IF you were a famous and ridiculously well-paid footballer playing for giants of the game, Manchester United or Manchester City, you’d want to – and could certainly afford to – live in a very nice place.
You’d probably choose Cheshire, most of them do.
It is within easy commuting distance of the Manchester clubs, and it’s where many, including David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Yaya Toure and Cristiano Ronaldo, made their homes when they were kicking a ball around the north-west of England.
But, despite being close to one of the country’s major cities, another reason those football megastars lived in Cheshire is that it is very beautiful.
It is comprised of green hills and wooded valleys, with winding roads and ancient churches, and has interesting, quirky towns like Chester, Nantwich, Runcorn, Alderley Edge and Holmes Chapel.
The eastern side is the gateway to the Peak District.
You can see why rich folk would want to live among such beautiful scenery.
Holmes Chapel, is where I found out what Cheshire has to offer.
The little town is the birthplace of pop phenomenon Harry Styles, of One Direction fame.
Amusingly, the local chip shop has a sign in its window proclaiming Harry once had a Saturday job there. This didn’t affect the quality of its fish and chips, as far as I could tell, although I hope the singer would have been a bit more generous with the salt and vinegar when he worked behind the counter.
We stayed at The Vicarage, part of the Flat Cap Hotels group, and housed in a refurbished 17th Century Grade II listed country pub and restaurant.
I like a hotel that declares their chef and staff are ambitious and inventive and makes great claims about the standard of fare on offer.
There’s nothing like a bit of pride in the job to bring the best out of the kitchen and The Vicarage scored highly in that regard.
The menus achieve that difficult mix of wholesome pub grub and innovative fine dining.
It’s the sort of place you’d have to visit several times, for several meals, to get a full picture of all that’s on offer.
But there was one thing that makes The Vicarage stand out above almost any other similar-sized hotel I’ve visited in the UK.
In fact, it is a feature I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It is a slightly odd thing to highlight, but an entirely unique, distinction. It is that the room we stayed in had the best bathroom I’ve ever seen!
It was huge, actually bigger than the bedroom, which was itself a generously-proportioned room.
It had a bath with a view, and stripped-back walls and ceiling that only added to the feeling of space and luxury.
It was the sort of thing you have to take photos of, to tell friends and family about and made me feel like I’d discovered the ablutions equivalent of Narnia.
The next day, with all Cheshire to choose from, we decided to strike out for Chester Zoo, where they film the BAFTA-nominated Secret Life Of The Zoo TV show.
It is worth it for the elephant enclosure, complete with cute calves, alone.
And the monkey enclosure, with the soap opera-style machinations of the resident chimps is a masterpiece. I couldn’t work out how the apes stayed in captivity.
Their environment is so cunningly designed that it looks like they could take a quick hop, skip and jump and get out.
They obviously can’t, or it would happen all the time.
But the air of mystery is a great example of this cleverly laid-out zoo. It is an experience, not just a visit, and you can see why, with ideas like this, Channel 4 chose to make a documentary about such an innovative place.
Cheshire has a lot to offer. It is clearly regarded as a choice place to live for the nation’s rich and famous, and it has facilities and points-of-interest to match.
If you are looking for a midweek or weekend break, with easy motorway access, then you’d have to consider Cheshire.
The Vicarage has various tariffs, depending on your taste and budget.
One special offer currently running gives a one-night stay with breakfast, afternoon tea for two, prosecco in your room on arrival with chocolate dipped strawberries for £165 per room.
Available Mon – Fri, based on two adults sharing a room.