CHESTER is one of those places where you can get away from the bright lights or get stuck right into the vibrancy of the city.
It is close enough to the countryside for combining partying with peaceful pastimes.
Whether it be at the races, for a day out shopping or at the renowned Chester Zoo – a visit to the Roman city can be anything you like.
I chose it as a girly getaway and being just over an hour away – on a good day of course – along the M62 it was the perfect weekend jaunt.
Trains take you into the heart of the city, but we stayed in the picturesque Oakmere – a short drive away from Delamere Forest, Chester Zoo and the city centre.
The first thing anyone should know when staying outside the city centre is that there is a fantastic park and ride facility.
We spotted it as were driving into the city centre where parking prices are rare and pricey.
But for £1.80 we got a parking spot for as long as we wanted and also a bus right into the heart of Chester.
After a walk along the picturesque River Dee, we found an entrance to the city walls and took a trip round it, taking in the famous race course, the beautiful cathedral and what is left of the Roman amphitheatre.
The latter was a bit of a disappointment. A quick look right and we would have missed it entirely.
Having seen and toured Rome’s Circus Maximus amphitheatre, Chester’s is a little underwhelming.
But worth looking around are the Roman Gardens, hidden away near Grosvenor Park not far from the amphitheatre.
In the tranquil part of the city, the gardens were once the home to the city’s Cock Pit Hill – the site of the cock fighting pit.
It also features a collection of ancient Roman stonework and a reconstructed hypocaust feature in what was once known as the little amphitheatre.
Thankfully, cock fighting has long gone and has been replaced by a stunning garden area, full of history. It’s well worth a visit.
Follow the city wall round and you can find yourself right in the heart of Chester where the iconic Eastgate Clock can be found.
Said to be the most photographed clock in the UK after Big Ben, its golden colour stands out from afar along the traditional facade of the shops which line Chester’s main shopping street.
You might have to jostle for a good photographic position though – I’m sure the locals are used to almost tripping up over people as they stop to take a snap or two.
As for shopping, well Chester is a shopper’s paradise.
Hundreds of independent shops line up on the high street along with some of the more well-known chains. And it has specialist shops galore, such as The Cheese Shop – a cheese-lover’s haven and if you ask nicely and you may get a sample or two.
Six miles outside of the city centre is Cheshire Oakes Outlet Village, which is best visited on a weekday unless you like crowds.
At night time, the tradition of Chester’s history is put to one side and there’s restaurants and bars galore. Ask in the Tourist Information Centre for a recommendation and you might even get a few money-off food and drink vouchers too for some good local restaurants.
But it’s not all hustle and bustle and Delamere Forest is the best way to spend a not-so-lazy Sunday morning.
The forest is Cheshire’s largest area of woodland set among 950 hectares of evergreen forest, open grassland and wetlands.
For those nursing a hangover – as we were – you can take one of the many paths around the forest of varying distances.
For those more adventurous – and with comfier shoes – there is the Go Ape challenge, a high wire forest adventure course of rope bridges, Tarzan swings and zip slides. It looked fantastic and we saw children being helped round the course.
We stayed at the picturesque and stunning Nunsmere Hall Hotel – a grand Victorian mansion which is situated on the side of a 60-acre lake.
The hotel’s restaurant is getting a name for itself and its food can be likened to Heston Blumenthal’s experimental style – with a selection of ice-creams such as horse radish to accompany steak.
The hotel is a short drive away from Delamere Forest and Chester Zoo and has good links into the city centre and is easy for the motorway.
But it’s also perfect for those just wanting to a more relaxed weekend with the chance to explore the perfectly-groomed gardens.
shoppers’ paradise The Roman city of Chester has its shops housed in buildings dating back centuries. Inset, Delamere Forest.