Cultures Editor: Alexander James
The ancient capital of England, Winchester, is one of the best kept secret gems in all of the land, reports SoEdited culture editor, Alexander James.
Once overflowing with coach tours, it is now undergoing a Generation Y resurgence thanks to being the backdrop to Netflix series, The Last Kingdom, and the source of inspiration of the smash hit game, Assassin's Creed. It's like walking into a film set of Game of Thrones. Come summer it hosts the country's most hedonistic music festival, Boomtown. But if you want the perfect blend of the old and new, read on to unravel our 48-Hour guide to one of the UK's most walkable cities.
Get stuck in 9am: Even the pie shops are civilised in Winchester. And here they eat them for breakfast. Pies are a dying British culinary tradition, at Piecaramba they are as alive and kicking as Viking on a looting rampage. There's some curiously winning combinations, with a full English breakfast, mozzarella, goats cheese a 'barbecue' pie and even a macaroni or burrito pie: www.piecaramba.co.uk
11am to 1.30pm: Winchester Cathedral: You're thinking, another city, another boring cathedral right? Wrong. This one pushes the envelope. It's more than 1,000-years-old and was once the biggest church north of Rome. Now oozing the classic middle age experiences, combined with art installations and light shows. Best is to take one of the tours that let you wind through the secret corridors and staircases that many icons of UK history did before. You'll see the backdrops that formed the set of the Da Vinci Code and The Crown, and get close to some of the most intricately-detailed mediaeval craft in Europe: www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk
1.30pm: Meander through ancient alleyways and crooked houses to find yourself very much in the 21st-Century at The South Downs Social. It's so called because this cafe is at the meeting point of the city and the surrounding South Downs an area of British rural beauty, with endless cycle and walking paths splintering off. This is a haven for locals as well as cyclists and hikers to swap touring tips. But among the biggest draw is the menu, with a mix of Poke's, French Toasts and other snack delights. Winchester is a capital of 'Latte Art' and South Downs Social has annual championships to find the best. The cafes in the locality fiercely compete to be the best,: The South Downs Social
3pm: 878 AD is the hottest new visitor attraction recreating a key moment in Winchester’s Anglo-Saxon history, brought to life through the world of the video game Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, cinematic audio-visual projection and live interactive performance. It will take you back to a pivotal point, not only in the history of the city, but the history of England as an emerging, unified nation: the defeat of the Vikings by Alfred the Great at the Battle of Edington in May 878. Inspired by the epic game Assassin's Creed, created by Ubisoft it borrows much of its digital graphic art from real mediaeval that actually came from the city. The experience is in two parts: an interactive attraction with live performance and an augmented reality, self-led app tour of Winchester, backed by the Hampshire Cultural Trust: Home | 878 AD - Step into Anglo-Saxon Winchester
4.30pm: Continue your journey on the streets of the city with 878 AD: Winchester Revealed, an augmented reality app that recreates 9th century Winchester through the majesty of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Discovery Tour. Thankfully, without mediaeval sewer smells. You can explore Winchester's lost buildings, that were among the finest of Europe in its time, and even practise an augmented reality archery session using the real-world mediaeval Westgate as a target.
6pm: If you want to splash out with pieces of silver, or should we say Apple Pay, the best spot for some classic British fayre is The Chisel Rectory. It's a great spot for a light bite in summer, or something more hearty in winter, and delivers the best Sunday Roasts in town. Decorated with vintage chandeliers and beautiful botanical prints, the intimate dining rooms ooze ancient England, with oak beams and classic fireplaces. You'll find fewer places in the country that offer such great examples of local cuisine, even having its own local cheese on the menu 'Old Winchester' (similar to a gouda). If you manage to make it before 6.30pm, they have a three course menu for under £30.
7.30pm: For such a small city, Winchester crams in an incredible array of pubs, and due to its history there are many that are prime examples of what a classic British pub should be. We recommend stopping off at the Wykeham Arms (Canon Street), sandwiched between the Cathedral and the 14th century college, it’s surrounded by heritage, the luxe country pub also has rooms and tasty ales. You can walk from here, light permitting, to the inspiring Keats Walk, most atmospheric at dusk. It's so called because the paths this takes, winds through old city gates to meadows, fields and waterways that inspired one of the undisputed greatest poems in English Literature 'Ode to Autumn', by John Keats. Click here to download a leaflet: Keats-Walk-Leaflet.pdf (visitwinchester.co.uk). You can also take in further pub detours nearby at the Black Boy Inn, a legend of pubs, not just in the town but in the UK, for a real old school feel where local ales are served, it embraces itself as determined to preserve itself as 'a typical backstreet boozer' and prides itself on 'not taking reservation, so disorganised people can turn up'. Alternatively you can try the equally charming, The Queen Inn, where you can round-off the evening with a game of pub skittles. It also has its own MicroBrewery.
11pm: Repeatedly, Winchester comes out top in one of the healthiest places to live in the country. Get some kip surrounded by South Downs Holiday Inn, which ranks as the friendliest Holiday Inn you'll ever visit. We’re not sure what they put in the water, but staff seems to have permanent smiles, as they clamour to be of service to your slightest whim (within reason, don't expect to order a circus act on room service, for example). It's also a great spot to charge any devices after exploring.There’s enough charging stations to power an electric space rocket. The attention to detail is first class, from the retro vinyl (of a Holiday Inn soundtrack? random but endearing) to the ultra deluxe mattresses they kit out in each room for a very soothing night's sleep: Holiday Inn Winchester | Winchester Hotel, Hotels in Hampshire UK (hiwinchester.co.uk)
8am: Best breakfast in the city. There is the Great British legend of the breakfast buffet, but at the Holiday Inn's inclusive offering, it goes the extra mile to set you up for a day of walking. You get the usual fry-up choices both for veggies, and carnivores. But there's also some 'bespoke' offerings such as 'Eggs Benedict' or 'Eggs Hollandaise', that the all-suffering breakfast chef not only cooks up to perfection among her other breakfast chores, but serves to your table. You also have limitless coffee and tea, to wire you up for the day ahead and easily skip lunch.
11am: The Holiday Inn’s ultra-accommodating concierge, Rhodri Philps, is armed with 'insider tips for the area'. He recommends a daytime must walk to St Giles Viewpoint, for panoramic views of the entire South Downs landscape. The hotel is positioned in striking distance of both city and the countryside, with country paths right on the doorstep.
2pm: The Science Centre sits on the fringe of the city a 5-minute bus ride away on Telegraph Away in the South Downs National Park It's one of the few places in the UK where you can explore the realms of space. There's a planetarium which transports you among planets and stars in a full-surround down. And you can delve in to good vibrations, in exhibitions that celebrate the importance of music, symbolised by a giant ten metre guitar which you can sit inside and feel all the reverberations as the real life guitar strings are plucked. www.winchestersciencecentre.org
4pm: One place that matches the serenity and peace of the South Downs is the Ana Spa, just across the road from The Science Centre. It's affordable for the services on offer: The ANA Spa delivers a sense of inner peace and harmony, bringing a feeling of wellbeing and calm – including treatment rooms, wellness, hydrotherapy spa, Himalayan Salt Sauna, Sensory Shower, Crystal Steam Room and Bubbly Foot Spa. While the more energetic can work out in the gym or express themselves in one of the many virtual classes also available: anaspa.co.uk
8pm: Just moments from the spa lies some of the best culinary offerings of local provenance, at The Odyssey restaurant. The winner for meat eaters is the expertly cooked steaks, no doubt the best in the city at competitive prices. You can also find decent gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian offerings. The menu oozes traditional British classics, such as fish and chips, steak and ale pie and slow cooked pork belly. In addition there's also the English take on Asian favourites with Thai and Penang curries, it's a good all-rounder to round off the 48-hours, with some decent wines to sip in to the late hours: www.opentable.co.uk/r/odyssey-winchester?ref=4208
If weather stops play, try some of these other places: Check out Proudfoot and Co for somewhere unusual - https://www.proudfootandco.com (not open Monday)
Craft beers and tacos? Try Overdraft on Jewry Street https://www.overdraftcraftale.co.uk The Cabinet Rooms is great for coffee, cocktails, light bites and it is a beautiful place on Jewery Street https://cabinetrooms.com (Closed Monday). Another great coffee place - Academy in Little Minster Street https://www.instagram.com/academywinchester/.
The Holiday Inn is part of the IHG group and Castlebridge Hospitality, https://www.hiwinchester.co.uk, Holiday Inn Winchester, Telegraph Way, Winchester, Hampshire, SO21 1HZ, 01962 670700, email@example.com. Travel with https://www.southwesternrailway.com, or trainline.com
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