THE CITY OF CULTURE 2021 IS PERFECT FOR A STAYCATION
From art and culture, buildings steeped in history, an eclectic and regenerated city centre to peaceful stunning country parks and gardens, amazing sporting venues and festivals for everyone, Coventry has revamped itself as a diverse modern city.
There is so much to do and see and to unlock in this city who proudly won the accolade of UK City of Culture 2021.
National Geographic lists Coventry as one of the eight unmissable cultural experiences for 2021 and beyond. So with that in mind if you have never thought of visiting the city then its time you did and I can assure you, you will be pleasantly surprised.
It’s the perfect place for a short break or a longer staycation and for visiting Warwickshire’s other attractions as its only around 20 minutes from Stratford-on-Avon, Warwick Castle and Royal Leamington Spa, all with good public transport links.
We started our staycation at Coombe Abbey – no ordinary hotel situated at the end of a long drive, lined by majestic trees.
Cross the cobbled bridge that spans the moat and a whole world of peace, calm and tranquillity unfolds amidst the Capability Brown designed gardens packed with every English Country Garden flower you can imagine with lily ponds, fountains and statues paying homage to the beautifully restored Gothic revival style hotel.
Eerie but ethereal organ music greets you as you enter through heavy wooden doors and to a world of times gone by with dark wooden screens, nooks and corners filled with antique furniture and artefacts and there’s even a pulpit and confession box.
Walk down the Baroque corridors heavy with wall hangings lined with marble busts, painted doors and candle lit corners, where music suddenly accompanies you as you progress and there’s plenty more wonderful blast from the past surprises.
We stayed in the Capability Brown Suite in one of the courtyard buildings. The suite was sumptuous, spacious and decadent in its furnishings including an enormous four poster bed with thick rich heavy golden drapes and posts embellished with glass and beads.
The two enormous chairs embellished in gold brocade had footstools and our suite was so well appointed with windows on two sides overlooking a garden a modern marble bathroom and our room had a spiral staircase that led to a large bathroom with a deep luxurious bathtub.
Food at Coombe Abbey is of the highest order with a varied menu and local produce integrated into its dishes. The Garden Room Restaurant is light and airy and has a certain English garden charm with white iron gazebos at each end covered in fresh flowers. For my fuller review of the hotel visit www.leedsguide/the-historic-coombe-abbey
Next day we spent time exploring not just the hotel gardens but Coombe Country Park. You could spend the whole day here with woodland and lakeside walks beckoning and beautiful gardens in its 500 acres.
But time was pressing and we needed to begin our tour discovery tour of Coventry. We found plenty of help to send us on our way in the city with some uniformed tourist staff and a new centre specially designed for this year’s City of Culture and also for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, where three events of the Birmingham hosted games will take place.
A must for us to visit was Coventry Cathedral. My last visit was as a small child when it was first consecrated in the early 60’s. The new cathedral sits at the side of the ruins, the suggestion of the architect Sir Basil Spence as a memorial to that fateful night in November 1940 when it was raised to the ground by the Luftwaffe along with most of the city.
Graham Sutherland’s imposing tapestry Chris in Glory in the Tetramorph is the focal point of the cathedral whilst in the ruins the charred wood cross sitting on an alter of rubble was found after the bombing in the shape of the cross.
Many events now take place in the cathedral including theatre, music, festivals and there’s an excellent pit stop café that serves delicious home made cakes.
This year the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum will host the Turner Prize (29 September-12 January 2022) and there are specialist exhibitions all through the year. When visiting do allow enough time to explore it fully. It’s the perfect place to delve into Coventry’s history and immerse yourself in world class art. Permanent galleries range from Visual Arts, to Social and Industrial History, Archaeology and Natural history so there is something for every visitor including families and children and there’s a section about Coventry’s most famous lady of the past – Lady Godiva
There’s a plethora of Museums in Coventry with The Music Museum that pays homage to artists coming out of Coventry, a mock record shop booth and all sorts of interactive exhibits whilst the Midlands Air Museum is a self funded aviation museum that has over 30 historic aircraft and is a must for plane spotters of any age.
Although I was rather sceptical at first I loved with Coventry Transport Museum that houses the largest publicly owned collection of British Vehicles in the world and tells the story of Coventry and its people through t he rise and fall of the biggest industry.
Don’t be fooled this is not a boring mechanical place. There’s everything on show from old bicycles to tanks, Queen Mary’s Daimler and world land speed record breaker the Thrust SSC and Thrust 2 to Victorian vintage cars.
Our hotel right in the centre of Coventry was so different to the one we stayed at the night before. Only opened that week The Telegraph Hotel has been fashioned into a hotel from the offices of the city’s newspaper.
The architect and designers have done a stirring job, except that there is no bay to pull in to park and unload your luggage, in turning this once hive of hustle and bustle for 60 years into a modern hotel.
It pays homage to the newspaper industry from production staff to journalists. I for one felt a feeling of DeJa’Vu having once gone for a journalists job there but at the last minute choosing to go the bright lights of London and a glossy magazine rather than The Telegraph.
The Telegraph is a chic hotel and its décor and furnishings has captured the vibe of the 1950’s that the original building epitomised back in 1959 with a modern quirkiness. Some features like the terrazzo flooring and marble clad pillars in the reception, the wooden counter and even the time clock have been retained with other original pieces in the various function rooms and suites.
From the hanging door handle notices that say on a deadline meaning do not disturb to chasing a scoop which translated means service my room , to the names of the various floors and the achitypal black folder room guide appears as a newspaper. Tucked away is an exhibition of items like hot metal plates (oh dear I can remember them) newspaper and photographic memorabilia machines that brought the news from afar to the office.
The glass roofed restaurant Forme and Chase is open all day. This glass roof is a great feature in the daytime it floods the place with sunshine and light whilst in the evening the skilful lighting and candlelight makes it very romance.
If you have time do try the 50’s style cocktail bar with some amazing cocktails or ascend to great heights and enjoy Generators, a rooftop bar overlooking Belgrade Square which offers a year-round outdoor experience.
There’s breakfast, a bar menu and a regularly changing a la carte dinner menu. But do if you have time try the Telegraph Afternoon Tea which includes the Coventry Godcake.
Our room was a standard room but much bigger than your average standard room and so comfortable with a large bathroom and plenty of hanging space and I loved with large picture windows and the Roberts Radio by the bedside.
The Telegraph is directly opposite The Belgrade Theatre – heaven for a theatre critic like myself! It’s close proximity means you can just walk across in any weather and catch more than one show a day.
The Belgrade Theatre is an integral part of the year of culture. The theatre offers a diverse range of productions from touring musicals to critically acclaimed dramas, traditional pantomime and comedy classics.
An eclectic programme for the City of Culture period is packed with exciting new and not so new productions too numerous to mention but which appear on the City of Culture’s website.
Other major events include: –
Faith (September 2021) Theatrical production to find out what keeps each of using going in tough times performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company
Coventry Biennial (October 2021-January 2022) Four month event dedicated to visual art and culture celebrating the arts movement that have been created in and around Coventry
Another place for entertainment is the Assembly Festival Gardens that has free entry. Here you will be able to see some of the world’s leading circus artists, musical theatre, and shows especially for the kids to name but a few and don’t forget to indulge yourself in the local food market there.
Fargo Village is a one-stop shopping place with a makers market, unique coffee, craft brewery and art and lots to see and do.
It’s a place for everyone with entertainment including a jazz jam and special events such as a Coffee Festival and a Vegan Market.
There’s so many other places of interest in Coventry including the Sky Dome Arena with its restaurants, cinema and Planet Ice for those who fancy watching ice hockey or see themselves as budding dancing on ice competitors.
Coventry literally has an attraction at every corner of every street and road. Perfect for all tastes the City of Culture for 2021 is a must place to visit – you’ll be glad you did.
For further details about Coventry and its attractions visit: – www.visitcoventry.co.uk
For more about the events and programme of The City of Culture 2021
Visit: – https://coventry2021
Coombe Abbey Hotel, Brinklow Road, Coventry CV3 2AB www.coombeabbey.hotel.com
The Telegraph Hotel 157 Corporation Street, Coventry CV1 1GU www.telegraph-hotel.com
Liz Coggins is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers
Pictures of the sites and attractions of Coventry by: Andrew Brooks & Graeme Peacock