Film fame: Coventry's starring role in Brit movie Nativity!

By Jeanette Scott, a Travel Professional

Read more on Coventry.

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A handy, short break guide to the set of 2009's hot British Christmas movie starring Martin Freeman and some Coventry kids

To be sent to Coventry – to be ostracised, punished, shunned. The idiom doesn’t exactly speak volumes for the place.

For years the British city has itself been “sent to Coventry” by tourists. Lured away by nearby luvvie-town Stratford-upon-Avon - the birthplace of William Shakespeare - or picturesque Warwick with its perfect castle and oh-so charming Tudor buildings. The city I called home for 20-odd years is suffering withering looks from its neighbours no more.

Ravaged by Second World War bombs and rebuilt by town planners in the 60s - who couldn’t envisage life beyond the 60s – the industrial face of Coventry was a pockmarked mess. Thankfully, some of the city’s fine medieval grandeur survived and - with thoughtful design and planning - Coventry is undergoing a facelift on a grand scale. I’ve been watching it transform and the plans for the future are something to behold.

There’s a charm and a beauty to the industrial city, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms, and it is loved in the same way an underdog is cheered on from the sidelines. Coventry-born film director Debbie Isitt saw it too. She set her latest foray onto the silver screen (following success with Confetti in 2006) in her hometown and cinemagoers get a whirlwind tour as the Nativity! plot develops. The Office and Love Actually star Martin Freeman treads the streets around Coventry’s two cathedrals - he's soul-searching after lying about Hollywood agents jetting in to see the nativity play at his school, which is an actual primary school in the city. His fictional drama rival is based at an historic city school; 12th century Cistercian abbey Coombe Abbey (Brinklow Road; 024 7645 0450; www.coombeabbey.com) hosts a civic reception; the local newspaper – the Coventry Telegraph (www.coventrytelegraph.net) - provided the backdrop for comedian Alan Carr’s catty drama critic and Martin Freeman’s “home” was actually a house in nearby Kenilworth.

Despite being the UK’s 11th largest city, Coventry is easily covered in a few days. Here’s my guide on making the most of a short break:

Day one

Morning

Soak up Coventry’s medieval past in the city centre. First stop, Coventry Cathedral (Hill Top; www.coventrycathedral.org.uk; 024 7652 1200), which also played host to the movie premiere’s after show party. The cathedral ruins stand in striking, gothic, haunting testament to the bombs that rained down on Coventry in 1940 while the newer cathedral serves as an art gallery as much as a place of worship. St Mary’s Guildhall (Bayley Lane; www.coventry.gov.uk/stmarys; 024 7683 3328) is just a cobbled street away. The great hall and the undercroft will leave you breathless, even if the ghost stories don’t rattle your nerves.

A ten minute walk through the shopping precincts will transport you back in time to Medieval Spon Street. Like a bitchy girl band, it’s not the original line up – the timber buildings have been imported from various parts of the city to form a stunning street crammed with historical structures. Not exactly in keeping with times gone by, some of the units now boast kebab joints and chip shops, mostly due to late night entertainment venue the Skydome at the end of the street, which houses bars and clubs.

Afternoon

The heart that beats at the centre of Coventry life sounds like this: sport, sport…sport, sport…sport, sport…

Coventry City FC, Coventry Blaze, Coventry Bees, Coventry Rugby Club. If your short break affords you a Saturday afternoon in town the only place to be is stuck in the middle of a crowd of spirited supporters. An underdog like the city itself, the football team that everybody hates to love is the Sky Blues. Head to the city outskirts to the Ricoh Arena (Phoenix Way; 0844 873 6500; www.ricoharena.com) to catch CCFC in action. Your arteries might not thank you, but make sure you get your mouth around a pie – it’s a meat-filled must.

Evening

Head back into town for restaurants and bars or stay at the Ricoh arena and test your luck – and your poker face - on the tables at the G Casino (024 7668 4747; www.gcasino.co.uk/coventry). Lady G’s bar boasts live music every Friday and Saturday night. The venue is Vegas, Coventry-style, and attracts a good-natured party crowd.

Where to stay

For a unique hotel experience check in at the arena’s 71 Rooms and Silk Suites. By day, hospitality suite, by night, pitch-view bedroom. With the curtains drawn you get a larger than average hotel room with all the usual mid-range trappings, but with the curtains open you’ve got a private viewing of a 32,000 seater stadium. I've managed to bag a room here for less than £40. Be careful on match days; you can't check in until two hours after the game has ended and you'll get an early checkout warning if you stay the night before a match.

Coombe Abbey Hotel also offers something a little different. Set in hundreds of acres of parkland and surrounded by manicured gardens, all of the rooms offer a slice of history and quirky style. The grand feature rooms take dramatic opulence to the next level – four poster beds topped with ostrich feathers or bathrooms hidden behind bookcases anyone? Prices are steep but deals can be had for less than £100 prpn.

Other accommodation options include the city centre Premier Inn Coventry. New in summer 2009, the bedrooms offer clean lines and, more importantly, clean beds and bathrooms. The chain boasts rooms from £29 but I’ve always paid around £50 without breakfast.

Where to eat

If you find yourself out of the city centre, try Coombe Abbey’s medieval banquet (02476 430 539; £39 pp) with dishes such as roast fowl topped with sauces made of mead – or their fine dining option in the Garden Room Restaurant. Singers Bar and Bistro (Ricoh Arena; 0844 412 7271) offers reasonably-priced food – their Sunday carvery is always popular.

You usually can’t go wrong with an Indian restaurant in Coventry; Turmeric Gold (Medieval Spon Street; 024 7622 6603; www.turmericgold.co.uk) bags all the awards in town. While their Indian cuisine isn’t the best you’ll ever eat – check out some of the restaurants in the suburbs of Ball Hill or Foleshill for a more authentic taste – they offer a buzzing atmosphere, quick service and, best of all, the maharaja’s quarters where you can dine in little dens of sumptuousness, surrounded by plump cushions and swathed in curtains.

Browns (Earl Street, city centre; 024 76 221100; www.brownsindependentbar.com) has a brown leather sofa/wooden table kind of comfort and always offers a massive selection of vegetarian and vegan options, alongside hearty meat dishes from just a few pounds.

For more recommendations on things to do, places to eat and places to stay, visit www.visitcoventry.co.uk.

Day two

Morning

Visit the most famous daughter of Coventry, the naked bare-back rider herself Lady Godiva. The 11th century wife of the Earl of Mercia supposedly rode sans clothes through the streets, watched, of course by “Peeping Tom”, to protest at her husband’s wicked taxation of poor Coventrians. Today she stands naked and proud in Broadgate.

Drink in more of the city’s proud history at Coventry Transport Museum (Millennium Place; 024 7623 4270; www.transport-museum.com). Trust me when I say I’m not the sort of person who visits transport museums of a weekend, but this fascinating (and free) journey through Coventry’s motor and cycle heritage is worth a chunk of your day. Land speed record holders Thrust 2 and Thrust SSC take pride of place.

Outside the museum is the impressive Millennium Place with its crowning glory, the Whittle Arch (you’ll find a statue of Coventry kid and jet engine inventor Frank Whittle underneath). Sit and watch the world pass by before hitting the city’s shops.

Afternoon

Trees that were just saplings in Victorian times now help to make Coombe Abbey country park, in the suburb of Binley, a perfect retreat from the city. There are woods, lakes, deer, ranger-led walks and numerous spots to enjoy a rowdy game of rounders or a private picnic for two.

Evening

Odeon Coventry (0871 22 44 007; www.odeon.co.uk) at the Skydome was the venue of the Christmas movie's world premiere. Though the film is no longer showing at cinemas, you can still round off your short break in Coventry with a trip to the cinema.

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More information on Film fame: Coventry's starring role in Brit movie Nativity!:

Author:
Jeanette Scott
Traveller type:
Travel Professional
Guide rating:
4
Average: 4 (4 votes)
Total views:
806
First uploaded:
26 November 2009
Last updated:
4 years 41 weeks 6 days 3 hours 48 min 20 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Cultural, Short Break
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range, Expensive
Free tags / Keywords:
sightseeing, movies, sport, casino

Jeanette recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Coombe Abbey Hotel
£88
N/A
2. 71 Rooms And Silk Suites
£52
N/A
3. Premier Inn Coventry
£50
N/A

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Community comments (7)

Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I've now been to Coventry and am sold!

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Rating:
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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Blimey, if a go to the Ricoh to watch Bristol City I may now consider spending the night or day there.

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Rating:
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0 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Well written Jeanette, but you've got your work cut out attracting people to Coventry! Your recommendations are good except the Ricoh - why would anyone want to watch a bottom-half-of-the-Championship football team in action?!

To add to your review, I'd suggest the following:

Kakooti, 16 Spon Street - excellent Italian restaurant with its own labels on the house wine.

Eden, 1-3 Ryley Street - cosy city centre bar with heated outdoor area, live entertainment at weekends and a decent restaurant upstairs.

Inspire, Christchurch Spire - They call Coventry the city of three spires and this is the best one as far as I'm concerned! Bottled beers from around the world, although there's nothing on draught. Specialises in Belgian beers, and also does a mean Belgian waffle with fruit and cream.

If anyone asks me where to stay in Cov, I always say The Village (www.village-hotels.co.uk) - a gym, pool, massive beds in the rooms - what more do you want?

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Ouch! That's my team you're talking about there!
Thanks for your extra suggestions. I've had good and bad experiences at Kakooti (quality of food was always the issue), ditto for Eden (though here the speed of service has been problematic). You're bang on about Inspire though, a great little bar.
I too like the Village. But its location slap bang in the middle of a business park puts me off, mainly due to the inaccessibility of the city (when you're without a car) than any noise pollution from the business park.
Coventry, despite its flaws, is a great Midlands city with a really interesting past, and, in my humble opinion, a really interesting future. Have you seen Barack Obama has given a 'thumbs up' to a multi-million pound deal to build electric cars in the city (Coventry Telegraph.net - http://bit.ly/4DreWK)? The city's car heritage lives on!

I'll give Turmeric Gold a try one day – the curry house I usually opt for is Akbars on Butts Rd (www.akbarscuisine.com). And sorry if I was harsh on your team! I'm Cov born-and-bred for my sins, and did think about writing a Simon Seeks guide to the city, but was really struggling to think of anything positive to say. It's got good motorway links though, so is easy to leave. But if anyone is stuck in Cov, there are a few nice bars/restauarants and as you say The Transport Museum's a must if you're into that kind of thing!

Rating:
4
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

When a guide goes live it gets an initial rating by a Simonseeks editor. But what happens when the guide is written by an editor themselves? Well, it's only fair that a non-editor slips into their shoes – in this case, Jeannette's high heels (erm, not literally, honest!) Anyway, here goes...

Firstly what a great choice of heading and intro, it’s obviously been thought through very carefully in order to draw readers into a guide on a city they may not otherwise be inspired to read (a clever ploy). The guide is well structured, the breakdown of morning/noon/night I find particularly effective. And there’s a good mix of laid-back (Museums, Cathedrals) and lively (Ball Hill, Vegas ). I also like how there are just 3 hotels recommended, it implies they have been properly considered, as opposed to a long list (which although offering choice can, IMO, lack authority). If I were being picky, the contact details for Coombe Abbey and the Cov’ telegraph, whilst useful, do interrupt the flow of the guide - I had to read the sentence a few times before I fully understood.

So, did I feel cheated by the celebrity pics and fancy title? No, not at all - it’s a great introduction to a city that clearly has lots more to offer than I first thought.

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Rating:
5
0 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Superbly thorough piece of work. Never really thought of Coventry as much of a tourist spot, but this has certainly opened my eyes.

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