Cheshire’s distinctive villages and picturesque countryside have become a major selling point to holidaymakers.
The county is a popular hub of diverse leisure and relaxation breaks in scenic old fashioned countryside.
Major attractions Chester, Chester Zoo, Blue Planet Aquarium, Liverpool’s Albert Dock and Cheshire Oaks are all within driving distance.
As a brand, Cheshire is hailed as an “untapped” resource with a price tag worth hundreds of millons to its rural economy.
Now a huge collective effort is refining Cheshire’s diverse tourism themes – food, adventure, relaxation, leisure.
Hotel refurbishments, upgrading B&Bs, luxury spas, headhunting of talented chefs, sourcing quality local foods and bounteous provision of adventure and activity is paying dividends.
Latest Government figures show overseas tourists spent £112m in Cheshire in 2006 – 22% more than 2005’s figure of £92million.
The number of international visitors to the county soared by 15% from 343,000 to 396,000 while foreign tourists’ overnights added up to almost 2.12million, 17% up on the previous year’s 1.81million.
Tourism operators have formed a seamless network of ‘destination’ experiences from golf, adventure parks, rambling, canal boating and cycling to horse trailing, fishing, clay pigeon shooting, quad biking and fine dining.
The county now has scope for ‘itinerary’ holidays where tourists can select a range of experiences from budget to luxury pamper breaks.
If you like horse riding you can enjoy a three day holiday hacking through Bishop Bennet’s Way or Delamere Loop. If you enjoy golf you can tee off at Macdonald Portal, Hotel Golf and Country Club in Tarporley. If you like walking there is the 34 mile Sandstone Trail, linking Frodsham and Whitchurch. Food lovers can enjoy local produce at Hollies Farm Shop in Little Budworth or the Ice Cream Farm in Tattenhall.
For rural heritage there is Stretton Water Mill, Cholmondeley or Beeston castles, Tatton Park and Arley Hall.
New developments are on the horizon – 300-berth marina is planned on the Bolesworth estate near Tattenhall.
Boleworth Estate land agent Matthew Morris believes the marina will encourage more boating holidays.
He said: “The marina is designed for people who own their boats but many will be using the Shropshire Union network and will come from all over the UK
“The stretch of Shropshire Union is an area where people can spend more time visiting other Cheshire attractions which adds to the rural economy. Visitors can stop at Beeston Castle, The Ice Cream Dairy, pubs, restaurants and farm shops which are all in a close proximity..”
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act has opened up new byways to the public and is enticing more walkers, horse trekkers and cyclist into the region.
From January, 2008, 13 Virgin Voyager Trains will run every day between London and Chester, equivalent to 4,500 potential passengers per day from Milton Keynes and Central London.
Visit Chester and Cheshire Chairman Mike Cooksley believes the county’s rural escapes have potential to become one of Britain’s finest destinations for ‘getaway breaks’.
He said: “Cheshire’s green and blue assets are untapped and unrealised.
“Before now Cheshire has not been a iconic visitor point and has been overlooked.
“Cheshire may not be Snowdonia or the The Lake District but it has got unrivalled diversity, beautiful countryside, inland waterways, wonderful dining experiences and world class tourism assets like Chester Zoo.
“We are now rolling out a cross -marketing programme that links Cheshire’s rural offer to the city offer of Chester. We are taking an holistic approach and the diversity of what we have in Cheshire is starting to come into play. There is massive potential in this.”
Sarah Caplan, who runs Equestrian Escapes, organises horse riding holidays around Europe and promotes Cheshire routes on her website.
She explained: “We have had bookings from guests from Wirral, Birmingham, Lincolnshire and the South Coast.
“We’ve got the whole offer here – people are enjoying itineraries where they can go horse riding and visit other neighbouring attractions within easy reach. We are also providing holidays for those who don’t own horses. There is a lot of interest in that.”
She said: “I’m sure it will be a boom industry. Cheshire’s countryside is not only beautiful, it’s also accessible and has been well financed. Our attractions are at premium standards because investment has been pumped in.”
Sally-Ann Chesters, who runs four star self-catering cottages at Millmoor Farm, near Malpas, with her husband David, believes Cheshire has a growing reputation as a rural escape.
She said: “We have people coming from Wirral and Macclesfield, people living on the coast and American tourists. People who come from the cities and can see a working farm and relax and enjoy the beautiful countryside think they have landed in heaven.
“You get people who lead busy lives who just want to come and do nothing. There are families who want to enjoy the farm, go for walks, or cycle, go to a restaurant or have a pamper day somewhere.”
Jane Casson of Made in Cheshire explained that the county’s local food is proving a big regional hit with customers who are actively searching for local food shops and farmers markets.
She said: “Cheshire food shops have become destinations in themselves – there is fascination with cookery and local produce. It is a key driver here in Cheshire.