One thing that I say we'll do every year is spend a weekend enjoying Christmas in Manchester so when Mercure Hotels invited us over to spend the night at one of their hotels in Manchester it was like Christmas had come a week early.
Snuggling up in our silliest Christmas Jumpers we set off bright and early for our three hour road trip down to Manchester, complete with Christmas songs of course!
The Mercure Manchester Piccadilly was easy to find and in no time at all we had parked up in the hotel's car park, an absolute treat when you're staying in a city centre hotel. We couldn't believe how central the hotel was with the shops a short stroll away, the train station just round the corner and a tram stop just outside the hotel. The Mercure is the perfect location for a city break in Manchester.
Our room was on the Eighth Floor and although small had everything we needed - the all important tea and coffee making facilities, super speedy wifi, wardrobe space and a desk for those wanting to work while they're away.
I love when hotels leave little treats in your room and we were very happy to discover a bottle of Prosecco and a little tray of cakes in our bedroom when we arrived. As soon as we sat on the bed and realised how comfy it was it was pretty tempting to snuggle down with cakes and fizz and just spend our afternoon hiding in our hotel room. But we had important things to do!
Starting with a tour of the Mercure and a little sample of their afternoon tea in the restaurant. Offering amazing views across Manchester, I love eating cakes whilst people watching and the restaurant is a prime location for that. If you're feeling a little guilty after eating cake the hotel also has a gym on site which I would have taken advantage of had I not been injured at the moment (honest!)
Tour over and we were keen to get out and about to enjoy Manchester at Christmas starting with the famous Manchester Christmas Markets. There aren't many truly great Christmas Markets in the UK, if I'm being honest most of them are a bit of a disappointment. The Manchester markets, however are on a whole other level and if you plan just one Christmas City Break for next year make sure it's Manchester!
Each year millions flock to the markets and for good reason, spread over 10 different locations across the city it's one of the largest markets in the UK and boasts over 300 stalls and chalets all beautifully decked out in festive foliage and twinkling fairy lights.
The showstopper of the Manchester Christmas Market has to be the giant Santa who watches over revellers from his perch above the Albert Square stalls (although personally I think he looks a little like Zippy from Rainbow!) He's really become the face of the market so getting a selfie with him is, of course, essential.
Our main priority was lunch but how on earth do you pick what food to have from all of the stalls? With great difficulty believe me! Serving up every kind of Christmas treat you can imagine our tummies wanted everything and we had to work so hard to resist rushing in the direction of the first amazing smell to hit our noses.
I advise taking a look at as many stalls as you can before making a decision which is exactly what we did. I was so excited when I stumbled across Northern Soul serving the most epic looking grilled sandwiches I had ever seen. I kid you not, for a few moments, these bad boys made me consider relocating to Manchester!
I enthusiastically chatted to the lovely guys behind the stall, mostly trying to persuade them to bring their mighty fine sandwiches up to Newcastle, and was happy to discover that they have a little place in Manchester's Northern Quarter so I will be definitely be paying them a visit next time we're around.
So, what did I have? Allow me to introduce you to the Mac Attack, a grilled sandwich stuffed full of mac n cheese - SO naughty but wow SO good! It was the best £6 I've ever spent and kept my belly happy for the rest of the day.
Simon's not as mad on cheese as me so although he had a good few bites of my sandwich he decided that a trip to the Manchester Christmas Market wouldn't be complete without a sausage so headed off to find Currywurst which he happily tucked into.
A visit to the Manchester Christmas Markets just wouldn't be right without the obligatory mug of gluhwein in a novelty cup. Ignoring the fact that we seem to have travelled back in time to 2014! Each mug requires a deposit which you get back when you return the mug or you have the option of taking it home (if you fancied a souvenir from the wrong year!)
There's a huge variety of drinks on offer at the Manchester markets and having asked Simon to surprise me, he returned with a delicious cup of hot gluhwein with a shot of Amaretto. Wow! The added sweet kick really added something and I would have happily dived head first into a huge pot of the stuff.
Needing to finish our Christmas shopping we decided to spend the rest of our afternoon looking round the shops, something we weren't particularly looking forward to with our visit falling on what the press were calling "Panic Saturday" - we were expecting the high street to be pretty awful.
Well there was no panic in Manchester! Sure the stores were busy and the pavements were mad but the atmosphere was fantastic and our shopping experience was fun and bustling rather than stressful. Everyone seemed to be in such a good mood and I've never known a city to be so happy with Christmas cheer. Manchester does Christmas so well!
When we finished our shopping we had a lovely little stroll round two of our favourite parts of Manchester, the Northern Quarter and Spinningfields whose bars and pubs were filled with Christmas shoppers and party goers. Families, groups of friends and work colleagues gathered in huge groups sharing Christmas drinks. The atmosphere was fantastic.
By this point our legs were beginning to get tired so we happily returned to the Mercure for some dinner. The Brasserie serves a wide range of internationally inspired dishes and we were happy to spot plenty of winter warmers on the menu (including Betty's Hot Pot!)
I started with a delicious Winter soup served with a chunk of bread and a huge amount of butter (which I obviously used in its entirety!).
Followed by a Sirloin Steak served rare (I have to have my steak as pink as possible!) with the hugest chips I've ever seen!
Despite being pretty full the dessert menu was irresistible as soon as I saw the locally inspired Manchester Tart on it. I'm such a sucker for trying out local dishes so had to order it. When in Manchester have a Manchester Tart!
We retired to bed with very full tummies and tired legs. With our room overlooking the busy Piccadilly Gardens we had worried that we wouldn't get much sleep but we collapsed into bed and slept the whole night through in our ridiculously comfortable bed! Our room was a little noisy from Piccadilly Gardens and although it didn't bother us, if you're looking for a peaceful stay it's worth bearing in mind and requesting a room on the other side of the hotel.
We awoke the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the Mercure breakfast before hitting the road back up to Newcastle. With a full buffet on offer we had our pick of a full cooked breakfast, cereals, pastries, yoghurts, fruit and toast. If there's one thing I love when I'm staying in a hotel it's a proper greedy breakfast and plenty of choice.
I went all out and had a big fry up which I thoroughly enjoyed - it was well cooked and really hot. Simon was more sensible and opted for cereal followed by some pastries which were unfortunately a little dry and disappointing. He should have had a cheeky fryup!
Unfortunately I'm being a bit of a tease as the Manchester Christmas Markets are now over for another year but we'll definitely be making a plan to return in 2017 and you should probably all do the same! In the meantime, check out some Winter Breaks and Offers and plan yourself a fun city break in Manchester.
We received a complimentary stay at the Mercure including food and drink. This review is an honest account of our experience at the hotel.