at the venue.
In fact, so authentic is the 1940s theme, that one visitor returned to thank staff after visiting with his mother. The elderly woman suffered from dementia and had said little to anyone for months, but sitting in the period setting of the Fourteas, her memories flooded back and she chatted happily for hours.
Star billing at the Fourteas goes to the Ivor Novello Afternoon Tea, which looks so good most visitors photograph it before tucking in.
The tiered cake plate is piled with handmade sandwiches, cup-cakes, scones and biscuits and is the perfect complement to the pot of leaf tea, which arrives at the table with an individual timer to ensure the perfect pot.
Why not offer this afternoon tea treat as a gift? Ivor Novello vouchers are proving popular gifts as people seek out the ultimate luxury tea.
The Fourteas, Union Street, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6QT Tel: 01789 293908 www.thefourteas.co.uk
Mon-Saturday 9am - 5.30pm Sunday 11am - 4pm
professional treatments in warm friendly surroundings
Henley Rooms Skincare & Beauty Clinic, Stratford on Avon, their ethos being - Feed the skin from within with the Advanced Nutrition Programme, Fortify the skin with Environ Skincare and achieve a Flawless Finish with Jane Iredale natural mineral skincare make up. Mary Lawson-Evans, Salon Director is passionate about skincare and believes to get Great Skin you have to so some homework - there is no miracle treatment or product, achieving GREAT skin is 70% what you do at home & what you inherit. A good routine, healthy diet and products that contain vitamin A the natural form is the main ingredient to get into the skin, this thickens, plumps, evens out skin tone and nourishes the skin, Environ is a prescriptive based regime and the amount of vitamin A increases to your maximum level with fantastic results.
Henley Rooms is a warm and friendly salon with the emphasis on Professional treatments from the relaxing to waxing and all the way to advanced treatments such as Red vein & skin tag removal or the latest cutting edge technology of medical needling. Here is what our clients say about us:-
Wow! Hayley the facial and the massage was beautiful, thank you, Dianne H S OA
Excellent service and treatments with a professional approach. The best facial in Warks. K. Morrison S O A
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Want to know more call 01789 263444
Industry recognition for Kitchen Gallery’s excellent eye for design
It’s been quite a year for the award-winning team at Kitchen Gallery.
Not only has the company, the main dealer for exclusive SieMatic kitchens, Gaggenau and Sub Zero appliances, opened its second stunning showroom in Stratford-upon-Avon, it was shortlisted for the prestigious Kitchen Showroom of the Year category of the KBB review awards - the industry-leading awards for designers of kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms.
“It was an honour to be shortlisted for an award that recognises the importance of ideas and design,” said managing director Tahir Mahmood, who opened the Birmingham Road showroom in November 2011 to complement the showroom on Stratford Road, Shirley, Solihull.
The Stratford showroom features one of the latest designs to come out of last autumn’s Milan Fair, the highly acclaimed BeauxArts 02 collection, designed by Mick DeGiulio, who is celebrated in the USA as the “Rock Star of Kitchen Design”.
The Kitchen Gallery showrooms display only the finest SieMatic kitchens from Germany. Known for its innovation and style, SieMatic pioneered the “floating spaces” concept in modern kitchens, a new panel and shelving system that visually integrates the kitchen with the living area.
The team is now preparing to completely refurbish the Solihull showroom, which means that customers have the chance to buy a stunning SieMatic display kitchen with up to 50 per cent off.
“There are four on display and each one is absolutely beautiful. It’s rare that customers have the chance to buy a top quality designed kitchen for a fraction of the usual price,” he said.
For more information, visit www.kitchengallery.co.uk or telephone the Solihull showroom on 0121 744 3953 and Stratford-upon-Avon on 01789 267001.
Fabulous Views of this wonderful market town
Located in the heart of historic Stratford-upon-Avon, directly opposite the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company Theatres, the Arden Hotel has undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment to create an elegant and sophisticated 45-bedroom luxury hotel.
The beautifully renovated Arden Hotel boasts the chic Waterside Brasserie, stylish Champagne Bar and spacious suites combining contemporary design with timeless luxury, many with fabulous views over the River Avon, providing an inspirational backdrop for your trip.
Set in glorious Warwickshire the popular hotel, with its large car park, is an ideal base for exploring some of England’s most famous and picturesque countryside, including the charming villages of the Cotswolds, the bountiful Vale of Evesham and the ancient market town of Warwick with its awe-inspiring castle.
The exclusive Club Bar is something entirely new for the town. A modern take on the old fashioned gentleman’s club, the Club Bar is solely for residents and members and serves drinks late into the night. Adorned with evocative shots of famous performances from the Royal Shakespeare Company archives, and fitted with an ornate carved and gilded bar, the Club Bar oozes theatricality, invoking the time-honoured pedigree of the world-famous theatre company.
Setting the bar for dining in Stratford-upon-Avon, The Arden Hotel offers an exceptional culinary experience in the stylish surroundings of the Waterside Brasserie. Behind the scenes the kitchen team works hard to ensure each and every customer enjoys exceptional food showcasing the best local seasonal ingredients available.
Arden Hotel, Waterside, Stratford upon Avon CV37 6BA 01789 298682
professional treatments in warm friendly surroundings
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Movers & Shapers, Stratford-upon-Avon, 10 Union Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 6QT Tel: 01789 205555
Enjoy superb food all day at Church Street Townhouse
For great food in the heart of historic Stratford-upon-Avon, step into the delightful Church Street Townhouse.
The bistro, which is housed in a fabulous 400-year-old, grade II listed building just a stone’s throw from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, prides itself on offering high quality dishes throughout the day.
Owned by Sue Hawkins and her niece Rachel, Church Street Townhouse is a stylish boutique hotel with all-day bistro and brasserie.
From superb eggs Benedict to start the day through to lunch, afternoon tea, pre-theatre supper or dinner, head chef Nick Rowbery uses his extensive culinary knowledge to create menus that are befitting of these sumptuous surroundings.
Only the very best ingredients are used and local suppliers are sourced whenever possible to cut down on food miles.
Enjoy a traditional afternoon tea, served anytime between 11am and 5pm (“When you need a scone, you need a scone,” say Sue and Rachel). Take in the views of Shakespeare’s former school while indulging in a three tier stand of home-made cakes made by Nick’s mother, scones, and smoked salmon sandwiches. And why not add to the treat with a glass of bubbly?
Diners are spoiled for choice with a range of light meals, such as haddock and prawn fishcakes and marinated artichoke salad, as well as hearty main courses, including slow cooked belly of pork, chilli and fennel crusted sea bream and a rib eye steak.
For more information, log onto www.churchstreettoenhouse.com or telephone 01789 262222.