1. Altrincham Market
I’d read so much overblown hype about Altrincham Market that I was sure it would disappoint. How its revitalisation, courtesy of the cash and vision of Nick Johnson and Jenny Thompson, hadn’t just saved it from dusty irrelevance but restored Altrincham itself, an injection of much needed colour and character to a town that was deathly pale. From ghost town to ‘gourmet hotspot’ – the market was, to quote Nick Johnson, a “celebration of the identity of England’s north west.” The perfect fusion of hipster codology and obnoxious PR spin.
For once, my cynicism was unfounded.
The revitalised Market Hall is every bit as attractive as I’d been told. Inside, a range of independent food traders rustle up all kinds of grub from near and far: there are steak sandwiches (Tender Cow) and pies (Great North Pie Co) to go with Korean chicken burgers (Wolfhouse Kitchen & Bakery) and Calabrian Nduja from Honest Crust, who also have a written warning that their pizza bianca – white pizza – is made without the typical layer of tomato. You buy your food and eat it at communal tables in the middle of the hall – the spirit is reminiscent of a summer feast in the middle of a southern Italian town.
Attached to the Market Hall is the market itself, where the traditional traders have been replaced by a new breed of hawker selling everything from homewares to herbalist remedies. Anything goes so long as it’s artisanal. Along one side are two butchers and a fishmongers who survived the cull of redevelopment. Altogether it’s a terrific place to while away an afternoon: the day I visited there was music, courtesy of a young flautist in a Christmas jumper.
26 Market St, Altrincham WA14 1PF; www.altrinchammarket.co.uk
2. A Bar Called Pi
It doesn’t look like much, but this unassuming bar on Shaws Road opposite the market is one of the best spots in town for a bit of food and a beer. This is strictly real ale territory, so you’ve got a fine selection of beers both home-brewed and imported. There are German pilsners like Flensburger and Berliner; Belgian beers like Bacchus Kriek and the velvet punch of the 8% La Chouffe; or you can go for something a little less commanding like a pint of Brooklyn Lager or the oh so smooth Tatton White Queen.
But this would be just another place where hipsters with a beer fetish come to congregate if it wasn’t for the food menu, which features handmade pies by Pieminster – it’s not haughty cuisine but for £4.75 you won’t find tastier food anywhere else in town. There are a range of meat and vegetarian pies, plus sides (£1) I went for the Peahock (pulled ham and broad beans in a mustard and béchamel sauce.) The staff are super friendly and the atmosphere is the right amount of chilled out – a great spot for a languid lunch or a night out.
Shaw’s Rd, Altrincham WA14 1QU; www.abarcalledpi.com
3. Mort Subite
It’s not just the name that’s in French, but the address too, and it’s styled in the art deco calligraphy of the early part of the 20th century. But below ground at the Impasse de la Fidélité, a tiny alley off Greenwood St, is Mort Subite, a bar that trumps its inevitable pretentiousness with effortless class. The name means Sudden Death, and while it gets its name from a famous bar in Brussels, its actual inspiration is the building it’s in, which used to be the city morgue. Dark, dingy and wonderfully mysterious – think pre-war jazz parlour or velvet-curtained brothel – this is a place to drink and disappear for a few hours. The beer menu is pages long and features more than 250 different brews, both bottled and on draught, from all over Europe and the UK. Those paralysed by choice can just opt for the Selection de Mort – three different beers served in 1/3 pint glasses on a wooden platter. If you’re feeling especially adventurous there’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a 32 per cent knockout that comes in 25cl glasses. If you fancy a different kind of tipple, there’s a selection of wines as well as the Dutch jenever, the liqueur that is the predecessor to gin.
28-32 Greenwood St, Altrincham WA14 1RZ
4. Ki Day Spa
My friend Jill was a longtime Alty resident and swears that this small spa is one of the best she’s ever been to. ‘Ki,’ according to the spa’s website, is energy whose source is ‘infinite’ and whose strength is ‘beyond comprehension.’ Without it, no life can exist. Interesting theory, and maybe it’s beyond comprehension because it’s not actually true, but whatever your thought on Ki, or Qi, or people who claim to be able to overturn the basic laws of physics and manipulate your cells at a sub-atomic level, there’s no denying the restorative effects of a good massage or facial. Or, if you have the time for total self-indulgence, a whole spa day, which come in a range of alluring titles: Tranquillity, Harmony, Aroma, Cinderella and so on. There are packages for mothers- and brides-to-be, and, just so the lads don’t feel left out, the Sportsman’s Tonic, which includes some reflexology, a pedicure, a massage and a facial. If you just fancy the facial, two hours in the tender grip of a therapist costs £135.
Kings Court, Railway Street, Altrincham WA14 2RD; www.kidayspa.co.uk; 0161 928 4488
5. Silver Blades
Whether you’re a cast extra from Blades of Glory or, like me, have the skating technique of someone with broken ankles, a session on the ice here is one of the more fun things to do in Altrincham. There are classes for individuals and groups of all ages (the 6-week Ice Penguin course for kids aged 18 months to five years is a reasonable £45) a Friday Disco session and free skating sessions divided into themes: Mellow Mondays is for beginners, Tempting Tuesdays is for intermediate families and Cheap Skate is a Wednesday session for those on a budget. The rink also has a terrific figure skating team (altrincham synchro club) and is also the home of the pros playing for the Manchester Storm in the Elite Ice Hockey League, who cut, turn and fight on the very ice you kept falling over on earlier that day. It’s the ice skating equivalent of playing five-a-side at Old Trafford.
Oakfield Rd, Altrincham WA15 8EW; www.silver-blades.co.uk