Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Short Break

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Short Break

Article excerpt

It's right in the middle of the country and the second largest city in England too, which makes it difficult to avoid.

But up until now, that is what I had done. Other than a night there en route to the Carling Cup Final at Cardiff - the closest hotels with vacancies, apparently - my experiences of Birmingham had been limited to passing through the subterranean New Street Station on the train, or, many decades ago with my parents, trying to navigate the pre-motorway road system on the way to Cornwall.

The trouble is that it's not really a name that you associate with tourism. It's not historic like York or Bath, it doesn't have the trendy cachet of London or Edinburgh and if you ask anybody what the main attraction of Birmingham is, they'll probably come up with the Bullring or Spaghetti Junction - both practical, but neither a great example of architecture or inspiration.

But, as people who know the city will tell you, a lot has changed in the last couple of decades, and there's a lot more to Birmingham than the fact that it has more miles of canals than in Venice.

Added to that, Virgin operates a regular train service via Darlington to Birmingham, so we decided it was time to find out.

Our first night was in the modern Malmaison Hotel in The Mailbox, a haven of designer shops - and the BBC - just a short stroll from the station.

Minimalist and cool, it's just the place to have neighbours like Harvey Nichols and Emporio Armani in the former 1960s sorting office.

You can hang out celebrity spotting in the bar before going for a meal in the brasserie.

And before breakfast there's a modern gym to prepare yourself for the day ahead. There's also an award winning spa where you can relax after a hard day's sightseeing or shopping. And believe it or not, there's plenty of both - certainly more than we could fit in on a weekend.

First stop has to be the iconic new Selfridges, like a silver shell overlooking the city, with its sushi bar, designer fashions and lots and lots of shoes, which for some reason caused great excitement for my female companion.

There's plenty more shopping choice, with the Bullring centre and its 26 football pitches of shops. …

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