Take a look inside the Great Western Arcade in Birmingham – a hidden gem away from the main shopping centres of the city.
Big cities are great for shopping, but there are all sorts of hidden gems tucked away as well. Think of the Lanes in Brighton, or the Victorian arcades in Cardiff. These are the places where you can find a great place to eat, or an unusual Christmas present.
Although I grew up in Shropshire, my family come from Birmingham so the city has always played a big part in my life. We visited grandparents and other relatives regularly and later I studied at Birmingham University. Mark and I enjoy spending child-free shopping weekends there, often staying in one of the many hotels in Birmingham. It’s been incredible watching the transformation of the city over the last ten or so years.
The big shopping destinations in Birmingham tend to get all the attention. You may well have visited the Bull Ring, the iconic Selfridges building and of course Grand Central. They are amazing to look at, and have helped to make the city unrecognisable from the one I remember from my childhood.
But across the road from Snow Hill Station is a hidden gem that you might have overlooked. A beautiful Victorian shopping arcade which I think deserves more of the limelight. I still can’t believe that Mark and I only stumbled across it a few years ago!
The Great Western Arcade was built in 1877 to span a tunnel between Moor Street and Snow Hill Stations. It was originally designed in the style of the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, but was damaged in World War 2. As a result, the Colmore Row entrance was redesigned and the roof was replaced. However many of the Victorian design features survive, including the chiming clock and the original stone masonry around the Temple Row entrance.
As you might expect, this is not an arcade full of High Street chains. Yes, there are a couple of the big names that you might recognise, but there are also some fab little niche stores for you to discover.
There is a designer handbag shop, a few independent clothing shops, and an independent wine merchant . Whisky lovers can visit The Whisky Shop, which has a huge range of single malts including some rare bottlings. Hollingsworth Cigars not only sells cigars, but also some lovely shaving sets and other gifts.
If all of your shopping makes you hungry or thirsty, then there are some fab options in the Great Western Arcade. If you want to rest your feet then you could try the Victorian Restaurant or Bistro 1847. Sushi fans can eat at Sushi Passion, or try some Greek delicacies at Treat. You could pick up some delicious artisan bread at the aptly named ‘Bread’, and York’s Bakery Cafe is another option for really good coffee.
And tucked away is my favourite shop, the hidden gem within a hidden gem – Chouchoute chocolaterie.
Step inside this little paradise, and you immediately breathe in the divine smell of really good chocolate. Chouchoute is run by Pierre Soualah, who trained at Fauchon in Paris and Selfridges in London. If you want a quick gift, there are boxes of chocolates and bottles of champagne displayed on the shelves. If you want to make up your own box, you can make your selection from glass cases full of beautiful truffles and pralines.
I adore the candied orange slices, crystallised ginger and kirsch-preserved cherries. All of these are coated in beautiful crisp, dark chocolate. It is dark enough to contrast with the sweet fruit, but not so dark that it tastes bitter. These are a special treat, one which I love to enjoy with an espresso in the afternoon. Mark buys me a box every Christmas, and they are a real luxury to be savoured slowly.
You can also enjoy Pierre’s delicious chocolates from the Chouchoute website.
So next time you are out shopping in Birmingham, take a trip off the beaten track. You might just find a little hidden gem as well.