Marc Evans returns to Stratford-up-on-Avon and heads back to the future for the opening of a revamped hotel

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, while familiarity breeds contempt.

Well, Stratford-upon-Avon seems immune to these rules. On my third visit to the town in the space of five months, it hasn’t lost its magical feel. Its status as a tourism hotspot is well-known, but there’s far more to it than its link with William Shakespeare...although if you happen to forget its association with the Bard, there’s always a shop, ice cream outlet or wandering thesp in costume to remind you.

Jumping on the Bard bandwagon is the recently reopened Hotel Indigo – but it’s all done in the best possible taste.

For the last two years, the 16th-century hotel has undergone a multi-million-pound major restoration project. The Grade II-listed historic building has been restored and is the biggest refurbishment in the hotel’s long history. The decorative black-and-white half-timbered building is now blended with modern, stylish, contemporary bedrooms.

The Indigo chain tailors its unique hotels to its locations’ histories and – surprise, surprise – Shakespeare features heavily in the designs for its Stratford incarnation. The hotel guest rooms boast three designs, which are inspired by the Bard and reflect Stratford’s history, which stretches back to medieval times.

The Tudor Rooms display the tradition of the 16th century building and offer a path to the past, with views of Shakespeare’s New Place, his residential home in later life. The Georgian Townhouse is inspired by Shakespeare’s Theatre, the rooms combine a touch of luxury with homely charm, while the Contemporary Rooms in the new wing offer an elegant design drawing from its more recent past.

It’s all beautifully executed – reminiscent of a futuristic reworking of a Shakespeare play, mixing traditional and modern. You can pass from the past into the present day within a few paces as you wander through the Tudor frontage, through cosy, historic wooden boltholes, into modern glass and light.

Elevating this Shakespearean adaptation from repertory-level to RSC standard was the excellent hotel restaurant, The Woodsman, serving no-nonsense, hearty food, but with a modern touch.

Diners have a view of the chefs in action and can feel the heat coming from the wood ovens. Not necessarily a good thing on the blisteringly hot summer’s evening we were there, but how many of those do we have a year?

The emphasis, under executive chef Mike Robinson, is on meat and fish, with a field-to-fork, seasonal cooking philosophy. And our excellent starters of roast pigeon salad with duck heart, and chicken liver parfait showed off its nose-to-tail credentials.

Our mains of whole plaice with mussels, and pavé of Hereford rump steak, served with a delicious faggot in gravy, were delicious. My only niggle – having to order separate side dishes to complete the meal. However, the ‘dirty’ mash (it had gravy on it) and charred hispi cabbage wedge were – admittedly –superb. We just managed to squeeze in top-quality desserts too – an innovative apple and berry souffle and a gooseberry custard tart.

Breakfast the following morning also hit the spot – a full English cooked to order (among a number of options).

As for Stratford itself, it rarely fails to delight – especially in the glorious sunshine. Nothing could be finer than enjoying a sneaky G&T on the river’s edge, watching the world go by.

Its mix of shops is terrific, with plenty of unusual, independent outlets selling things you had no idea you wanted – great antique, second-hand and vintage stores, and (guilty pleasure alert) some great charity shops where there are lots of genuine bargains to be had.

There are also really good weekend markets which can easily see you while away a pleasant couple of hours browsing through the knick-knacks, and trying out the food on offer.

And if you’re looking for a quirky place to eat, try the Shakespaw Cat Cafe in Union Street, where you can share your afternoon tea with the host of felines who live there – all with Shakespearean names, of course. Just book in advance.

Hotel Indigo, 4 Chapel Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6HA

01789 279953

Costs from £149 bed and breakfast

Starters at The Woodsman range from £8.50-£12; main courses range from £26.50-£24.50; desserts range from £8.50-£13.50; while side dishes cost between £3.50 and £5.50