JUST under 40 miles away is the pretty and classy North Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate.
Believe me, a visit to this chic, compact little town in the autumn comes highly recommended, particularly if you’re lucky enough to get wonderful seasonal sunshine and mild temperatures.
On my recent weekend visit to Harrogate I took the scenic route and travelled from Huddersfield along the route to Leeds Bradford Airport and through Pool in Wharfedale. The autumnal colours along this journey are beautiful at this time of year and make the trip a delight and a vital part of the holiday.
Places like Harrogate, which are right on our doorstep, can easily be overlooked when planning a holiday or mini-break but this pretty little town is well worth a visit at any time of year.
Arriving in Harrogate itself, we booked into the town’s Holiday Inn, situated a couple of minutes from the town centre and right next to the imposing Harrogate International Centre.
Despite the recession, this bustling hotel appeared extremely busy with visitors, business guests and people attending conferences and meetings in its many rooms. Being just a few minutes walk into the centre of town obviously makes it a popular place to stay and gather.
So where are the places to go in Harrogate? Being a compact town means everything is reasonably close together and all the main places to see are within easy walking distance.
First stop was the newly-refurbished Turkish Baths which obviously grew up as part of Harrogate’s spa history. Although my friend and I couldn’t take a look at the baths themselves because of the ‘men only bathing session’ which was in progress, we could see how beautifully this incredible Victorian building has been restored.
The Turkish Baths and Health Spa were reopened in November 2004 following a major refurbishment with help from lottery funding. Originally the baths opened in 1897 when a Turkish bath cost three shillings and a massage two shillings. Harrogate was the only spa in England to make a profit during the war years.
When work began on the restoration, it was discovered that only 1% of the glazed bricks needed replacing.
Specialist decorators researched the original decor and carefully restored the stencil designs using handcrafted templates.
Today visitors come from all the world to see one of England’s last working Victorian Turkish Baths and discover more about the original treatments which included intestinal lavage for colitis and constipation and Peat Baths to treat circulation, back and pelvic disorders, rheumatism and sciatica.
After hearing about all these treatments, we decided it was time for a welcome cuppa and knew that while we were in Harrogate we just had to visit one of the town’s most endearing and popular attractions, Betty’s Café Tea Rooms.
Betty’s in an institution in Harrogate and visitors regularly queue to get a table. Being late afternoon we were lucky enough to get a table straight away and took our seats in the window to watch the world go by. Although there is much discussion as to who Betty actually was, the history of Betty’s is a case of the Alps meeting the Dales.
At the turn of the century a young Swiss confectioner, Frederick Belmont, travelled to England with the dream of opening his own business. Originally heading for the south east, he took the wrong train and found himself in Yorkshire.
The countryside and fresh air reminded him of his native Switzerland and he decided to stay, opening his first Betty’s Café Tea Rooms in Harrogate. His combination of mouth-watering Swiss confectionery and Yorkshire hospitality in such an elegant setting proved a winning combination.
Ordering tea for one and a large cappuccino, we sat back and enjoyed our visit to Betty’s. I could just imagine American visitors stopping off at Betty’s and being totally awestruck by this step back in time to the gentile ways of a by-gone age.
During the rest of our stay we also enjoyed a stroll through the town’s Valley Gardens which lead to the Royal Horticultural Society gardens Harlow Carr, visited the Pump Room Museum to see the story of Harrogate’s growth as a spa town and enjoyed a spot of retail therapy in and among the high street stores and the prestigious highly individual shops and arcades which make Harrogate such a high class town.
As a destination Harrogate offers much for a short break right not far from Huddersfield. With its spa history, beautiful gardens and stunning shops, it’s a must for shopaholics and those who simply enjoy exploring a place with such a rich and varied history.