Everybody has a romantic mental image of what Bath, England should look like: tidy rows of stately Georgian terrace homes of gray stone and slate roofs set among green hills of pastures and woodland. With its rejuvenated pedestrian center, a slew of Chefís leading the culinary charge and hotels and inns ranging from swanky to romantically cozy, Bath is the ultimate fast track to a luxurious break from the bustle of London.
Only an hour and half from Londonís Paddington station, luxury travel pros use Bath as a vacation base as well as an indulgent weekend getaway.
Within minutes of leaving central London, the high-speed train pulls away from the capital city sprawl and the view opens up over panoramas of small stone farm houses and the hazy yellow sunshine of Somerset. Rolling hills and flocks of sheep glide by as you are whisked to picturesque Bath Spa train station at the foot of the pedestrian-friendly city center.
Step 1: Check in, kick back and linger over an aperitif
For contemporary clutter-free rooms and the friendliest front desk in Bath, consider the boutique Halcyon hotel for a base. Housed in a towering Georgian terrace house only a stoneís throw from Bath Spa station, the Grade-one listed Halcyon isnít allowed a lift, and thus attracts a youthful, yet refined clientele. The rooms are spacious and spare. No creaky period furniture or tacky wall paper here. Contemporary fittings, a cloud-soft bed and views of the neighboring church make the rooms hard to leave.
The lobby of the Halcyon opens up to a slick, but comfortable lounge framed with dark wood accents and modern furniture. Grab a seat, grab a magazine, or chat with friends while sipping a crema-topped espresso or a cold, hand-crafted cocktail brought up from neighboring Circo Bar (Try the Signature Halcyon cocktail of Tequila, Chambord, Triple Sec and fresh Raspberry.)
Step 2: A sunset stroll along the canal tow paths
Turn east out of the Halcyon, down North Parade Road. Cross over the cascades of the River Avon and head for the open green slopes of Bathwick Hill. A five minute walk up the footpath will land you at the slow, smooth water and heavy black painted locks of the Avon Canal. In the evening, smoke trickles from the chimneys of the brightly-painted canal boats as permanent residents and holiday-makers alike fire up their wood burning stoves. A walk along the tow path offers a unique, back-door view of some of Bathís most exclusive addresses, with their manicured gardens and green lawns that run right up to the waterís edge. If youíre feeling spry, head further uphill for a walk on the edge of Smallcombe Wood which still hosts a handful of grazing cows and delivers a priceless view of the church spires and orderly terrace homes neatly laid out below.
Step 3: Dinner and desert at the top of the town
Bath is home to a growing clutch of innovative chefs and restaurateurs. A turn about town passes by chalk boards announcing an array of fresh seafood, warming pub fare, and exotic Thai, Nepalese and Indian cuisine.
For a canít lose culinary tryst and an opportunity to walk through the storied Circus and Royal Crescent, the Marlborough Tavern is the perfect dinner choice. With a menu featuring locally-sourced fish and game and a few timeless classics, the Marlborough delivers with grace and warmth in a dining room of soft light and lively conversation. For an innovative twist on local seafood, try the Cornish mackerel fillets with salsa verde. The wine list is simple and well-matched to the fresh fare and relaxed atmosphere. For desert, tuck into the warm pistachio sponge with blood orange pannacotta; rich enough to satisfy with just a bite or two.
Savor the walk back down the hill and take in the dazzling views of the south side of town over Royal Victoria Park. Wind you way through the narrow, echoing streets of the city center stopping off for a glimpse of the stunning stained glass of Bathís medieval abbey. If youíre not tired yet, stop in for a night cap at the Central Bar, just up the road from the Pump Room where Georgian glitterati stopped each day to drink the health-giving waters of Englandís only thermal springs.
Whether you are visiting England for a few days or a few weeks, or you are a proud resident, a trip to Bath is a hassle-free way to tuck into a little luxury whilst staying within striking distance of the great metropolis that is London.
Sage Russell is Editor of Food Pilgrimage.