The watery Georgian wonders of the English city of Bath
Few cities have such a pleasingly homogenised centre as Bath, its Georgian architecture filling the streets, squares and lanes with mellow golden stone. It’s also the only city in the United Kingdom to be a Unesco World Heritage Site – which isn’t surprising, considering the wealth of history wedged into a relatively compact area.
The Romans built a magnificent temple around Britain’s only hot spring, the preserved remains of which throng with visitors. While you can’t dip a toe in there, you can submerge yourself in the mineral-rich waters of the rooftop Thermae Bath Spa. The Pump Rooms adjoining the Roman baths attract a steady stream of afternoon-tea aficionados to its elegant interior.
Bath’s Georgian splendour reaches its peak in the dramatic sweep of the Grade I-listed houses of the Royal Crescent and its circular near neighbour, the Circus. If you want to feel like a character in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey or Persuasion, both of which are set in Bath, head to the nearby Jane Austen Centre for a glimpse into life during Regency times.
A comfortable bed
You can’t get grander than the Royal Crescent Hotel (0044 1225 823333; www.royalcrescent.co.uk). This five-star member of Relais & Chateaux has just finished a major refurbishment. The spacious rooms combine sumptuous traditional decor with modern touches. Large gardens behind the curving facade lead to the well-equipped spa and Dower House Restaurant. Doubles from £249 (Dh1,537) including breakfast and valet parking.
The Queensberry Hotel (0044 1225 447928; www.thequeensberry.co.uk) is a warm little three-star with stylish rooms in a Georgian terrace near the centre. Doubles from £100 (Dh617), room only.
The Bath Priory (0044 1225 331922; www.thebathpriory.co.uk) is set in four acres of gardens on the city’s western edge. Its 33 country-style bedrooms fill a rambling 19th-century house. There’s also a Michelin-starred restaurant, a luxurious spa and an outdoor pool, with doubles from £225 (Dh1,388), including breakfast.
Find your feet
The River Avon curves around two sides of Bath’s centre, where many of the streets are pedestrianised and the sights are all within walking distance. The towering, 15th-century Bath Abbey and the Roman baths form a focal point, surrounded by a swarm of shopping streets. Walk about 10 minutes north to reach the Circus and the Royal Crescent, or cross the Avon via Pulteney Bridge, the only other historic bridge besides Florence’s Ponte Vecchio to have shops built into it. Boat trips depart from the Avon’s eastern bank, with its attractive Riverside Walk.
Meet the locals
The merest hint of good weather sends everyone out into the vast green spaces of Royal Victoria Park, which has its manicured beginnings in front of the Royal Crescent, before sprawling out westward. The agreeably scruffy Pig and Fiddle (0044 1225 460868; www.pigandfiddle.butcombe.com) is the place to catch big rugby and football games, but you don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy its relaxed interior and shaded garden. A smarter crowd combines shopping with snacking at The Loft (www.theloftbath.com) in Barlett Street, where boutiques and homeware shops share space with Italian treats at Café Lucca.
Book a table
Among the art galleries along the pedestrianised lane of Margaret’s Buildings near the Royal Crescent is the unpretentious Restaurant Eleven (0044 1225 421251; www.restauranteleven.co.uk). It’s a friendly spot for a lunch of wild mushrooms and a poached egg on granary bread with pea shoots (£7.50 [Dh46]).
Beside Sally Lunn’s more famous tea room (and the oldest house in Bath) is Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen (0044 1225 446059; www.acornvegetariankitchen.co.uk), which features imaginative fare such as curried cauliflower fritters with hickory-smoked potatoes (£15.75 [Dh97]).
Top-class Italian food is served in an atmospheric vaulted cellar at Sotto Sotto (0044 1225 330236; www.sottosotto.co.uk) on North Parade. Try the fettuccine with roasted butternut squash, truffle cream and sage (£9.75 [Dh60]).
It’s hard to find a corner of central Bath that hasn’t got shops in it and just as difficult to find a British high-street retailer that isn’t represented. Then there’s SouthGate Bath, a new shopping centre on the southern side of the centre, with retailers ranging from Superdry to All Saints. For something a bit more unusual, check out the independent stalls in the Bath Guildhall Market in the High Street. Lovers of Scandinavian design should head up Walcot Street to Shannon (0044 1225 424222; www.shannon-uk.com), including Moomin paraphernalia.
What to avoid
Parking in the city is a nightmare and expensive. If possible, use one of the three park-and-ride services.
You don’t have to be a clothes horse to appreciate the Fashion Museum (0044 1225 477789; www.fashionmuseum.co.uk; £8 [Dh49]). Housed within the 18th-century Assembly Rooms, it covers hundreds of years of sartorial history and lets you kit yourself out as a Victorian in replica costumes.
A return flight with Etihad (www.etihad.com) from Abu Dhabi to London costs from Dh3,170, including taxes, and takes about seven hours. Regular trains connect London with Bath, which take about 90 minutes and cost from Dh330 return.
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Published: May 1, 2014 04:00 AM