Nestled right in the heart of the picturesque Wharfe Valley at the southern end of the Yorkshire Dales, it’s not surprising that Ilkley attracts thousands of visitors each and every year. A former spa town, Ilkley is well known for its fresh, invigorating air, beautiful countryside and its incredible moor making it a popular hotspot for walkers of all abilities. However, it’s also home to one of the largest cycling clubs in the country, a wealth of incredible restaurants and a range of independent shops selling everything from gifts to vintage clothes. Much more than just a pretty face, Ilkley is one of Yorkshire’s best kept secrets – bursting with culture, a thriving arts scene and a proud Fairtrade town, Ilkley has plenty to do including the Ilkley Literature Festival.

Starting on 28th September and running through until 14th October, Ilkley Literature Festival is the second longest running literature festival in the country! Started in 1973 by Michael Dawson (the first director of then, newly formed Yorkshire Arts Association) and Peter Harland (editor of The Telegraph and Chair of the Yorkshire Arts Literature Panel), over the past forty years the festival has welcomed a wealth of literature talent from international figures and Nobel prize winners like Ted Hughes and Benjamin Zephaniah to finding the very best of new and upcoming talent. Speaking in support of the first ever festival, J.B Priestly described Ilkley as ‘the right size for a Festival Town… large enough to provide various amenities and small enough to stroll around and run into everybody.’

The festival continues that philosophy today and this year the highlights include performances, exhibitions, readings, workshops for aspiring writers, children and young people’s activities and events revolving around topics such as Emily Brontë and the Windrush legacy. The festival also has some exciting headliners including poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, John Simpson and England cricketer Moeen Ali. A full programme will be available on 13th August and tickets are on sale from 28th August. Can’t wait that long? Why not become a Festival Friend? Costing just £25 a year, becoming a festival friend gets you priority booking from 20th August, invitations to receptions, newsletters and means you can support the festival year round in the work they do with schools and young people.

“The Box Tree offers so much more than just fine dining”

The arts aren’t the only area that Ilkley excels in. It is also home to one of the country’s most charming and exquisite restaurants. First opened in 1962, The Box Tree has been a fine dining hotspot for over fifty years. Set in a characterful and historic, stone-built cottage, the building has hosted a wide range of businesses from a sweet shop right through to a farm house. Today, though, it’s a fine dining institution with a difference. The current owners, Simon and Rena Gueller have been at the helm since 2004 and in that time have guided the restaurant to a number of awards and recognition including a coveted Michelin Star and Three AA rosettes! Serving Modern-Classical, Anglo-French dishes, Rena explains they use all classical bases.

Box Tree Restaurant, Ilkley Yorkshire
Box Tree Restaurant, Ilkley © Mark Davis

“We like to teach our chefs the classical cookery and use the styles of how things were originally made while still modernising the food and delivering it in a more fashionable way.”

However, The Box Tree offers so much more than just fine dining. For the keen chefs amongst you they also offer their exceptionally popular Chef for a Day experiences that allows you to be put through your paces in a real Michelin kitchen! See exactly what happens, spend a day with the chef working in service then come back and enjoy the fruit of your labours with a lavish dinner in the evening. You even get your own branded chef ’s jacket making it the ultimate experience and a perfect gift! Gift vouchers for the both the experience and food are available so why not treat your loved one to a once in a lifetime experience in
one of Ilkley’s most iconic venues. With wine dinners and their Christmas menu just around the corner, The Box Tree is a must visit when in Ilkley. But why does Rena love the town so much?

“It’s positioned in such a beautiful location in the heart of the Dales. You look to your left, to your right and there are cows and calves. It’s a lovely rural town but with a continental, international feel.”

With its stunning countryside and large cycling scene, it’s not surprising that Ilkley is also home to one of the North’s premier bike shops. Wheelbase are an inclusive and friendly store for anyone who loves cycling and whether you’re a seasoned biker or a keen beginner, they’re guaranteed to have everything you need. Whether you prefer the road, mountain biking, e-biking or just need the essentials for your daily commute or family fun, Wheelbase have a wide range of bikes and biking accessories. Their friendly staff are passionate about everything cycling and with their wealth of experience promise to soon have you out and about exploring the gorgeous paths Ilkley has to offer.

Ilkley Yorkshire
© Mark Davis

“If you’re looking for somewhere to go why not head to Ilkley”

Also lapping up the incredible atmosphere Ilkley has to offer is Kastner Kitchens. With over a quarter of a century’s experience in bespoke design and kitchens, they have all the tools to help you decide on the kitchen of your dreams. Specialising in German Modular Kitchens, Katsner offer an expansive range of products, knowledge and genuine advice on everything from design right through to which appliances work best with each type of kitchen. Jerry Katsner, Managing Director, promises to work with you and explains why it’s important not to limit yourself to a certain type of kitchen and to do your research beforehand: “You can have a contemporary style kitchen in a period property. Research different styles.”

Ilkley has found itself home to a number of independent retailers over the years including butchers, J.B Wilkinson & Sons. First established in Guiseley in the 1930s, they now have six shops across Yorkshire including their flagship store in Ilkley. Opened in 1999, they are arguably one of the best butchers in Ilkley and sell a variety of high quality meat from local sources. As well as traditional butcher cuts they also sell sausages, pies and pre-prepared recipes. With a wealth of knowledge, their friendly staff are always on hand to help with cooking advice and they pride themselves on being a traditional butcher with an up to date ethos. They also offer online shopping – perfect for those of you in a rush – simply send your
order online and it’ll be ready and waiting for you to pick up!

With so much to do and see if you’re looking for somewhere to go why not head to Ilkley? Whether you want to take in the stunning views, enjoy the numerous sports on offer, enjoy a decadent meal or take in a wealth of culture, Ilkley is the perfect destination.

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