BACKGROUND UK-based Hallmark Hotels, which specialises in taking over underperforming properties and refurbishing them to a four-star standard, has four properties – in Bournemouth, Carlisle, Derby and Manchester – and each have been recently transformed. The flagship property in Manchester was completed last December after a £5 million refurbishment of the Belfry House Hotel, and was the first of the four to be unveiled, with the others following in the spring.
WHAT’S IT LIKE? Set in the heart of the countryside, the four-floor hotel has been given a modern facelift, with a sand-coloured exterior, glass-fronted entrance, outdoor terrace and parking for 200 cars. It’s not particularly luxurious or grand, but feels clean, fresh and smart. The outdoor areas and road surfaces have also been revamped.
As you enter the hotel, reception is straight ahead at the end of a short corridor, although I didn’t notice it at first and turned right and found myself by the restaurant. A single, very tiny, old-fashioned lift operates between floors, so if you have a lot of bags it could be a squeeze. Also, the corridor I was on that linked the two wings of the hotel was extremely narrow, however, others were of normal dimensions.
WHERE IS IT? On Stanley Road in Handforth, about 7km from Manchester airport and 16km from the city centre. The hotel has an agreement with Metro taxis (tel +44 (0)8000 121 121) offering guests a fixed rate of £8.99 between the airport and the hotel. Guests can also get to Manchester Piccadilly station by train, direct from the airport station – an Anytime day single costs £3.80.
ROOM FACILITIES Bedrooms feature a combination of pale lime-green walls, faun-coloured chenille bedspreads, aubergine furniture and chocolate brown, faux-leather headboards. There is a running “wine theme” throughout the hotel and this is reflected in the rooms with black and white framed prints, and a 500ml bottle of red on the workdesk (£11.50).
Standard amenities include a 32-inch flatscreen TV set into the wall with Freeview, complimentary wired internet access (free wifi is available in the public areas), tea and coffee-making facilities, an iron/ironing board and a hairdryer.
There are no minibars in the bedrooms but room service is available 24 hours (the menu is the same as that in the bar downstairs). Dishes include warm brie and bacon baguette (£7.50), prawn marie rose sandwich (£5.50) and Thai chicken salad (£9.50).
Executive rooms are spread across each of the floors and my one on the fourth floor faced the car park out front. The room was somewhat larger than the Standard bedrooms, and had a lounge area at the far end by the window (there were net curtains across it for privacy). There was a small workdesk and the bed, while comfy, was of the “zip and lock” variety that attaches two mattresses together, so I ended up sleeping more on one side than the other.
Bathrooms are simply designed with white tiles and a smoked glass door with blue night-lights by it, presumably so you don’t walk into it. (I couldn’t find a switch to turn these off, however.) There was a combined bath and power shower, and some mini bottles of coconut and lime-scented bathing products.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS There is a lounge/bar (open 10am til late) on the ground floor just off reception serving drinks and snacks throughout the day and with plenty of seating. (Alternatively, guests can sit on the terrace outside.) From 5pm-7pm daily, a selection of tapas dishes are laid out, and guests can nibble on these for £2 per person. The Hallmark Brasserie is also on the ground floor and serves breakfast, and à la carte lunch and dinner. (Breakfast Mon-Fri 7am-9.30am, Sat-Sun 8am to 10am; lunch 12pm- 2.30pm; early eats 5pm-7pm; dinner 6pm-9.30pm.)
The menu is English with the odd Italian or Asian dish thrown in, with popular choices being country paté with ham hock terrine (£5.50) to start, followed by black bream and king prawns pan-fried with strips of vegetable and sweet chilli sauce (£14.50) or smoked haddock risotto topped with a poached egg (£9.50).
When I visited, there was some work going on in the kitchen so the complete dinner menu was not on offer and only cold food was available at lunchtime. However, a tasty buffet breakfast with hot and cold dishes was set out the next morning.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES There are seven events spaces including the Merlot suite in the new extension, which is divisible into three, has coloured mood lighting, a private bar and space for 500 delegates theatre-style. There is also a cosy area called the Wine Cellar just off the brasserie with glass walls facing onto racks of wine. It can be used for parties of up to 24 people. Internet is available free throughout.
LEISURE FACILITIES There is a 20-metre pool, a modest gym with new Keiser air system equipment and free weights, a spa bath, steam room, dance studio and beauty salon. While guests have free access to the facility, it is run independently, which may be why it doesn’t match with the quality of the décor in the hotel. Open Mon-Fri 6.45am-9pm (last entry 8.30pm), Sat-Sun 7.45am-8pm (last entry 7.30pm).
VERDICT A hotel that has no doubt seen a lot of improvements in terms of décor and meeting facilities since its takeover by Hallmark, and the staff are friendly and helpful. This is best suited to those who need to be near the airport (a ten-minute taxi-ride away) as the city centre is a fair distance.
HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 88 rooms including eight with “zip and link” beds (the option of having two mattresses pushed together), one single, 71 double and eight Executive rooms.
ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The free internet access and good-sized flatscreen TV.
PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in July started from £75 for a Standard Double room online.
CONTACT Hallmark Hotel Manchester; Stanley Road, Wilmslow, Cheshire; tel +44 (0)161 437 0511, hallmarkhotels.co.uk