Relocating to a new town or city can be a daunting prospect, but not so much if you know a place as well as we know Bath. My husband and I have been visiting for impromptu weekends, trips to the world class Theatre Royal or to review the latest restaurant (there always seems to be a new one popping up) for years now and knew very quickly that we wanted to swap the hustle and bustle of London for the quieter ways of this idyllic World Heritage Site, which begins to feel less like a city and more like a village in no time at all.
It was a strange feeling making the 2 hour car journey from London to one of the city’s most established luxury hotels, The Macdonald Bath Spa, a few weeks ago, for it was destined to be the venue of our very last weekend break in Bath before signing on the dotted line and going from regular tourists to official locals. This final sojourn offered us the chance to savour every moment of exploring Bath like folk who have never set eyes on it, and the Georgian mansion in which the hotel is housed, standing on a hillside surrounded by the Mendip Hills, proved a very good place to start. With incredible views over the city from our 5th floor deluxe double, including the majestic Bath Abbey, we fell in love all over again.
Although the concierge kindly offered to call us a taxi into the centre due to an afternoon shower, we decided to make a quick dash to the Holburne Museum which offers free general admission and is located a short walk from the Macdonald Bath Spa. Currently staging a tremendous exhibition Stubbs and the Wild (until 2 October), not only is the detached museum extremely handsome in its own right, standing at the end of the impressive Great Pulteney Street and being crafted of honey-coloured Bath stone, it houses a diverse collection begun by Sir William Holburne (1793-1874), fifth baronet of Menstrie, whose Grand Tour of Europe made an indelible impression on him and sparked a lifelong passion for gathering treasures from around the world including bronze sculptures, silver, porcelain and Dutch landscapes.
The Holburne’s Garden Café is also worth pausing at, not simply in order to take advantage of their reasonably priced cream tea but because the modern extension in which it is housed resembles something Kevin McCloud might feature on Grand Designs, and backing onto Sydney Gardens, offers the chance to enjoy an alfresco refreshment on a fine day. Leaving the Holburne via the colonnaded main entrance, it’s impossible not to be in awe of the sublime Georgian architecture when posing for a snap outside, nor on walking down the incredibly grand boulevard-style Great Pulteney Street, once home to the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce and Jane Austen who wrote in Northanger Abbey, “Who can ever be tired of Bath?”
The adjoining boutique-lined Pulteney Bridge, originally built by Robert Adam for William Pulteney is meanwhile one of the most renowned bridges in the world due to being lined with shops much like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and the Rialto in Venice, at the end of which you’ll discover the free admission Victoria Art Gallery, an often overlooked destination in Bath, yet home to a wonderful collection of art dating from the 15th century to the present day, with particular emphasis on artists who worked or lived in the area such as Thomas Gainsborough and Walter Sickert. Meanwhile, the gallery’s current exhibition, ‘A Room of Their Own’, is dedicated to the Bloomsbury Group’s eclectic interior style and reunites objects and paintings from private and public collections that haven’t been seen together for over 50 years.
No visit to Bath would be complete without venturing to the Roman Baths, which stay open to the public until 10pm in July and August (9pm last admission), and always succeeds in impressing visitors. That said, the MacDonald’s own Spa comes a pretty close second after a hard day of sightseeing and has long been regarded as one of the best in the city due to a thermal suite boasting a heated indoor pool, rock saunas, lavender scented steam rooms and a relaxing outdoor hydro therapy pool ensuring guests can enjoy the British summer whatever the weather. Follow a dip with one of the luxury treatments especially designed by Elemis, enjoyed in one of the seven private and low-lit treatment rooms.
In a state of zombiefication following my massage, it’s a wonder people don’t turn up for dinner in their bathrobes. They would soon make a sharp exit if they did, however, for the hotel’s award-winning restaurant Vellore is situated in the former ballroom, which, with its grand high ceilings and traditional atmosphere makes for a romantic venue to discuss (and toast) the future. Alternatively, the alfresco dining area is very pleasant on a warm evening, looking as it does over the manicured lawns of the hotel’s seven acre garden and serving lighter meals, while there are two bars to choose from when it comes to a nightcap; the light and airy Colonnade or the cosier Rotunda.
‘I hope we won’t take Bath for granted when we live here,’ I pondered aloud to Mr L on checking out the next day, finally getting right to the point, ‘we will still be able to return here for afternoon tea, dinner and spa days though?’ Just then the concierge announced that our car was ready and without replying he looked at me out of the corner of his eye and grinned exasperatedly as he got in the car. As we made our way down the long sweeping drive and headed east on our familiar, yet reluctant, trundle back to London the clouds were auspiciously pink and the sky a mass of hot air balloons over the Macdonald, which seemed to be offering us a fond and knowing farewell.
The MacDonald Bath Spa, Sydney Road, Bath BA2 6NS. For more information and reservations visit the website.