The Peak District is one of England's rural highlights. By staying in Buxton, you can enjoy the best of town and country and discover some amazing food and drink on the doorstep of the great outdoors
Getting to Buxton is great fun in itself. The Derbyshire town is the self-proclaimed "Capital of the Peak District" and is also the highest market town in England. The roads approaching Buxton pass through the Peak District National Park with jaw-dropping views of the peaks and valleys beyond – just try to keep your eyes on the road if you’re driving. You can imagine the presenters from Top Gear testing the latest cars on the A53 to the south of Buxton.
Non-drivers need not be left out – Buxton's rail station is in the town centre. See www.thetrainline.com for timetables and fares.
Saturday morning: check in
Check in to the best hotel in town – the Barcelo Buxton Palace Hotel (Palace Road, Buxton). Situated high on a hill, its imposing Victorian domes look down on Buxton and make the hotel look eerily similar to the hotel featured in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. This four-star hotel has been here since 1868 when Buxton was a popular holiday resort thanks to its spa baths. Bargains can be had if you book early – our double room cost £59, with a buffet breakfast and entrance to an indoor swimming pool and gym included. The hotel is just as grand inside as it is outside – the lobby is huge, with a wide spiral staircase taking you to your room. We were particularly fond of the bath towels in our room, which had been folded to look like elephants (see photo).
There's a £3 per day charge for the hotel car park. Once you've parked up and dropped your bags off, you're ready to explore…
Saturday afternoon: exploring Buxton
There are two distinct areas to Buxton's town centre – Higher Buxton, which hosts the town's market (on Tuesdays and Saturdays), and Lower Buxton where you'll find an indoor shopping centre and several restaurants, and is closer to the Palace.
Lower Buxton is where Buxton's grandest buildings can be found, the grandest of which is The Crescent, modelled on Bath's Royal Crescent. This Georgian row, currently derelict, is best seen from The Slopes, a park linking Lower Buxton to Higher Buxton. The highest peaks of the Peak District can be seen from here, as can the Palace Hotel if you look closely.
Just around the corner from The Crescent is The Square, home to Buxton's Edwardian Opera House, which hosts regular theatre and comedy performances. Overlooking the Opera House are The Pavillion Gardens, a park complete with a lake and a miniature railway.
A gentle stroll through Buxton's affluent suburbs takes you to the Go Ape and Poole's Cavern complex. If you fancy swinging through trees strapped to a high-wire, Go Ape (www.goape.co.uk/days-out-in/derbyshire/buxton/the-course) could be for you (£30 for adults, referred to as "gorillas", £20 for under 17s or "baboons"), while Poole's Cavern (Green Lane; 01298 26978; www.poolescavern.co.uk) is home to one of the Peak District's many limestone caves. Adult tours cost £8, children cost £4.75.
Saturday night: eating and drinking
After a long day in the great outdoors, what better way to refuel than a visit to a Thai restaurant? Simply Thai (2-3 Cavendish Circus; 01298 24471; www.simplythaibuxton.co.uk) is just over the main road from the Palace hotel, and serves tasty Thai favourites – make sure you ring to book a table as it gets extremely busy. A two-course meal for two with a bottle of house wine came to a reasonable £50. Be sure to choose the Simply Thai Mixed Starter for two which comprises chicken satay, fish cakes, spring rolls, prawns and deep fried minced chicken on toast, all for £12.50.
Just around the corner lies the cosy little café bar, Project X (The Old Court House, George Street; 01298 77079; www.project-x-cafe.com). With comfy sofas and candles on tables, this is a great place to relax and let your dinner go down. At weekends there is live music and comedy, while they serve a great range of beers and cocktails. I had a pint of Moravka (£2.90) – at 4.4%, this lager may look, sound and taste Czech, but is in fact made at a Derbyshire micro-brewery to a traditional Czech recipe using imported hops and yeast. My fiancée had a Bulge in the Pants (£8) – a cocktail of champagne, gin and lemon juice.
There's no shortage of more traditional (and cheaper) boozers for anyone wanting a nightcap. There are a cluster of pubs around the Market Place, but we settled for The Old Clubhouse (1 Water Street; 01298 70117), a large pub serving cheap pub grub opposite the Opera House.
Sunday morning: walking off breakfast
It's hard not to abuse the system when your hotel serves an eat-as-much-as-you-can buffet breakfast, so after filling up on cereals, fruit, toast and a full English breakfast, you'll be ready to check-out and say goodbye to Buxton.
A twenty minute drive along the A6 will take you to Bakewell – a small market town of under 4,000 inhabitants that swells with day-trippers who come to enjoy its pretty setting on the River Wye. There's a massive pay and display car-park to accommodate all the visitors at the Agricultural Centre just to the south of the centre. From here a footbridge crosses the Wye – why not stroll along the banks and feed the ducks on your way in to the village centre.
If you're feeling energetic, the Monsal Trail makes for a leisurely walk or bike ride and can be picked up just to the north of Bakewell – pop into the tourist office (Old Market Hall, Bridge Street; 01629 816558) for a free map and head for Riverside Business Park just off the Buxton Road. The trail follows the path of a former railway and passes through the former Bakewell station. The whole trail is about 20km, but we walked the Bakewell loop of it – about 8km in around two hours.
Sunday afternoon: sampling Bakewell pudding
Bakewell's claim to fame is its pudding, a delicious splodge of eggs, almonds and jam that is fabled to have been made by mistake when a chef got a simple cake recipe wrong. Many people think Bakewell gave its name to the Bakewell tart, but the pudding came first – Mr. Kipling invented the tart! There are several places in town that claim to make the original Bakewell pudding. We had one at The Bakewell Pudding Factory Parlour and Shop (Wye House, Water Street; 01629 815107) – served warm with custard for £4.95 at the "parlour", or available to take away with you from the shop. You can even buy one online at www.postapudding.com.
Driving home after a cracking weekend, we passed the towns of Darley Dale and Matlock, the resort of Matlock Bath and the stately home Chatsworth House, and thought there’s enough to see, do (and eat) for a week!
Over the course of my break in the Peak District, I must have tried upwards of ten Bakewell puddings/slices/cakes and tarts but the best I had was at the café at Poole's Caverns in Buxton – their version was a slice with icing on top and a huge layer of almonds in the middle (£2.50).