Short Break - Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Lookng over to Gateshead from Newcastle Quayside - Photo by Pawel Libera

Lookng over to Gateshead from Newcastle Quayside - Photo by Pawel Libera - Credit: britainonview/ Pawel Libera

Janet Reeder returns to Newcastle to find it has bridged the gap between the past and the present

Jesmond Dene House Looking through the window

Jesmond Dene House Looking through the window - Credit: britainonview/ Pawel Libera

Returning to a place where you (mis) spent your youth is as close as it gets to time travel. Well at least that’s how it felt when I hopped on a train and headed off up north to my old stomping ground, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

It was here I got the degree nobody ever asks me about and where I discovered that if you’re skint you can sometimes find enough money down the back of a sofa for a packet of biscuits.

First stop was the lovely Jesmond Deane House a stunning arts and crafts building nestling in the leafy outskirts that has a reputation for first-rate food.

Newcastle is battling its hen and stag image fostered by documentaries about “blotto Britain” which usually show Geordie revellers slumped on the streets like casualties of chemical warfare and places like the Jesmond Dene Hotel are proof that these days the city has a much more sophisticated side.

We were on a special Fenwick Indulgence Shopping package so were presented with a goodie bag containing delicious sample products, beauty discount vouchers and a £50 gift card to spend at the posh Fenwicks department store before being led to a lovely comfortable room at the front of the hotel.

Jesmond itself is a great location for a diverse collection of independent shops and boutiques and a more laidback vibe than the city and I admit, I would have loved to take time to browse the shops here and sample the hotel’s fabulous award-winning menu but we were off into (what much to my other half’s irritation) I kept calling “ the toon” for some action.

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Newcastle gets visitors from the Netherlands and Scandinavia as well as the wilds of Scotland so it has become a major shopping destination catering for everyone from those who can afford Balenciaga to vintage hunters on a budget. Its Metro Centre was one of the UK’s first malls but it does “unique” too with quirky additions like The Biscuit factory where you can pick up original artworks and craft pieces.

The weekend of our visit coincided with Eat! A brilliant food festival with a packed programme of free tastings, street food extravaganzas and cheffy displays. We headed for the roof of Fenwicks for an alfresco “Naked Feast” cooked by up and coming local chefs.

To be honest we weren’t quite sure what to expect. The thought crossed my mind that I was in Newcastle so why hadn’t I brought a coat? I told a friend that dining outside on Fenwicks’ roof was one of the highlights of our trip. “That’ll be cold” he said, before telling me he was off to Nice.

The meal was communal with sharing pates of prosciutto, baked camembert, tear and share bread and glasses of fruity rose wine. BBQ meats and fishes followed and a spectacular Pavlova delivered as the finale. We were warmed by food and wine and fabulous Geordie company. That’s what I had forgotten about the city. It’s legndary friendliness. It isn’t PR. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Newcastle itself is still the handsome location it ever was with areas like Grainger Town the Georgian quarter of the city, elegant Grey Street – voted the best street in Britain by BBC Radio 4 listeners – and the beautiful Theatre Royal. A huge 40% of the buildings in Grainger Town are listed so were amongst the many places I recognised but I was really keen to head off to the reinvented contemporary area on the Tyne home of theNorman Foster designed Sage Gateshead and the Baltic contemporary art gallery.

We walked over the Millennium “Winking Eye” Bridge that connects Newcastle to Gateshead. It has the claim to fame of being the world’s first tilting bridge and is one of several spanning the River Tyne, including the Tyne Bridge and Robert Stephenson’s High Level Bridge.

Our lovely Blue Badge guide Jan Williams told us that Newcastle’s stunning new landmarks were a result of collaboration between the two different authorities Newcastle and Gateshead.

They not only became expert at applying for lashings of lottery cash during the boom years but they thought big. The result is the transformation of what I remember an area of downbeat bars we students thought of as bohemian and the wonderful Tyne bridge which is still an impressive sight.

Sunday is the day to stroll around the Quayside market which is famed for having artisanal arty merchandise but I headed next morning to Malmaison hotel on Newcastle’s Quayside. Le Petit spa at the Newcastle Mal is the perfect place to retreat to a world of calming therapies and peaceful treatments and a wonderfully restorative facial and excellent manicure followed by a legendary lunch was a perfect way to wind down after a hectic time in the city.

THE DETAILS

Jesmond Dene House

www.jesmonddenehouse.co.uk

Malmaison

www.malmaison.com/spa

Jan Williams janwildurh@aol.com

Newcastle Gateshead

www.NewcastleGateshead.com