You take the high road.. and meet me at the Mal

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With Glasgow less an hour away from Derry by plane, it seemed a shame not to visit and enjoy all that Scotland’s second city has to offer. Derry Journal reporter CLAIRE ALLAN enjoyed a short break in the city which came to life when it won the European City of Culture title in 1990 to see a glimpse of what 2013 could leave behind as a lasting legacy.

Having earned the European City of Culture title in 1990, Glasgow reinvented itself. Now as you walk through the sidestreets you see a city bursting with life. Cafe culture is in full swing - bars spill onto the streets inviting you to take a seat, enjoy a drink and watch the world go by. Street performers bring the thoroughfares of Sauchiehall Street or Buchanan Streets to life.

Restaurants are jammed - offering everything from afternoon tea to chain-store food or high class fodder. And throughout all the glorious sandstone buildings smile down denoting the city’s history, culture and architectural glory. Glasgow is without a doubt a city that you can’t help but fall in love with.

With flights from City of Derry airport taking you to Prestwick (just 40 minutes train ride from Glasgow Central - with fares half price if you show your boarding card) it is within very easy reach for a midweek break or a long weekend.

For something a little different you could do a lot worse than book a night at the Malmaison Hotel in Glasgow (known locally as the Glasgow Mal).

Situated at West George Street, close to Blythswood Square, the Glasgow Mal building was once a Episcopal Church and has been wonderfully renovated. This is no bog standard hotel - the Malmaison chain have a reputation for offering something special and this was most certainly my experience.

Decorated in funky modern colours, where eclectic antique pieces mix with funky gothic charm the Mal offers a warm welcome and a sense of sumptuous luxury second to none. The entire building is steeped in character and exudes a sense of calm and relaxation which was only compounded when we arrived at our room. We were lucky to stay in one of the hotel’s duplex suites - where we had a choice of relaxing in the lounge or sleeping in the larger than kingsize bed on the balcony level gazing out of the velux windows at the Glasgow skyline.

The Mal have thought of everything to make your stay comfortable. Each room is well equipped. Ours came with a DVD players, satellite television, a selection of up to date magazines, an Ipod dock if we wanted to listen to music and a mini bar stocked with a selection of beers, wines and soft drinks - none of which were hideously expensive, something I would expect from mini bar treats.

The bathroom offered a selection of treats which showed that the Mal really know how to treat their guests - each room comes complete with a selection of deliciously scented toiletries begging you to take them home. (Yes, each states ‘I dare you take me home’ on the bottles). These are no funsize treats - generous bottles of bathsoak, moisturising cream, shampoo and, for the daring, massage oil, encourage you to make the most of your stay.

Everything about the Mal experience is quirky, different and enjoyable. I even got a kick from the signs on the door which, instead of saying ‘Do Not Disturb’ said ‘I want to be alone’.

Our bags dropped off myself and my fellow traveller - my best friend - decided to make the most of our girly break for the weekend. The main thoroughfares of Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street are just a short walk from West George Street (even in heels). These streets bring you into the heart of Glasgow.

From there you can choose a variety of activities. A short underground ride from Glasgow Central takes you to Ashton Lane - a small cobbled backstreet which houses a wide variety of bars, cafes and a small cinema. The old style street oozes charm and it would be easy to image Derry’s own Craft Village brought to life in such a way.

If you want to stay more central then the shopping meccas of St. Enoch shopping centre or Princes Square. St. Enoch offers a wide choice of high street shopping while Princes Square caters towards a more high end clientele with numerous designer outlets.

Stepping away from the shops, Royal Exchange Square offers a range of eateries, cafes and even the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art if you are craving some culture between your cocktails. For myself and my friend it was a quick stop off at The Social - a bar which specialises in (reasonably priced) cocktails and which was absolutely hiving with activity at 5pm on a Saturday afternoon.

A flirtini or two later we tottered off to find what my friend described as “a taste of real Glasgow” with a visit to the Horseshoe Bar - one of Glasgow’s oldest and most famous pubs. It’s pretty old school - you wouldn’t get far asking for a flirtini in the Horseshoe but the atmosphere was friendly and lively and a glass of wine and a vodka and coke still gave us change from a fiver.

Those prices were definitely not to be sniffed at.

It was in the Horseshoe, however, that I encountered my one and only snag with my trip. “Hi doll,” a voice called. “Are you from Belfast?” I replied I was from Derry and was hauled into a big hug - and then introduced to this friendly stranger’s drinking buddies. One looked at me showed me his “No Surrender” tattoo and announced that surely I meant Londonderry.

Sadly outside of the boundaries of this fair city of ours, it’s not quite that easy to explain the whole Derry squiggle Londonderry thing and sectarianism can lurk beneath the surface.

Still this one minor issue was not going to dull our enjoyment of our trip and shopped out we made our way back to the Mal to enjoy dinner.

The bar and restaurant of the Glasgow Mal is exquisite - dark and welcoming. The bar stocks a massive range of fine wines (the cheapest wine on the menu coming in at just over £20 and the most expensive at inexcess of £180) and the menu in the restaurant offers a very wide selection to suit all tastes.

We both opted for steak - which was cooked to perfection and served with a garlic sauce and found the waiting staff incredibly friendly and the banter between them and us was first rate.

With a fine breakfast, after a glorious night’s sleep, some more shopping and a quick run back to the airport a trip to Glasgow allows you to pack as much as you want into a day or two without having to spend half your weekend travelling.

From music to museums, shopping to socialising, great hotels, a friendly welcome and a city which is beautiful and vibrant, Glasgow is well worth a look.

As the sign says when you land at Prestwick Airport, Glasgow really is “pure dead brilliant”.