Christmas shopping sorted in St Albans
A Nutcracker Trail, a Christmas market, and loads of brilliant independent shops.
I’ve just spent a few delightful hours in St Albans. The experience made me fall in love with Christmas all over again. What made it different? Well, there’s the St Albans Nutcracker Trail, with soldiers and a king to spot as you meander through the city. Pick up a trail sheet from the visitor information centre, or find them in many of the shops and cafes. And then there’s the Christmas Market, now in its fifth year, taking place next to the cathedral, in Vintry Garden. But above all, and what’s guaranteed to raise the spirits of the most jaded shopper, is the selection of of quirky and stylish independent shops and businesses. It’s all too easy to succumb to the likes of Johnny Lou Lou this time of year, but in St Albans you will find Christmas presents and stocking fillers in shops where you are more than likely to meet the owner. For those of you who know St Albans well enough to call it Snorbens, you will probably agree that our city gets better and better, with new indie places opening every day. If you don’t know St Albans, here is my guide to where to go for last minute Christmas presents that are a little bit different. You need to pace yourself: it’s essential to stop along the way for nourishment.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth and appreciate good coffee and hot chocolate with home made marshmallows, The Pudding Stop on Colonnade Road is a must. And it’s perfectly acceptable to have orange steamed pudding and vanilla custard instead of lunch. Or bread and butter pudding made with croissants. Lemon meringue pies, Bakewell tarts and gluten free brownies are all delicious. Keep a look out for the Pudmobile in St Christopher’s Place.
Waddington Rd is a brand new coffee and brunch place, with wonderful cakes and gingerbread reindeer in a relaxing atmosphere with lovely people. This cafe and the road itself is one to watch I think. You can reach it from Drovers Way, where there is also parking.
I had a delicious and impromptu lunch at Hatch, on Holywell Hill. If you pick up the St Albans Bid Nutcracker Trail leaflet you’ll see that Holywell Hill was a flashpoint for the Duke of York and Henry VI’s Lancastrian troops. Yes! In St Albans it’s so easy to combine history with Christmas shopping. Hatch is run by Chris, a Lussmanns‘ graduate, and even though it’s been open for nearly a year, this was my first visit. It’s fantastic! I had an excellent chorizo burger with a Bloody Mary. And it’s a great place to go if you’ve got children. They can gorge on waffles and milk shakes. You can sip on a cheeky cocktail.
Another great lunch place is George Street Canteen, where only the other day I had the most amazing parsnip and honey soup. The honey was from nearby Heartwood. George Street Canteen also has a pantry, selling local food that makes for brilliant Christmas gifts. May I recommend Nellienoo fudge, made in Welwyn Garden City, or Dizzy B granola, made in St Albans. You’ll also find an interesting menu and warm welcome at Dylans at the Kings Arms on George Street. I still haven’t eaten there, but have heard great things.
If you can give yourself the gift of time, then I can also recommend lunch at Thompson St Albans, 2-8 Hatfield Road. It’s Phil Thompson‘s restaurant, which won 3 AA Rosettes this year. The set lunch menus are extraordinarily good value. Read my review and see what you think.
First stop for gifts, cards and perfect presents is Raindrops on Roses at 15, High Street. An added bonus is that all profits go to cancer charities. I picked up a wonderful tea towel (don’t knock it, I haven’t got a dishwasher) illustrated by local artist Jen Roffe, and some brilliant cards. You’ll also find lovely soaps, toys, models and puzzles in tins, scarves, gloves, picture frames and candles.
Holywell Hill (home to Hatch) is as steep as it sounds and home to more brilliant gift shops. I would head for White Mint, which also has a shop in Berkhamsted, where I bought some brilliant cards. You will also find the desirable llama presents here and if you need party accessories, this is the place. Cositas is a gift shop that also does workshops for painting furniture, and it has loads of things that you won’t find elsewhere. Pop into the sweet and chocolate shop Rock Pop Candy while you’re on Holywell Hill. And on the opposite side, there’s another new place for wine and cheese: The Bishop’s Cave. You may know it from the original shop in Bishop’s Stortford.
George Street is a road that leads to the Cathedral, and is home to so many brilliant businesses. I recommend Maison Hartley, a truly wonderful interiors shop where you will also find beautiful Christmas gifts, mirrors, lighting, rugs and furniture. ThirtyNine10 is a good place for excellent and different wine.
Chloe James is worth a visit for the building alone. Inside you may find your perfect party outfit and jewellery for New Year’s Eve, but there are also lots of little rooms, all full of great gift ideas.
In Chloe James, I was immediately drawn to a range of locally made and organic beauty products, Evolve. I’m looking forward to reviewing these soon; they look and smell lovely, and are very reasonably priced – a taster kit gift bag is £12 – made with ingredients including argan oil, raw cacao powder and coconut.
Don’t forget the Christmas market in Vintry Garden. A cluster of cabins (and they are cabins, not garden sheds) with local businesses selling presents and food and drinks. Lots of craft ale and gin on offer. If you haven’t been before, you absolutely must make time to go inside the Cathedral. And look up while you are there! Wishing you happy eating, drinking and Christmas shopping in St Albans!