The Georgian city of Bath, two hours west of London on a good run, makes a perfect weekend destination. Big enough to provide top-grade culture yet small enough to remain intimate, the city’s mellow pale-stone buildings and pleasingly symmetrical architecture of sweeping crescents and stately terraces is instantly uplifting.
Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that blends past and present especially well. Start the day at the Roman Baths before taking in some contemporary art. Walk the streets where Jane Austen strolled before heading to the theatre. This is a festival-filled city and while Covid has curtailed many events, the theatres, galleries and museums are slowly opening once more.
Catch an early evening train from Paddington or head down the M4 for a 48-hour stay combining history, health, good food and retail therapy in one of the West Country’s most perfect small cities.
Bath’s legendary big-name hotels include The Royal Crescent Hotel, The Priory and Queensbury, all housed in beautiful historic buildings. However for a fresh, modern take on Georgian splendour try No 15 Great Pulteney, a 40-room hotel over six floors with a subterranean spa, welcoming bar and good restaurant. The location is unbeatable, one of the most appealing and grand streets of the city lined with substantial townhouses and just steps from Pulteney Bridge and the heart of Bath.
Bedrooms have wonderfully comfortable beds, Dyson hairdryers and elegant bathrooms with large tubs of toiletries. Original shutters on large sash windows and dramatic chandeliers nod to the past while the public rooms feature some eclectic and random collections including wicker ducks, ceramic pigs and assorted costume jewellery.
Some of it works, some is plain odd but overall the grandeur of the building, the friendly staff and generous touches – a well-stocked help yourself larder of sweets and drinks for example - make No 15 Pulteney an interesting, fun and informal choice.
Rooms start from £149 per night including breakfast. No 15 Great Pulteney; 01225 807015; no15greatpulteney.co.uk
There’s a good selection of independent coffee shops and cafes around Pulteney Bridge, Walcot Street, Kingsmead Square and the narrow lanes of Saville Row and Bartlett Street. Favourites include The Provenist, The Good Day Café and Landrace Bakery.
Boston Tea Party, a family-owned group has two options in Bath. Their large and airy restaurant in Alfred Street is the one to choose: plenty of space to socially distance and a great menu of breakfast and brunch options.
The Scallop Shell on Monmouth Place comes highly recommended by chef Marco Pierre White and it’s a real gem. The menu covers wild white prawns, scallops and oysters, thick cod loin and mussels from St Austell Bay along with the catch of the day, all expertly cooked. This is fish and chips at the top of its game.
Other restaurants to check out are Chez Dominique for French cuisine and Pinxto Tapas, both favourites with the pre-theatre crowd, Mantra, offering “progressive Indian food” and Oak Restaurant in North Parade for imaginative vegan cooking.
The Holburne Museum in Great Pulteney Street is a Palladian building backing on to Sydney Gardens. The collection of paintings and decorative arts was donated to the City of Bath by Sir William Holburne on his death in 1874 but this year the formal oil paintings share the space with a remarkable exhibition of Grayson Perry’s early works, from 1982 - 1995. Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years is a real coup for Bath and showcases the Turner Prize winners preoccupation with Essex, newsreaders, the classical world and sex. The run has been extended to January 2021.
By announcing plans to reopen in October the Theatre Royal Bath has stolen a march on the West End, unveiling an impressive autumn season of plays. Betrayal by Harold Pinter kicks off the season on October 14 followed by works by Michael Frayn and David Mamet.
No 1 Royal Crescent has also reopened for pre-booked ticket holders. The museum is dressed as the house would have been in the late eighteenth century with good information about the lifestyle both upstairs and downstairs.
The Holburne Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years continues to January 3 2021. Tickets must be booked in advance £12.50 full price and under 18s are free. holburne.org
No 1 Royal Crescent Museum Open Wednesdays to Sundays from 10am – 5pm Tickets must be booked in advance priced £10 or £30 for a family ticket of up to 6 people. no1royalcrescent.org.uk
The Roman Baths with their hot springs dating to 44AD are the major draw – remember to book tickets well in advance. The same goes for the Thermae Baths which reopened on September 1 allowing visitors to take the natural thermal waters and relax in the open-air rooftop pool.
Walks and Gardens
Bath is a green city with a choice of elegant parks. Royal Victoria Park, opened in 1830 has rolling parkland and a wonderful arboretum as well as a large and well-used playground. Henrietta Park and Sydney Gardens are both smaller and quieter.
Most visitors spend hours walking the Georgian streets, dropping into the many independent shops. Don’t miss Walcot Street, known as the “artisan quarter” and of course the Circus and along Brock Street to the Royal Crescent, the epicentre of Georgian life. Both were the design of John Wood the Elder reflecting the growing status of Bath in the eighteenth Century. And everywhere you go, don’t forget to look up: the architectural detail is outstanding.
For further information on visiting Bath go to Visit Bath