Set on the outskirts of Bath, Bailbrook House Hotel cuts an imposing figure on the crest of a small hill with its golden stone and boxy façade. Surrounded by 20 acres of parkland, home to owls and a herd of muntjac deer, the Grade II-listed country house hotel offers a tranquil retreat within reach of the city centre – 10 minutes by car or a 40-minute walk away. Dating back to the 1790s, the mansion is brimming with original Georgian features that give a nod to its glory days – think a floating staircase, elaborate cornicing and domed skylights that look like delicate wedding cake tiers. Fireplaces in the Royal Lounges create a cosy spot for afternoon tea.
Bailbrook House has welcomed an impressive guest list over the years, from regular visitor William Pitt the Younger to Queen Charlotte and her son, the future King William IV, stepping through its large oak doors in 1817 to see the charity work of then-owner Lady Isabella King. A modern extension was built in the 1970s by the Post Office, which used the buildings as a training centre for staff and then a college for air-traffic controllers.
Today, Bailbrook House is part of the curated collection of Hand Picked Hotels, which revamped the interiors of both the mansion and its younger sibling in 2013 – now home to a fitness suite and 94 bedrooms; more classic options in the former, contemporary in the latter.
The pick of the bunch is the clutch of individually designed suites in the manor, each named after a different historic figure – Lord Nelson and John Eveleigh (the architect behind Bath’s iconic Somerset Place) among them. My suite, Jane Austen, looked like it could be straight out of one of its namesake’s novels – all heavy floral drapes, gleaming mahogany four-poster bed, candelabras and gilded mirrors. A smattering of modern home comforts brings it into the 21stcentury: espresso machines, wi-fi, huge TVs in every corner (rising out of the bed, above the bath, wall-hung in the living space) and cartons of fresh milk in the fridge.
The highlight of the hotel is undoubtedly Cloisters restaurant, a lovely dining space set beneath honeyed stone arches and illuminated by glowing wall lamps. With two AA Rosettes under its belt and chef Michael Ball (formerly of Careys Manor) taking the helm in the kitchen, the restaurant has some excellent culinary credentials – and more than lives up to the promise.
Classic dishes made from locally sourced ingredients are given a modern twist, while the menu is regularly tweaked to reflect the season – game in autumn, lamb in the spring. Dishes may include glazed pork cheek with brown crab custard and avocado or smoked salmon mousse with kohlrabi to start, followed by haunch of venison with pithivier or stone bass on a nest of Jerusalem artichokes and rainbow chard. But be sure to save room for dessert: the decadent chocolate brownie melts in the mouth, complemented by a drizzle of red berry compote and strawberry ice cream.
Breakfast is a tamer affair in comparison, albeit with all the usual hot and cold suspects (the home-made jam and freshly mixed smoothie shots a nice touch), served in a rather bland room in the contemporary wing. If you want to go for the full country house affair, consider splashing out on a suite in the mansion and opting for room service for an indulgent breakfast in bed – overlooking the deer-speckled grounds, if you’re lucky.
There’s no spa on site, but when in (former) Rome, do as the Romans do and head to the thermae spa in the centre of town to make use of the thermal springs that feed the series of pools, including the tantalising rooftop option overlooking the chimneys of Bath. If you want a more authentic slice of history, head to the Roman baths close by, where the crumbling ruins and grand statues show the spa town of bygone years.
Rooms at Bailbrook House start from £115; suites from £297, including breakfast and based on two people sharing. For more information, including details of offers and events over the festive season, and other properties in the portfolio, visit www.handpickedhotels.co.uk.