Is there a better place for a weekend away in the UK than Bath? Cool Places contributor and associate editor of Wanderlust Sarah Baxter explains why not
One-time hangout for English high society, the elegant city of Bath is home to Britain’s only natural hot springs. It’s these healing waters, of course, that put the city on the map, and are in part what continue to draw visitors today, both to the original Roman Baths and to the state-of-the art Thermae Bath Spa, where they can test its curative claims themselves. The baths, however, form only the centrepiece of what is arguably the most beautiful city in England.
Blanketed in soft, honey-coloured stone, it’s a grand sweep of Georgian terraces and cobbled streets, packed with museums and galleries, antique shops and markets, and it enjoys a range and variety of restaurants that would rival cities twice its size. In our opinion there’s no better place for a decadent weekend away.
Here Wanderlust Associate Editor Sarah Baxter highlights the very best places; read more at www.coolplaces.co.uk.
Beautiful Bath isn't a cheap city. So the White Hart is a real find, a pub with rooms just a short stroll from the train station. The rooms aren't fancy, but they're clean, tidy and great-value, and they range from dorms to en-suite doubles, some of which overlook the leafy beer garden. It's a great base for exploring the city, but if you can't be bothered, no problem – the pub grub here (especially the guacamole and humous sharing platter) is worth staying in for.
Acquire your own piece of Georgian splendour, if only for a weekend. Bath Boutique Stays (BBS) hires out a handful of central, characterful properties in the city suitable for between one and 12 people. All are typical Bath buildings, and all are styled along the same smart-but-simple lines: a neutral colour palette, contemporary furnishings, Egyptian cotton sheets, art from local shops on the walls, Bath Thermae spa goodies in the bathroom (which you're actively encouraged to take home at the end).
Properties include a two-bed apartment with a south-facing verandah, a Georgian terrace just metres from the Royal Crescent and a spacious penthouse overlooking Queens Square. All are within stumbling distance of train station and bars. Oh, BBS can help with that too – they provide plenty of local recommendations in a welcome pack, and can arrange all sorts of extras. Book a package and you can get Thermae Spa tickets, cupcake classes, guestlist bar entry... whatever you fancy, helpful local owners Hana and Marcus will try their utmost to arrange.
Bath’s coolest hotel, The Queensbury spreads across four Georgian townhouses in a quiet residential street at the top of Bath. Public areas are light and airy, thanks to an impressive glass roof, while the minimalist rooms are designed with a sharp sense of style and have well-appointed bathrooms. The good-humoured staff are a good source of information on the city. Dinner-and-room offers can prove to be a good deal – indeed the hotel’s The Olive Tree restaurant is a dining destination in its own right.
It's easy to get cosy in Grappa, especially on a chilly winter's eve. A woodburner warms the bar's cushioned front, enticing you in off the steep paved street outside – only a few minutes walk (uphill) from Milsom Street's shopping. Tealights flicker on the darkwood tables; the lighting is dim and atmospheric. The cocktails and wine list are well thought-out, but the pizzas are the real treat. Handmade on site, they're simple but crisply traditional and generously sized. Even better, they're two-for-one Monday to Thursday, so you get a fine feed in classy surrounds for under a fiver.
The Circus Cafe and Restaurant is on a terribly nice Georgian street. But it's bookended by Bath's best ones: the Royal Crescent curves off one end, the arguably-even-grander Circus sits off the other. Consequently it's quite a pleasant surprise to find this place isn't horribly posh. The food is quite fancy, but the atmosphere informal and the prices fair. The muted dining room serves pastries in the morning, interesting lunches (such as spinach and sorrel soup, fresh Lyme Bay squid and kedgeree with a twist), buttermilk scones from 3pm to 5pm, and then inventive dinners.
Menus change monthly, but most ingredients come from the West Country – succulent ducks from Bittescombe Farm, herbs and leaves from Castle Farm Organics in Midford. A small but interesting wine list is the perfect complement.
Uber-chic bar and restaurant fashioned from a former pub that is famous locally not only for its delicious steaks but also for amazing chocolate fondue. Always busy and consistently good. Looks wonderfully atmospheric too.
Recently voted the best National Trust walk in Britain, the six-mile Bath Skyline follows a circular route around the hills surrounding the city. Dipping in and out of woodlands and across peaceful meadows, it takes in a variety of historical sites, including an Iron Age fort and the 18th-century folly of Sham Castle. The views, needless to say, are spectacular.
The Royal Crescent is just off six fabulous Georgian crescents in Bath, a grand arc of fine Georgian townhouses, lording it over the rest of the city from the edge of the Upper Town. It's free to wander along the cobbles; No.1 Royal Crescent – John Wood the Elder’s first Palladian-style house – now houses a museum (£6.50), with painstakingly restored rooms that paint a picture of Bath’s Georgian interior design.
One of the earliest public parks in the country, Victoria Park is a great place for a picnic or a gentle stroll once you’re done gawping at nearby Royal Crescent – 57 acres of public land include an aviary, a boating pond and a bird garden, plus a superb children’s play area and a skate park that is a major attraction for local families.
Cool Places is a new website devoted to selecting and celebrating the best of UK travel, whether you’re booking a last-minute weekend away or looking for ideas for next year’s holiday. They cover the UK’s best places to stay, from stunningly located campsites to cosy boutique hotels, great gastropubs and restaurants to beachside cafés, and the country’s quirkiest independent shops and markets. Check it out, and add your own local favourites.