It's hard to believe while you wait for that delayed, overcrowded and eye-wateringly expensive inter-city train, but there was a time when train companies were the giants of their age – the early 20th century equivalent of Unilever or Google.
Such industrial behemoths demanded opulent headquarters – and, thanks to the opening of the Cedar Court hotel in York, you can step back to those days of ostentation.
The hotel opened this summer in the former headquarters of North Eastern Railways, which, thanks to its regional monopoly and location on the east coast line between Edinburgh and London, was valued at a staggering £80m by the end of the 19th century. No expense was spared: the upper floors were dressed with Portland stone, the entrance hall was decorated with black-and-white Belgian marble, and Roman mosaic margins were laid down in the corridors. The south-facing facade over the grand entrance was finished with hand-made bricks.
The £25m project has restored most of these features, along with the wrought-iron railings and porthole windows in what is generally a breathtaking restoration and conversion of the Grade II-listed building into a five-star hotel – the first in York.
Those corridors are high and wide, nearly broad enough to drive a diesel engine along, and lined with carpets that hush your footsteps, adding to the airy, spacious feel. The hotel goes to some lengths to make guests feel they are in Yorkshire, with black-and-white prints of the Moors and Dales hung along corridors and eating and drinking spaces.
You can almost see the ghosts of those early railway staff walking around the place. It's easy to imagine employees of North Eastern laying out a Hornby train set along the corridors and quietly nudging miniature trains around into the small hours.
The 107 rooms range from standard – though still pretty luxurious – to 13 suites and a penthouse. King-sized beds are made up with Egyptian cotton, while the sturdy dark-wood chests, drawers and tables come from JT Ellis, a traditional furniture maker from Huddersfield. Facilities include flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi, liberal supplies of Molton Brown smellies in the bathroom, and beautifully presented teas and fresh coffee.
The food and drink
Dinner is served with silver-plated cutlery on crisp linen among the cream, clean lines in HQ. Entrees range from Pickering trout to Cumbrian ham, and mains include lobster and truffle, rabbit and buckwheat, or opt for the signature dish, a combination of Masham lamb, lamb's tongue, lamb shoulder, samphire and aubergine puree. Three courses excluding drinks will set you back around £40. There are two contrasting but equally inviting watering holes. The main bar – 50 cocktails, along with excellent wines, champagne and local ale – is moodily furnished with dark velvet curtains and oak, and hides a snug whisky bar at the rear. Devotees of whisky could book in for a week here, sampling up to 190 different tipples. Across the ground-floor corridor is the garden terrace, a lighter room where you can serve yourself coffee, relax on swish sofas and admire more contemporary paintings. Breakfast is a serene experience, munching on herb sausages and fresh muffins while gazing at the city walls.
The old railway company vaults have been converted into a spa, enabling you to relax among the old company safes against a backdrop of Roman statues and mosaics. If you get truly swept up in train mania, the National Railway Museum is a 10-minute walk. Book the Penthouse or a suite and you also get the services of a butler, overseen by veteran head butler Anthony Seddon-Holland, with a background at the Ritz and Claridges.
Several rooms are fully accessible, and there's lift access to all areas.
B&B costs from £159 to £750 a night.
The Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa, Station Rise, York, YO1 6HT (0845 409 6420; cedarcourtgrand.co.uk). For more details on the region, visit yorkshire.com