Anyone who has had a son or daughter starting at Durham University will know the place is simply jam-packed the first Sunday in October. The students make up a high proportion of the population of this modest sized city and as everyone and their uncle seems to accompany them on this important day, there are literally thousands upon thousands of extra feet pounding the pavements and availing themselves of the facilities.
Although we live a mere thirty miles away we decided to minimise possible problems like parking and eating out and book a two night stay at the Radisson Blu. We opted for a junior suite rather than a standard room which not only give us floorspace more than twice the size of a standard, but included complimentary free parking which is a must on this busy weekend. The hotel usually charges £4.50 for daytime parking and £7 for an overnight stay. When we saw the mind boggling queues for the city centre multi-storeys next morning we knew the extra expense was more than worth it.
The Junior suites have the added advantage of being top floor with excellent views. The vista over the river Wear and into the city centre is very pleasant and adds to the feeling of spaciousness. There's also a fridge in the room which we always find to be a real boon. As you'd expect in a higher rate room there's individual climate control, a coffee machine and hi-speed internet.
Ample bars and restaurants are nearby, as I say Durham is a very compact 'mini city'. But we opted once again to avoid the hassle of queues and crowded eateries and dine in the hotel's restaurant. It's described as 'contemporary Italian' and had most of the dishes my family favour – antipasti, pastas, seafood and steak. We managed to sample ALL of these between us and they were universally good. The restaurant, like our room, overlooked the River Wear and we had an excellent table and equally excellent service. Breakfast is also served in this restaurant, Filini, and they boast that the extensive buffet is comprised of over 80 delicious choices.
After all of this feasting it's probably a necessity that they have a more-than adequate PACE health club with an indoor swimming pool and all of the usual facilites you associate with a large hotel. You can even book a personal trainer if you're a few years out of shape and lacking in experience of these space age keep fit machines.. Not really our thing but there's also a spa for those seeking therapeutic and aesthetic benefits. Their words, not mine !
Durham, though compact, can be a tiring place to walk around because it's quite hilly. So the central location was a bonus and we headed back to the hotel several times to relax and have an uplifting cup of coffee. Between 17.30 and 19.00 Filini offers guests staying in business class rooms and junior suites complimentary beverages in its bar.
The whole experience was relaxing and hassle free, and speaking to other parents who travelled to Durham Uni with their children, they wished afterwards they'd done something similar. They'd queued for parking, waited for tables, been caught up in traffic jams. And that's before they got to the various colleges which unfortunately bring their own challenges !
A great hotel and a great weekend. Not the cheapest, but occasions like this don't come around too often, it's nice to make the most of them.