Tempt your tastebuds and get your culture fix with a weekend visit to Bath. Sophie Ritchie divulges the details on why this Somerset city is ideal for a break filled with edible enjoyment and fascinating history.
There are few places in England as both gorgeously scenic yet still stylishly suave as Bath. It’s a bustling yet laid-back place – filled with archaic culture that draws the eye of tourists and winding streets that are absolutely brimming with assorted eateries. When it comes to a fun and food-filled weekend getaway, it’s ideal for a break from the city.
We arrive by train on a beautifully sunny Saturday – you know, the kind of cloudless sky that postcards everywhere ambition to boast. With its honey-coloured streets, Bath already seems worlds away from the jam-packed scenes of London – in fact, it feels as if I’ve wandered into an Austen novel. Jane Austen herself lived here in the early 19th century and it isn’t hard to feel inspired as we stroll through the wide Georgian streets on our way to the hotel with suitcases in tow.
There’s an air of grace about Bath. It’s subtly elegant, and almost basks in the light of the Somerset sun – showing off architectural beauty formed of picturesque stone streets, Grade II listed buildings and of course, the Roman-built baths. My admiring is cut short however, because it isn’t long until we reach our lodgings – the four-star Francis Hotel, found a mere seven minute stroll away from the station.
Where to stay
When it comes to a city stay, location is undeniably everything. The Francis Hotel is perfect for the culture vulture seeking everything on their doorstep, as the city’s main attractions are only streets away from the building. Located in the very heart of Bath, adjacent to Queen Square and steps away from the city centre, Francis Hotel makes an ideal base for those who enjoy exploring.
The hotel’s name derives from its very first owner, Soloman Francis. The distinctive hotel occupies seven of the original 18th Century townhouses that make up the south side of Queen Square, the very first element in the most important architectural sequence in Bath, which also includes the King’s Circus and the Royal Crescent. Part of Sofitel’s unique MGallery collection of bespoke properties, Francis Hotel has been welcoming paying guests since 1856.
Expect interiors with a fun, modern take on Regency style in the lobby – modern chandeliers mingled with grandfather clocks, vibrant wallpaper juxtaposed against silky velvet armchairs. Upstairs, take time to peruse the blue plaques upon the corridor walls to find details of previous infamous residents – from famous architects to grand nobility.
With 98 rooms on offer, guests can choose from three styles – Classic, Superior and Feature. We stay in a Classic – it’s of a fair size considering its central location and follows the same revamped neo-Regency decor – think vibrant colour schemes and plenty of Georgian-themed touches, like the Roman Bath mural found within the bathroom’s shower. Little luxury touches await – and we immediately make the most of the handy Nespresso coffee machine. If you opt for the premium Feature room, expect a four poster bed to add to the ambiance.
For those with a sweet tooth, the hotel’s afternoon tea is a quintessential British must during a stay here. Indulge with a luxurious Afternoon Tea, served in the chicly decorated Emily’s Tea Room (but note that pre-booking is essential to avoid disappointment). Leave plenty of time for the experience as service can be a little slow, but worth it for the food. If you’re feeling naughty, opt for the gin-inspired menu to enjoy a refreshing Gin & Tea cocktail alongside freshly made treats – as well as a shot of Bath Gin for a quirky twist on tradition.
Where to eat
Foodies flock in droves to Bath, and it’s not hard to see why. There’s ample opportunities to sample and sip. Enjoy a fine dining experience at one of multiple restaurants boasting a Michelin-starred chef, relax in a cosy pub that serves traditional hearty fare or soak up the sun in a terrace or beer garden – the choice is yours.
If it’s a deli dish you’re after, pitstop at Blue Quails – an award-winning, stylish little deli/café recently taken over by Thomas Barker. Blue Quails’ motto is ‘small place, big heart, offering friendly service and wonderful food.’ From scrambled egg and smoked salmon to international street food, there’s plenty to try.
For those seeking a taste of modern British cuisine, pay a visit to Guyers Restaurant. With two AA rosettes under its belt, guests can expect an inviting menu of both contemporary and traditional dishes conjured by Head Chef Matt Gillard.
A must-try for cocktail fans is a late night visit to the Dark Horse – an underground bar recently voted fourth best in the world that comes with a buzzing atmosphere and seriously chic decoration. Make sure to arrange a table in advance to avoid the inevitable queue.
What to do
Of course, the Roman baths are usually top of every tourist’s tick list. We wander around the fascinating structure with handy Bill Bryson audio guides to learn more about the history and secrets of the ancient baths – then stop off at a nearby coffee shop post-peruse to sip on local beverages before heading to the cathedral to gawp at the amazing architecture.
In the very heart of the city, Thermae Bath Spa is an award-winning Natural Spa that offers the chance to bathe in Britain’s only naturally warm, mineral-rich waters – just as the Celts and Romans did over 2,000 years ago. By day and by night, relax in the indoor Minerva Bath and open-air rooftop pool with spectacular views over the city of Bath.
The Fashion Museum is another must-see for the fashionista. One of the world’s top 10 museums of fashionable dress, its depths contain everything from historic Georgian gowns to cutting-edge fashions by some of today’s leading designers. With 400 years worth of fashion to explore, it’s ideal for an afternoon of couture culture. Bring the imagination to life with a stroll around Bath’s fantastic array of shops post-visit and pick up a mode memento of your own.
With our stomachs full and our feet a little sore from all the walking, it’s time to head back to the train station for our homeward journey. There’s something for everyone to enjoy in Bath – and if you fancy a few days of great food and fascinating history, this town is certainly the place to do it.
Find Sophie on Instagram at @sophritchie.