My grandmother told me fascinating stories of railway life. The men in the family worked “on the railway” but Grandmother, a rather formidable lady, had the luxury of working as a secretary in the York headquarters of the North Eastern Railway Company – quite an achievement in an era when most secretaries were men! Marriage and moving north ended Grandmother’s career but she shared her memories including how proud she was of her magnificent employment place.
When I learnt the building where Grandmother had worked had been beautifully restored to its Edwardian splendour and become a hotel, I knew I had to visit the place where she spent many years. As my 60th birthday approached it felt right to take a step into my family’s past, so my husband Clifford and myself were delighted to be guests of The Grand Hotel York.
Situated on station rise, just a few minutes walk from York Railway Station. The Grand Hotel occupies a corner site, close to the city walls looking towards York Minster. My first impression when we approached the hotel was it would be something quite different and my first impression was right!
Walking through the great oak doors led us into the elegant, marbled reception and to a warm welcome from staff. We arrived a couple of hours before the 3pm check in time, allowing time for a hotel tour then afternoon tea, before settling into our room.
The building was created in 1906 as a palace for business for the North Eastern Railway Company – one of the most powerful and affluent railway companies in Edwardian England. In 2010 the building started life again as York’s first five star hotel. This followed a 25 million pound restoration project which returned this great building to its former splendour, enabling guests to experience luxury from the golden age of travel. Many original features have been retained and reminders of its role serving the railway industry are everywhere.
The hotel is elegant, spacious, airy, immaculately maintained and spotlessly clean throughout. It has 107 rooms/suites which have the original railway office number carved in the wood above the door. The entire hotel is filled with wide, sweeping corridors, open spaces, lofty arches, skilfully carved flourishes, high ceilings with intricate plasterwork, wide stone pillars, tall windows, lots of creamy Huddlestone stone, Belgian marble. There is a beautiful first floor octagonal central hall, magnificent wood panelled board room and impressive Chairman’s Suite with its wood clad pillars and an ornate fireplace.
As our tour ended, our afternoon tea started and what a lovely experience it was! It was served in the beautifully appointed, ground floor HQ room where our window table gave views of the city walls. Friendly but unobtrusive staff, the quietness of the room (despite the city being immediately outside) and comfortable seating all created a relaxed atmosphere. Crisp white table linen, silverware and delicate china all added to this quintessentially English experience.
Our beautifully presented, plentiful afternoon tea consisted of a truly delicious variety of freshly made sandwiches – soft bread, packed with tasty fillings, just baked, melt in the mouth scones, pots of cream and jams and an array of the most wonderful cakes. We had an excellent choice of quality teas, coffees or chocolate. Afternoon tea should be booked in advance and is available to non residents as well as hotel guests.
The Ruinart Terrace was our next stop. The terrace is accessed via French windows from the lounge. Tables surrounded by comfortable sofas and chairs made it a pleasant place for us to enjoy the afternoon sunshine whilst sipping our drinks.
The Hotel Room
Our room was a Classic Room on the first floor which we accessed via a lift. The concierge took us to our room, showed us around. Reception telephoned us to check all was well and yes it was! Decorated in shades of cream and blue, our room was spacious with high ceilings. Two tall windows allowed light to flood in, whilst ultra thick drapes allowed complete darkness at night. Underfloor heating, with separate temperature controls for the bathroom provided a comfortable environment. Extra seating, table, desk, a good size bed with quality bedding, flat screen TV, free Swisscom WiFi (there was a good connection and speed) superb lighting, safe, mini bar, bottled water, teas, coffees, bath robes, slippers, ironing equipment, powerful hair dyer and every extra you would expect from a five star hotel was present.
Our bathroom contained a deep bath, over bath rainfall shower and hand shower, grab rail, a range of luxury toiletries and plenty of soft, fluffy towels.
All in all a delightful, comfortable room. I have rheumatoid arthritis so I can be hard to please as far as finding a comfortable bed is concerned. However, full marks to The Grand Hotel for providing me with such a comfortable night’s sleep.
Offers many treatments but we hadn’t booked any. However, we wanted to use the facilities freely available to hotel guests – the swimming pool, Nordic dry sauna, steam room, whirlpool.
The opulent spa, is tucked away in the original vaults of the building – it is here the North Eastern Railway once stored its millions! The iron doors which once guarded their money have been retained, these doors along with the thick stone walls are used today to shut out the city noise, to provide a tranquil area for relaxation. With the addition of subtle lighting and sumptuous furnishings a blissful sanctuary has been created. In keeping with the city the spa has a Roman feel.
The swimming pool with its deep blue colour and surrounding lighting was instantly appealing, the relaxed environment being enhanced by the fact the water was comfortably warm – no jumping into icy cold water here! Whereas Clifford enjoys saunas, I usually find the intense heat overbearing, however, here it was a gentler heat providing me with a pleasant experience as was the case with the steam room. The whirlpool was popular with guests but it wasn’t too long before we were able to enjoy that too. Beside the spa is the air conditioned gym.
Hudson’s Restaurant is named after the railway king, George Hudson. It is elegant and spacious with many tall windows providing city views. The menu looked interesting, appealing, varied but we had recently enjoyed our afternoon tea and wished to go out and explore York so we gave dinner a miss.
The Grand Bar and Whisky Room we visited on our return to the hotel that evening. The cosy Whisky Room with its leather armchairs and large whisky cabinet, is an impressive room. It also has an impressively long whisky menu! The Grand Bar is next to the Whisky Room. It is larger than the Whisky Room but still provides a cosy atmosphere. Cocktails are a speciality.
We ate breakfast in Hudson’s restaurant. Light flooded in through the many windows, we’d have loved window seats but they were already taken – we arrived towards the end of breakfast time! We’d booked a Continental breakfast but took the £5 upgrade option to add a cooked breakfast. There was a good choice of cooked breakfasts, fish, meat, vegetarian options. The Continental breakfast was buffet style, with a variety of cereals, breads, continental cooked meats, cheeses fresh fruits, yogurts, fresh juices and smoothies. Our cooked breakfast took a while to arrive but I don’t mind waiting – it means it is freshly cooked and the food was good!
The service throughout our stay was superb, nothing was too much trouble, they were friendly and efficient.
For disabled guests the hotel offers accessible rooms with easy open/lock doors. Optional grab rails, wide door entrances. Lift access to all floors. Lifts are wide enough for wheelchairs, they have voice announcers, raised numbers and lettering on the buttons which are positioned to suit wheelchairs. Emergency cords in some rooms. Access without steps to public rooms which are ground floor. Ramp access at entrance. Guide dogs welcome.
We arrived by train but for those driving, it is worth mentioning that the hotel has no on-site car parking. However, valet parking is available – the car will be parked at the NCP car park in Tanners Row at a cost of £20 a night until 12 noon on departure day.
All too soon it was time for us to leave, checkout was 11am. The concierge took care of our luggage so we could enjoy a day in York, delving into more family history and continuing our Yorkshire break.
York has much to offer the visitor from its famous Minster, to over 30 museums, city walls, gardens, castles, river cruises, bus tours, ghost walks, ancient shopping streets (The Shambles being one of the oldest if not the oldest shopping street in Europe), modern shopping centres, a wealth of restaurants and ancient pubs, all within easy reach of The Grand Hotel.
The Grand Hotel & Spa
York YO1 6GD