Explore Beautiful Bath
Liz Pickering explores Bath, a city brimming with elegance, culture, heritage and more than a touch of luxury. Photos by Neville Stanikk
Naturally endowed with the only hot springs in Britain, Bath was always going to be a centre of some sort, and the Romans certainly spotted its potential. Yet for all that the Romans did for it, most of the city we see today is of Georgian construction, from its wide stone-paved streets laid out to plan, to its symmetrical stone faades with columned porticoes and large sash windows. Home of Jane Austen and dignitaries throughout the centuries, Bath has developed a reputation for 'class', if such a thing still exists today.
One thing is clear: Bath still exudes an unmistakable sense of affluence and fashion, as no doubt it did in the 18th century. Today it has all its Georgian gentility combined with a 21st-century cosmopolitan pulse, so in addition to the polite experiences of afternoon tea at The Pump Room or an event at the Assembly Rooms, the visitor can also enjoy cutting-edge comedy, drama, music and food.
The city is packed full of boutiques, designer clothes shops and salons. In fact, there are so many barbers and tailors operating in Bath that surely the men strutting its smart streets must be very well groomed indeed. Saying that, many of them appear artfully dishevelled!
Hit the downtown
Most destinations in Somerset have a relatively small historic core, but in Bath the Georgian terraces, avenues and magnificent buildings of buff-coloured Bath stone just keep on coming. Like a child in a sweet shop, you might find yourself excited and yet unsure where to begin, in which case opt for one of Bath's excellent city tours. The Mayor of Bath Honorary Tour is free and lasts approximately two hours, starting at the entrance to The Pump Room. You might also try the Jane Austen Walking Tour - or, for something a bit different, there are the less historical and more irreverent Ghost Walks of Bath and the Bizarre Bath comedy walk. In fact the city has it all, and you could choose to be transported around by bus, boat or even chauffeur-driven limousine.
No trip to Bath would be complete without seeing the Roman Baths. The Romans made great use of the hot springs, and today you can still tread the same paths and marvel at the ancient temple. You can enjoy the opulence of the spa experience first hand at Thermae Bath Spa, which uses the warm mineral waters of the hot springs and blends together the historic architecture and character of Bath with more modern design and a contemporary experience of luxury.
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Shopping in Bath is a delight; the place is teeming with independent shops including boutiques, galleries and delicatessens. Walcott Street in particular is known as Bath's Artisan Quarter and is well worth a visit while heading through the city to such other unmissable treats such as the Royal Crescent, The Circus, Pulteney Bridge, the 15th-century Abbey, Theatre Royal and a variety of museums.
There really is enough here to occupy a visitor for weeks, but a whirlwind tour over 48 hours is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.
Eating and sleeping
There is no better place than Bath to experience the quintessential English afternoon tea. Most famous
venues include Sally Lunn's on North Parade Passage, and the very genteel Pump Room on Abbey Churchyard. If these are a little too crowded, Hands Traditional
Tea Rooms on York Street is a fine alternative,
serving a selection of teas, cakes and clotted
cream (01225 463928).
The sense that Bath has been preserved in roughly the same form for centuries is reinforced in many of its pubs, which are very traditional and cosy. The winter months are an especially good time to soak up this atmosphere over a no-nonsense pub meal, with the warmth and crackle of an open fire and the smell of woodsmoke in your nostrils, all conspiring to keep you there longer than you intended.
But Bath is not entirely lodged in the past. It has always been a place for the latest fashion, and some of the best chefs in the country have chosen the city and its surroundings as their base. One of the best places to eat and also to stay during your visit is The Bath Priory, not least because celebrated chef Michael Cains MBE
will be Executive Head Chef from this month onwards (01225 331922).
This is not to say that you cannot enjoy a visit to Bath on a budget. The university offers very reasonably priced accommodation both in the city and on the university campus, and there is a good range of affordable B&Bs and guest houses in the centre of the city. Among the best for value for money is Anabelle's Guest House on Manvers Street, a pleasant terraced building with newly refurbished rooms just a stone's throw from all the main visitor attractions (01225 330133).
Things to take home...
Bath is famous for so many things, the visitor really doesn't have to look far for a souvenir that is unique to the city. One of the most affordable items to take away would be a box of Bath Oliver biscuits, named after the enterprising Dr Oliver who is said to have invented the biscuits as a healthier alternative to his hugely popular and calorific Bath Bun.
For a more lasting memento, visit The Glasshouse on Orange Grove, selling handmade glass jewellery, panels, handblown pieces and gifts. Bath Aqua Glass is sold in several shops around the city, and makes a particularly beautiful souvenir or gift (01225 463436).
It's perhaps not one of his most famous quotes, but Winston Churchill nonetheless once proclaimed that, "a gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield". The company also holds royal warrants of appointment to Her Majesty the Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales. The small shop on John Street seems rather modest in view of Paxton & Whitfield's prestigious patrons, but the explanation lies in the quality of its cheese, wines, crackers and other items (01225 466403).
The architecture of Bath is predominantly Georgian, on a scale that isn't easily forgotten. Take away a miniature version in the form of an intricate plaster model of a majestic Bath building from Timothy Richards Workshop & Gallery at Widcombe Old School, a short walk from the city centre (01225 311499).
Explore the area
If you only spent 48 hours in Bath, there is a good chance you would be entirely absorbed by the attractions on offer in the city centre, but you would be missing out on some real gems in the surrounding countryside.
Take a barge trip on the Kennet and Avon Canal, for instance. Several companies offer an experience aboard their narrowboats for both day trippers and overnight holidaymakers (between March and October). You will see some spectacular scenery, stop at welcoming rural inns and have the opportunity to hire bikes and do a bit of exploring for yourself.
Cycling, horse-riding and walking opportunities are abundant in the valleys surrounding Bath, including the Chew, Limpley Stoke and Somer Valleys.
Fine examples of paintings by Hoogstraeten, Murillo and Hondecoeter, as well as English and Flemish tapestries, baroque architecture and stunning collections of furniture and tableware can be seen at Dyrham Park. This National Trust property was transformed from its Tudor origins by William Blathwayt between 1691 and 1704, and is well worth a visit between March and November. The surrounding park is open throughout the year (0117 937 2501).
Prior Park is particularly well situated within walking distance of the centre of Bath, and yet seems entirely remote from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. These picturesque landscaped gardens were influenced by Alexander Pope and 'Capability' Brown, and include a rare example of an ornamental Palladian bridge (01225 833422).
21 February: Bath Rugby v London Irish. Recreation Ground. 2.15pm. 01225 325200
22-28 February: Wild Thyme Music. Various concerts will take place at
The Mission Theatre, from 7.30pm. 01225 463362
28 February - 8 March: Bath Literature Festival. Based at The Guildhall. 10am-10pm. 01225 463362
14-28 March: Mid-Somerset Competitive Festival. Amateur music, speech, drama and creative writing festival held annually at venues around Bath, including The Pump Room, The Guildhall, The Pavilion, Scout Hall on Grove Street, the Central United Reformed Church and the Mission Theatre.
15 March: Bath Half Marathon. Starts and finishes at Great Pulteney Street. 11am-3.30pm. 01225 422255
1-12 April: Bath Comedy Festival. Various times and venues throughout Bath. 01225 463362
Bath Tourist Information Centre, Abbey Chambers, Abbey Churchyard, Bath BA1 1LY, e-mail: email@example.com, 0906 711 2000 (50p/min)