Rising Star of the East Midlands

Costa Rica

Leicester as a weekend away destination? And why not? This is my must-do checklist in this Midlands city on the move. It includes one of Britain’s latest theatres, a daring new shopping mall, the National Space Centre, a famous old walk and the museum which inspired the Attenborough brothers. Photo-

Wow factor Walk

I walked out of Leicester railway station (fast trains from St Pancras, via the South Midlands’ pleasantly rolling fields, take 65 minutes) into a big surprise. I had never heard of New Walk (in reality very old walk), one of Britain’s first and finest pedestrianised streets, and I may not be alone. Visit Britain should give it prime billing in their brochures. This mile-long, blissfully traffic-free way was set out in 1785 to connect the town with the racecourse (and now the excellent De Montfort concert Hall) and little has changed since. Lined with elegant houses and stately squares from the Regency period onwards, it was recently spruced up with Lottery funding. Walk it and think Jane Austen movies. The big attraction is New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, childhood haunt of David and Richard Attenborough.

High class Highcross

How do you make yet another big city-centre shopping mall stand out?
“Wrap” its anchor store John Lewis daringly in what looks like a giant silk stocking. The designers of the Highcross retail and leisure complex chose an old hosiery pattern to shade the store‘s glass exterior as homage to the city’s garment-making history. Inside, too, Highcross strives to be different. It feels like a huge glass-roofed cathedral. And 100 electric vehicle-charging points will attract zero-carbon shoppers.
The other recent opening is the bold new egg-shaped theatre, with a big dollop of transatlantic chutzpah. It was planned way before the Credit Crunch, and it will be years before we see its like again. New York architect Rafael Viñoly, runner-up in the contest to design a replacement for the Twin Towers, came up with the graceful, circular shape.
Theatregoers (or anyone who wants to see) can stroll through the “white of the egg”, around a central double “yolk” containing a 800-seat and 400-seat auditorium.

Stay central

Aatin Anadkat, early 30s, detonated a small earthquake in his native Leicester. He returned from a globe-hopping gap year and, with friends, opened his African and Asian themed, city centre Maiyango restaurant. His equally young chef was soon picking up awards. Ask for one of the little snugs and let the bar staff mix you a cocktail to remember. He opened the 14 bedroom Maiyango boutique hotel next door. I took a pre-breakfast stroll into the historic heart, past the cathedral, down a little cobbled alley to the ancient covered market and the Lanes, several streets of independent shops inspired by the Brighton namesake.

Space spectacular

I last visited Leicester National Space Centre, when it was mission control for the Beagle mission to Mars in 2004. The poor 'dog' was lost, and the UK''s largest attraction dedicated to space missed the positive publicity it deserved. Do go. If you can’t afford a trip on Branson’s rocket, this is the next best thing. It succeeds in being both seriously educational, and great fun. Attractions include the UK’s largest planetarium, a 360 degree space theatre and galleries with many space related items and interactive displays. Best is the voyage to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Safely seated in a simulator, we “took off” in a rocket, feeling the bone-jarring jolts as the various stages are jettisoned. We braved meteorite showers and radiation clouds, before that last white knuckle dash through an ice canyon to touch down on Europa itself.

Fine Feast

Melton Road, Leicester, is end-to-end ethnic eating out. But for “the ultimate Indian dining experience”, head for the high numbers. Feast India restaurant is at 411. We sat in a corner, a shrine to Indian cricket, next to an original tuk tuk, and eyed the vast open buffet, the sub continent‘s huge culinary option. Dishes are helpfully labeled, and there’s a big vegetarian choice. I started with simple Bombay street food, pancakes on a flat version of the wok, then moved round the map. From fiery Indo-Chinese stir fry and giant crispy pancakes from the Deep South, via Goan Prawn Curry, right up to Punjabi Kadhi and Hyderabadi Chicken. As with any abundant buffet, the trick is to rest and digest between many courses, ideally with another Tiger beer. Then finish with an intensely sweet Indian pudding or two.

...and beyond the city

Things to do in Leicestershire…

The National Forest – walks, cycle trails, historic houses and forest experiences; one of the country’s boldest environmental projects.

Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe – demos of traditional craft of hand raising a pork pie at Dickinson & Morris, oldest remaining baker of the authentic Melton Mowbray Pork Pie in town centre.

Great Central Railway - steam train rides on the UK's only double track, main line heritage railway. Voted 12th out of the 50 greatest railway journeys in the world. ‘Drive A Train’ experiences and top dining.

Bosworth Battlefield – site of a crucial turning point in British history: a King died, an all-powerful Tudor dynasty was born.

Foxton Locks - narrowboats climb 'staircase' of ten locks. Museum; canal trips.

Belvoir Brewery – tours, chance to brew your own beer local brewery in Vale of Belvoir

Stapleford Park – country house hotel, sporting estate: Clarins gold spa, championship golf course, shooting, riding, falconry.

Belvoir Castle – tours of castle, gardens; home to Duke & Duchess of Rutland’s family for 500 years.

Kilworth House Hotel – afternoon tea (originated in Leicestershire) at Grade II listed Victorian hotel in landscaped S. Leicestershire parkland. Fine stays, shows at Kilworth House Theatre, in a glade by the lake in the grounds.

I travelled by East Midlands Trains.

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