As I checked into the Avon Gorge Hotel, the receptionist proceeded to point me out of the hotel and away. There must have been some mistake, I protested, I’m a guest, don’t you know.
But it wasn’t banishment. Far from it. My initial dismay at having to exit the hotel to our room was immediately assuaged as I noticed the sign to our accommodation, King Suite, down a few stone steps into the terrace. Many hotels purport to have suites like apartments; the King Suite at the Avon Gorge goes one better, it is an apartment, complete with its private entrance off the street. And you’re given a bunch of keys, like being handed ownership of your own place in Clifton.
It was entering it, however, that made me stop in my tracks. The door from the hall opened into a room where we were met with a billiard table. That’s right, a billiard table. Off this, a children’s bedroom, then through to a lounge looking out onto the private terrace, through again to another hall and onto the master bedroom and its en suite. Wait, go back. You walked into what? A pool table? We did. There’s not many suites in hotels around that world that offer a games room now, is there? (Though, after reading this, I’m sure there might just be a few more popping up.) And calling its terrace a terrace is something of an understatement; it’s a garden. There’s a patio, a lawn bordered by a box hedge and onto a decked area over-looking the Avon gorge and the Clifton Suspension Bridge itself.
The views are but one asset. We’re in good company at the hotel, too. Cary Grant was frequently a guest when he returned to the city of his birth to visit his mother. Its pedigree goes back further, however, to being the Grand Clifton Spa when it opened in 1898 attracting the likes of the Duchess of Marlborough and Lady Spencer to take the waters.
There are a couple of things lacking, admittedly; the ‘mini-bar’ harks back to 1980s B&Bs and the decor’s a little pedestrian (bar some delightful traditional toys on display in the games room’s glass cabinets), but there’s little to say this isn’t exactly what it says on the sign; it’s fit for a king. And while the hotel’s facilities aren’t much to speak of – more in the way of suites for corporate meetings and entertainment than accommodation – and any leisure facilities have to be addressed by a partnership with a gym a couple of streets away, but it’s as if these would be a deterrent from enjoying the location.
Bristol itself needs little in the way of introduction, and Clifton certainly doesn’t. But if you didn’t know already, it’s the highpoint of the city, and more than just in stature. Beautiful sandstone Georgian townhouses fronted with filigree balconies recede down long terraces, and, together with great swathes of greenery, defy you to imagine you’re actually in a city and not some Jane Austen drama. If you’re at the Avon Gorge, you needn’t venture where the city starts proper with the omnipresent facades of high streets stores; Clifton is riddled with antique and boutique shops, cosy cafes and quirky restaurants. Keith Floyd opened his first here in 1969. In fact, he’s not a bad personification of the place; a confident front, well-to-do but with a rebellious bohemian edge.
Speaking of drinking, there’s something rather pleasing about having the hotel’s bar facilities in the pub next door. From the road, the White Lion stands out almost more so than the hotel itself, it has a public entrance but a guest entrance through the hotel, and they seem seamlessly intertwined. It added to the feeling that we lived here for a day; our basement flat on Sion Lane, with a garden terrace overlooking the gorge, and popping out to our local for a pint and a bite to eat. All told, it’s probably the only hotel I’ve ever stayed at without actually going into the hotel.
A capacious bar, and even bigger terrace that accommodated the pub’s patrons also opened us up to the hotel’s restaurant, the Bridge Cafe. Suitably aled-up, browsing the menu on said terrace on said sunny evening, as the sun dipped below the bridge’s tresses, I could think of no place I’d rather be at the close of a working day. Presently, we ventured inside for dinner and was pleasantly surprised by its further self-deprecating claim that it’s a ‘cafe’; it is a restaurant worth its salt.
The menu competes with any self-respecting bistro, I glimpsed hocks and briskets and terrines and herb crusts but before I could get studious I was distracted immediately by something that leapt out at me. It was ‘Steak Night’. I tore the menu from Mrs L’s hands, beckoned the waiter over and commanded him to ignore everything else, we were to have a pair of 36-day dry-aged sirloins and a bottle of their finest Malbec. Not that I would order for my wife but my impulsiveness paid off; Mrs L seemed content with the choice and positively delighted when the sticky toffee pudding came as a conclusion. Coffee sipped as the sky darkened, giving the bridge’s buttresses a forbidding majesty against the moonlit sky, after such a fine repast, in such conducive surroundings, it was doubly a joy to depart and take the fifteen steps to the cosiness of our own, ahem, apartment.
If this were a place to settle down, I could happily take a leaf out of Cary’s book and reside at my flat at the Avon Gorge.
Prices for the ‘garden suites’ at the Avon Gorge Hotel start at £180 per night. For more information, visit www.theavongorge.com or call +44 (0)771 9738955.