A spring weekend in Bath, EnglandMay
Bath is stunningly beautiful, easily reached from London, and makes for a perfect weekend getaway
Bath is primarily associated with two things: the ruins of an ancient Roman bath that put this town on the map, and it’s associations with Jane Austen. However, aside from these, I found it to be even more beautiful than expected, with incredible country walks, and charming villages worth exploring nearby if you have time. Thermae bath spa allows you to experience the natural, mineral-rich waters, from a clean and modern rooftop pool. On the food front, I was pleasantly surprised at how many great restaurants and coffee shops there were that wouldn’t be out of place in central London. Bath also exceeded my expectations for cultural offerings. While in town, I discovered that one of my favorite travel publications Cereal is based here, and had just opened a new gallery Francis Gallery which is well worth a visit. We stopped in and chatted with the Editor in Chief, Rosa Park and her team, and were given a bunch of tips on what to see, eat and do while in Bath. With trains leaving twice an hour from London Paddington, and an easy 1.5 hour journey, Bath is a perfect escape for one night, a weekend, or even a long day if you’re pressed for time.
- Sight Seeing 70% 70%
- Food 75% 75%
- Ease of Transportation 98% 98%
- Activities 75% 75%
Bath is the only English city to be designated a World Heritage Site and after visiting, one can see why. Here are a few of the highlights we enjoyed on a weekend away:
Thermae Bath Spa boasts Britain’s only natural thermal waters, the same waters that have been used in Bath since Roman times. The rooftop pool has views of the famous abbey, and the hills beyond, and the facilities also include an indoor pool, as well as a variety of saunas, steam rooms, and treatment facilities. They regulate the numbers of attendees so it’s not overly crowded, and I actually much preferred my experience here to my Hungarian bath outings. We booked a package for two with massages, which allows you to pick a time slot and skip the queue upon arrival. Skipping the queues was nice (particularly as we went on a busy bank holiday weekend), but the massages were mediocre at best (very light pressure, not particularly skilful). I wouldn’t recommend the massage treatments here; rather a 2 or 3 hour spa package where you can rest and rejuvenate is a far better value.
Our hike to Prior Park was one of the unexpected highlights of the weekend and I would come back to Bath just to do this again, although next time I’d like to do the more ambitious 6 mile skyline walk. From the center of Bath, you can see the beautiful ornate Palladian facade of Prior Park College up on the hill, and the famous Palladian bridge beneath it. We walked about 45 minutes from the center of town to get here, through small lanes, past old cemeteries and stone abbeys, and through bright green fields before arriving at the base of the lake. From the top (near the college building), there is a beautiful vista of Bath in the distance. It was one of those classic English country walks you hear so much about (but in my experience are actually difficult to find). As a bonus, on the walk home we passed Widcombe Lodge where Henry Fielding’s sister lived, and where he sometimes stayed. Tom Jones is one of my favourite novels, so I particularly loved this unexpected sighting.
You can’t go to bath without visiting the original Roman baths can you? Well, we did. I had visited them as a kid, and between our long walks outside and our relaxing time at Thermae bath spa, we didn’t have time. For history buffs, this is well worth it though.
We stopped in to the newly opened Francis Gallery and, as huge fans of the publication Cereal (run by the same owner), were not disappointed. There was a group show featuring three emerging International artists in various media when we stopped in, and a number of solo shows are on the horizon. In addition to the artists featured, the impeccable zen aesthetic readers know from the magazine permeates the physical space. There is a side room featuring custom designed furniture (for sale on their website), and art from the exhibition in situ that was so inviting and gorgeous, we could have stayed all afternoon pretending we lived there. Perhaps the best part of our visit was that, in spite of having intimidatingly good taste, proprietor Rosa Park and her team couldn’t have been nicer or more welcoming and down to earth.
Bath Old Books delivers on it’s name and should be a stop for any book lover in Bath. They stock everything from rare editions of Jane Austen classics to inexpensive used copies of contemporary novels. A hodgepodge selection put together by itss five proprietors in a perfectly crowded setting.
On my next visit I want to try:
The team at Francis recommended the Bruton outpost of the famous International gallery Hauser & Wirth and I’m tempted to plan a weekend just for this. I didn’t realize that this gallery, famous for its metropolitan locations in London, Zurich, and Hong Kong among others, has a pastoral gallery where contemporary art is exhibited in Grade II listed farm buildings. I’ve now gone down the rabbit hole reading about Bruton, and it’s the next English weekend destination on my list to go to. And that was BEFORE hearing that Phoebe Philo has a place in the area…
Where to Eat
We were unprepared for the quality of Bath’s food and coffee scene, and unprepared for early closures and schedules during a bank holiday weeekend. I need to go back to try all the places that were recommended so here’s a few of the ones we tried, and a few we are eager to get to next time.
1. Colonna & Small’s – after the train ride from London, we needed a caffeine pick me up, and a quick search revealed a ‘UK barista champion’ associated with this coffee shop. We marched straight from the train station to the modern, aerie coffee shop where we sipped cortados and planned the rest of our day.
2.Picnic coffee– another first rate coffee shop on charming Walcot Street. This one is a bit homier than Colonna & Small’s and also serves simple sandwiches and soups.
3. Corkage – this charming wine bar (there are two locations in Bath – go to the one on Chapel row) serves more than your average meat and cheese accompaniments. Their menu of small plates make use of fresh, local produce executed with sophistication. Grilled octopus, succulent pork belly, salads with local goat cheese, crab toast, it’s all here and it’s all tasty. The ambience of warm wood is inviting, as is their back garden. The hand selected wine list (by the glass and bottle) is exceptional and includes many good value offerings.
4. Rosarios– this popular, authentic Sicilian cafe has a great breakfast menu that’s served all day. (I say authentic not only for the food, but because the tables around us were filled with Italians). We went for poached eggs over crispy fritters with prosciutto and avocado and it was simple and perfect. There was an item listed on the specials that we didn’t see until it was too late. Some kind of poached egg with caponata on a crispy sweet potato fritter. The photos we saw of this were what brought us to Rosarios in the first place so we’ll have to try it next time. Of course we also had to get a few mini pistachio cannoli and sfogliatelle (called arogostine here) to take with us.
5. Acorn – I’m hesitant to call this a vegan or vegetarian restaurant (which it is), because it’s hands down one of if not the best restaurant in Bath full stop. And I am not someone who typically feels ‘satisfied’ from vegetarian-only fare. The menu is pleasing to the eye, pleasing to the palate, filling but not dense in a granola / nut loaf way. In short, if you didn’t mention it was vegetarian, I probably wouldn’t notice. They have a delightful tasting menu (go with their wine pairings – they are excellent), and you can select how many courses you’d like. The Jerusalem artichokes with crisp skins was a standout starter, and I’m still thinking about the Yorkshire rhubarb and olive oil parfait.
I still want to try:
1. Landrace Bakery– This newly opened bakery came highly recommended by Rosa after we were waxing rhapsodic about our mutual love of Tartine in San Francisco. Sadly, it was closed when we were in town but I’m dying to try it.
2.Cafe Walcot – This cafe in Bath looked fantastic for brunch but was also closed while we were here. Part of a complex with yoga and barre classes, it’s the kind of place we would imagine frequenting if we lived in Bath. The coffee looks amazing, and menu ranges from virtuous avocado toast to ham hock hash with fried egg (yes please). The lunch menu includes sourdough pizzas that also looked amazing.
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