Turn the Christmas shopping trip into a night away. Choose a small city with a great hotel at its heart. Like ABode Canterbury. It offers luxury, fine dining and shops on the doorstep

Christmas shopping is a chore. So why not try to make it a pleasure. Head for a city you haven't visited before and turn a task into a mini-break. Of course, the idea of spending a night in a posh hotel in a small British city might fill you with fear. Is the traditional home of crusty old colonels and bouffanted battleaxes any place for a chilled weekend away?

Possibly. For times are changing - in Canterbury at least. Here, hotelier Andrew Brownsword (Gidleigh Park, The Bath Priory) and top chef Michael Caines (two Michelin stars under his apron strings) have transformed the old County Hotel into a funky new 72-room ABode, the latest in a portfolio of hotels from a partnership that aims to fuse 21st-century comforts and cuisine.

You'll find no bonneted brass ladies on the loo door here. All is sleek and modern. Step into reception and your attention will be caught by bubbles of laughter from the adjacent Champagne Bar. The lounge area behind reception, with its long, low sofas, emphasises the feeling that this is a place to meet, whether you're visiting or local.

Beyond these two sociable areas is a third, the Michael Caines Restaurant, an unstuffy fine dining choice. Further back, the Old Brewery Tavern, a vast area of outhouses refurbished into a family friendly pub, offers more moderately priced dining.

ABode. Ah, those two capital letters. Does this signal style over substance? Fortunately not. I visited just six weeks after opening, yet the place was running very smoothly.

The location

In prime position, at the centre of the high street.

The comfort factor

There are four styles of cool, contemporary room - Comfortable, Desirable, Enviable and Fabulous. The size of your room and bed will depend on your choice from the above menu, but a good night's sleep should be assured in each on the well-sprung beds, beneath the cosiest linen. There's a refreshment tray rather than the traditional mini-bar, and all the high-tech audiovisual gadgetry you'd expect.

The bathroom

An intimate experience; the bathing area is only partially separated from the bedroom by glass screens. The shy will be relieved to hear that the loo is beyond a door, in an inner sanctum, with the shower. Pleasant own-brand lotions and potions with humourous names (A bit of a lather etc).

The food and drink

Michael Caines' expert guidance of the fine dining experience is one of the reasons to visit this hotel. The restaurant recently received a drubbing in another newspaper, but our food was excellent - a cut above the dining I would expect in a hotel like this. And the service was attentive yet friendly: the maitre d' took the time to teach my young son how to sit "properly" in his seat, a technique he still proudly demonstrates. Expect to pay around £35 per head for two courses without drinks. The Old Brewery Tavern wasn't open when I visited, but two courses without drinks cost around £15.

The people

This is one of England's top tourist stops, so expect to rub shoulders with plenty of Americans. Otherwise, the usual weekending couples, across the generations.

The area

The shops are on your doorstep. Canterbury Cathedral is just a few minutes' walk away. For more ideas go to canterbury.co.uk.

The access

Two rooms have been specially modified for visitors with disabilities, there is ramp access to the hotel, and the lifts accommodate wheelchairs. Room numbers are also given in Braille and Hearing Loop is available. Children are welcome.

The damage

From £125 to £225 per room per night. Breakfast costs an extra £9.95 or £12.95.

The address

Abode Canterbury, High Street, Canterbury CT1 2RX (01227 766266; abodehotels.co.uk).

Kate Simon travelled to Canterbury courtesy of Carrentals.co.uk (0845 225 0845; carrentals.co.uk), which offers weekend car hire from £78