The Tour de France starting in Yorkshire and the Commonwealth Games coming to Glasgow are just two of the events set to make the UK a top destination for tourists in 2014
If your image of Glasgow is filled with anachronisms of rusting shipyards and deep-fried confectionery, 2014 would be a good time to rediscover Scotland’s largest city as it welcomes the world during what is, perhaps, the biggest year in its history.
That Glasgow is emerging as one of Europe’s fastest-growing city-break destinations is impressive considering it did not even have a tourist office until the 1980s. In 1990 Glasgow its European City of Culture title kickstarted the regeneration process. In 1999, it utilised the UK City of Architecture and Design award to similar effect. Glasgow is indeed a city transformed, with the focus around the reborn riverside.
Finnieston, between the city centre and the West End, has seen the most palpable metamorphosis, with Lord Foster’s Armadillo and Zaha Hadid’s brilliant Riverside Museum (European Museum of the Year in 2013) joined late in 2013 by the sleek SSE Hydro concert and sports venue. The Hydro will be one of the stars of Glasgow’s biggest-ever event, this summer’s 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The city’s vibrant cultural scene will be further boosted by Homecoming Scotland 2014, which will sees dozens of cultural, historic and gastronomic events taking place. Then there are the MTV Music Awards being held in this Unesco City of Music for the first time, partly in recognition of the successful recent staging of a trio of MOBO Awards.
Once-sleepy Somerset is no longer a West Country backwater. First came the celebrities. Then independent shops, restaurants and elegant places to stay such as At The Chapel helped put pretty-but-otherwise-unremarkable spots such as Bruton on the map for metropolitan weekenders. Now, the whole world looks set to take notice of the tiny village, as global art powerhouse Hauser & Wirth sets up shop on nearby Durslade Farm. The project is driven by visionaries Iwan and Menuela Wirth, who live nearby, and will include a number of contemporary art spaces alongside a guesthouse and gardens designed by landscaper Piet Oudolf. Across the county in Bath, the Gainsborough (doubles from £289) has become the first hotel to tap the town’s thermal waters (the famous Bath Spa does not have accommodation). It will open this spring with 99 rooms and an enormous spa/bathing area inside a listed Georgian building.
Hosting the Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France certainly puts a place on the map, but there’s a lot more to Yorkshire than two days of carbon bikes and lycra. In fact, the Tour route misses a lot of what’s best in the region: the North York Moors, the North Sea coast, and the Wolds in East Yorkshire. Whitby has been an attraction since Victorian days (Lewis Carroll was a regular at what is now the delightfully quirky La Rosa Hotel, but Scarborough and Filey further south are great, too. Even Bridlington, powered by resident David Hockney, is on the up, perhaps also helped by the arrival of award-winning Wold Top Brewery.
Beer, of course, is excellent throughout Yorkshire, and there’s a new brewery, Stod Fold, in Halifax, to add to an impressive list. Good food is found in the simple cafes: Little Organic Bakery on Wellington Road in Bridlington is a new gem; and for great fish and chips, try the Harbour View Cafe on Scarborough’s West Pier.
There are Michelin stars, too – more than in any other county. One newcomer, The Star in the City in York, is run by Andrew Pern, who built The Star at Harome into a top restaurant with rooms. With Hull set to be City of Culture 2017, Leeds’ modern events arena, and Sheffield boasting more artists than London, Yorkshire is definitely buzzing.
The man himself would no doubt have approved. In the seaside town of Laugharne this year, on the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth, visitors who can prove it is their birthday can claim a free pint in Brown’s Hotel, the very pub where Thomas liked to sit “mouldering” and giving his liver a punishing work-out. (dylanthomasbirthdaywalk.co.uk). There will be festivals and events to mark the centenary all year, including a Dylan Thomas Poetry Biography and Film Weekend in Laugharne, from 2-5 May, with poets including Simon Armitage and John Cooper Clarke performing in venues around town. (For a list of all centenary events see dylanthomas100.org). Brown’s (doubles from £95) has been refurbished in a 1950s style Thomas would be familiar with, but it is now a boutique hotel with lovely organic linens and iPod docks in its 14 rooms.
Celebrity chef Mark Hix has got the green light for the second Food Rocks (6-7 September), the gourmet festival in Lyme Regis that last year drew the likes of Angela Harnett and Mitch Tonks. The chefs have invited back the 2,267 guitarists who last year set a UK record for the biggest band in history (guitarsonthebeach.co.uk).
Thomas Hardy fans can call into the visitor centre in Higher Bockhampton, set to open in summer after an investment of nearly £1m, while walkers can enjoy the new 20km Dorset Legacy Trail, along the Jurassic Coast from Littlemoor in Weymouth to Portland Bill. Come nightfall, the county’s most sought-after beds will be at the Pig on the Beach, opening this spring in Studland, the newest in the acclaimed mini-chain of country house hotels.
The islands of Essex
Island hopping in Essex? The thought may never have crossed your mind but there are great little spots out in the Blackwater estuary. Osea, the private island a few miles from Maldon where the rich and famous party, is hosting several special events this year: kids’ camps, boutique festivals, pop-up restaurants. Although a restaurant for daytrippers has been rumoured, only overnight guests are currently allowed to cross Osea’s exclusive causeway (cottages for two from £295 for two nights).
Less pricey and open to all is Mersea Island, famous for its seafood. Don’t miss the delicious platters at The Company Shed a simple seafront shack. Leeward House, a B&B close to the beach, has doubles from £70, or splash out – almost literally – on The Raft, a floating cabin sleeping four near Maldon from £195 a night.
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