“ Water Street, Manchester, M3 4JQ. Tel: +44 (0)870 400 8585. Fax: +44 (0)161 834 2484. „
Manchester is no different from any big city when it comes to hotels; the choice is varied, you get pretty much what you pay for. During the week you can be sure that prices are going to be high, at least for those hotels that would be considered "top of the range", three, four and those odd few that gain the much sought-after five stars. Weekends are a different matter. Bargains can often be found; rooms for double occupancy at half the weekday price. We were spending a weekend in Manchester because my son, having graduated from UMIST (a 2:1 in Computer Science), decided that he wanted to return there to live and, hopefully, work (can onyone offer him a job?). Having found himself accommodation in Chorlton, our help was needed to move his belongings into his flat. Of course, if that could include filling fridge, freezer and cupboards with sufficient victuals to ensure starvation is avoided at least for a couple of weeks, so much the better! Therefore, at least a Saturday night stopover would be required, but where? I have been intrigued by the Victoria and Albert hotel whenever I have passed it. It is part of Le Meridien group, a worldwide hotel group. It consists of a conversion of two old warehouses of the type much in evidence, especially in the North, originally built in the 19th century and overlooking the River Irwell. Similar conversions have taken place in Liverpool and elsewhere, some as hotels, some as apartments, some as shopping "experiences". The V&A is on Water Street, a spitting distance from the famous Granada Studios: http://www.lemeridien-manchester.com/Location.asp. From here it is a mere 15-minute stroll to Manchester city centre. I booked on the Internet at http://www.lemeridien-hotels.com. The web site is very well organised and booking was easy and quick. I found what I wanted under Weekend Specials. There are listed special weekend rates for their hotels around the World. The V&A in Manchester offered a room at £60 per night. That suited me. Selecting the V&A from the list takes you to its own website, http://www.lemeridien-manchester.com, where you can find lots of information about the hotel. Here you can book your stay using a series of easy-to-use webpages. They even provide a button to enable you to print your booking confirmation. Arriving at the hotel you turn in off of the road into a little cobbled courtyard "one-way" system around a fountain. You stop in front of the entrance and are met by the bellboy, who can help you in with your luggage and, for a fee, will take your car and park it for you, retrieving it back to the entrance when you leave. Go on, treat yourself! If you're feeling "tight" then park it yourself! The work they have done on the conversion is magnificent. The reception is just inside the doors and consists of a round lobby atrium rising through a couple of floors to a glass roof. There are walkways that cross the space, accessible from the upper floors. The whole effect has a very welcoming and warm feel. The bedrooms are on the upper floors; there are over 150 rooms. We had requested a non-smoking room but one was not available! Fortunately, the one we were offered had no residual smell of smoke so either their previous guests had refrained from indulging (in smoking any way) in the bedroom or else their cleaning services are very efficient. We could have changed if the room had proved unacceptable. Walking down the corridor to the room you immediately notice the unique feature of the V&A, every single room has not only a number but a name , that name being the title of a TV programme, very appropriate seeing how close we were to Granada Studios, though the names were not exclusively Granada programmes. A walk down the corridors is like a journey through TV history. Anyone remember "Scully"? We were in "The Disappearing World"; I think that's on Discovery. It was absolutely delightful. The decor was a mixture of bare brick and plastered walls. The original cast iron columns are still in place; one occupied the centre of the room. The ceiling looks lower than it actually is and is open joists exposing the underside of the wooden floor above. However, no noise emanates from the room above so the thick carpet must provide a lot of sound dampening. Our room was big, around 20 x 20 feet I would guess. A pair of french windows unfortunately didn't open since beyond was no balcony, only a short drop down into the river! I expect that conversion restrictions prevented extensive exterior modifications of that sort. Clearly a safety measure to ensure that guests indulging a little too much didn't enjoy an unexpected early bath! The bathroom was clean and well appointed, with all the expected "accessories". The shower was a shock! I have never experienced such a powerful blast of water in my life. I was nearly blown out of the bath the first time! There was a slight problem in our bathroom; the bath was levelled in the wrong direction so water collecting on the rim ran out onto the floor instead of back into the bath so you had a tendency to step out into a "lake". Be warned, our room may have been a one-off but... Another unusual touch was the provision of not only a trouser press but also a fold-down mini ironing board and full-size iron. I have never seen this before in any hotel. A n ice touch of thoughtfulness for the guest. The rooms are all air-conditioned. Ours at least worked effectively and noiselessly. The usually mini-bar is in evidence. For those who can't find anything better to do in the bedroom, there is even a Playstation (you poor, sad things!). The bar and principal restaurant are off of the reception lobby. Both have an Arthur Conan Doyle theme. The bar is the Watson Bar and the restaurant is the Sherlock Holmes. We ate there the evening we arrived. Unusually, in view of the non-existent bedroom balconies, the part of the restaurant in which we were seated was clearly built outside of the walls of the original building. Maybe originally a loading pier existed here so they were able to get away with converting it to extra restaurant seating? It is directly over the river and must have been where barges tied up to load and unload. The only traffic we saw was a swan swimming by! The tables are large in comparison with most hotels and restaurants and could have seated six in comfort. There were just two of us. You could have had a banquet and had no trouble finding somewhere to park the extra dish. Ideal for a "chinese". The offer a wide range of dishes and an adequate wine list although the one I initially requested was out-of-stock. We had no complaints about the quality of the dishes, which were generally very good. The service was also excellent although admittedly, the hotel was not full. I cannot comment on whether they staff sufficiently when they are busier with more guests. Afterwards we retired to the Watson Bar for a nightcap. Here they have an extensive selection of drinks with an above-average range of my favourites, Scotch Malt Whiskies. Large, leather Chesterfields and armchairs fill the room, which is itself also very large. Right by the entrance to the bar is a table on which is displayed a set of chemistry equipment, set up in the manner to represent Sherlock Holmes' forensic experiments. Very atmospheric! We did a little expedition around the hotel and soon found our way to the walkway above the Reception. Here is a small library of old books, all real, not fake, all very old, but no masterpieces! Down one of the corridors there is a clear change in floor levels. This must be where the two warehouses were knocked into one. We were intrigued by a sign on the stairs that directed us to the "Krypton Factor" Fitness Room. We decided to take a look. Fifteen minutes later and having asked a cleaning staff on the way (no help there), we concluded that it didn't exist! We challenged the receptionist with our theory that the fitness was obtained by walking up and down corridors and stairs on a wild-goose chase. The proposition was not denied! However, we were told that they had arrangements with a local health club if we were serious! Overall we were very pleased with our short stay. The problems were minor and far outweighed but the very pleasant surroundings and service. We shall most definitely stay there again. UPDATED - March 2004 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Yesterday I received a letter from Le Meridien informing me that they had sold the Victoria and Albert Hotel. It appears that the transfer of control is in progress at this time and, although at the moment you can still earn Le Meridien points on your stay there, once the transfer is complete that will no longer be available. There is no indication of who the new owners are. Hopefully they will retain the atmosphere and character that makes this such an attractive hotel. & #76;e Meridien still owns the Piccadilly Hotel in the city. UPDATED - August 2004 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I have now discovered that the Victoria & Albert has become a Marriott Group hotel. I haven't stayed at the hotel since the change of ownership so I can't comment on what, if any, difference the new management has made. A visit to the Marriott website - http://marriott.co.uk/Channels/UK/property/MANVA/p ropertyPage.mi - seems to suggest that things remain the same. Let's hope so.