Published on Sat Dec 03 06:00:00 GMT 2011
From Roman baths to a Medieval abbey and (for a few more days only) a bustling Christmas Market, there has never been a better time to explore the city of Bath, discovers Sophie Hazan.
For more than 2,000 years thermal waters have been enticing visitors to the city of Bath.
The naturally-occurring warm waters have provided recuperation, refreshment and relaxation to those who stumbled across them.
But it was the Romans who put this corner of Somerset and its steaming waters firmly on the map with the creation of Aqua Sulis – a baths and leisure complex.
From the very start, the spot was a destination for recreation, with the Georgians later turning it into the spa town that survives today.
Visitors still queue out of the door to catch a glimpse of the gallons of bubbling water rising from below.
And until December 11 thousands more are also expected to flock to the impressive Christmas Market, which this year has around 130 different stalls selling local, regional and international produce and gifts.
The charming wooden roofed chalet huts are positioned right at the heart of the historical centre, in the shadow of the towering walls of Bath Abbey, and close to the bubbling Roman Baths.
The air is pungent with the irresistible scent of roasting nuts, warmed wine and spicy cider.
We discovered a wonderful selection of goods from authentic Russian Dolls and fine Scottish spirits to speciality cheeses and even Yorkshire Punch, a non-alcoholic herbal drink.
And from there we could easily stride out and explore the rest of the UNESCO World Heritage Site city.
In order to take full advantage of our weekend away, we ditched the car and flew from Leeds to Bristol. Bath is a 30 minute cross-country taxi ride.
We checked into the centrally located Queensbury Hotel, a few minutes walk from such gems as the Circus (a circle of 33 houses dating back to the mid-seventeenth century), the fashionable boutiques of Melsom Street, art galleries, ale houses and museums.
The boutique hotel has just 29 individually designed guest rooms spread across four Georgian terrace buildings.
Decor is modern with a twist. Dark, rich wall colours are brought to life with a dash of humour such as the dog-shaped side lamp or the Union Jack cushions.
Downstairs comfortable sitting rooms and a bar were open 24 hours to guests, with complimentary tea and coffee served throughout the day.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner was served in the Olive Tree Restaurant, tucked away in the lower ground floor.
Upstairs a maze of front and back staircases led to the guest rooms.
We had one of just a handful of courtyard-view rooms. It was a spacious double with enough room for a sofa, and stairs leading down to a bathroom and built-in wardrobe.
You won’t find a minibar in any of these rooms as guests are encouraged to take advantage of wine lists and 24 hour room service.
A nice touch is the complimentary shoe shining service.
Simply leave a pair of your favourite leathers outside your door before midnight and you will find them fully spruced the following morning.
Incidentally, the hotel’s Olive Tree restaurant gets glowing reviews on TripAdvisor, but on this occasion we opted to venture out to eat.
The city is awash with brasseries, bistros and gastropubs as well as the more exotic Japanese, Nepalese and Thai restaurants.
But if you want to eat in a place rich in history you might want to start at the Pump Room Restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner from a large open and airy terrace overlooking the Roman Baths.
A chandelier is the sparkling centre piece, service is silver and slick, and you cannot book at weekends when tourists queue out of the door for a seat.
But it is worth the wait, and soon we were sipping chilled pink Champagne and fawning over Brixam caught Devonshire crab, Lubborn creamery goats cheese and a winter vegetable and walnut tart with poached egg and celeriac cream.
We finished our feast by sharing a lemon syllabub, followed by green tea with mango, and coffee lattes.
It might not offer the same fine dining experience as the Pump Room, but if you enjoy your historical eateries, Sally Lunns is located in one of Bath’s oldest buildings.
In complete contrast to the grandeur of the Pump Room dining hall, Lunn’s operates out of a charming, rambling old house.
The star attraction is the Lunn bun – a bread created by a French refugee in the 18th century, and likened to brioche. It became a famous delicacy thanks to its light and fluffy texture.
Guests get to sample buns smeared in flavoured butter or as modern sandwiches and toasties.
In fact entire meals such as ratatouille or steak and mushroom casserole are served on trenchers – ‘plates’ made out of dough.
For a completely different scene drop into The Green Park Brasserie, which dishes up modern British cuisine in the recently restored Green Park Train Station that closed in 1966.
Among other things we greedily ate punchy Thai sweetcorn fritters served with coconut satay, papaya and mango salad, crispy crab and spring onion beignets (lightly fried parcels), and a juicy fillet steak served with potato dumpling, vegetables and pink peppercorn sauce.
Live music gave for a lively atmosphere, and the room rippled with conversation.
Unlike the other places we dined at, Green Park was not bang in the middle of the busy centre.
But then to us, the beauty of Bath was losing yourself in the winding streets, broad crescents and grand parks.
And if you stumbled across a great restaurant, flea market or some street theatre along the way then that was just an extra bonus.
* Sophie Hazan flew with Eastern Airways, which operates a choice of daily flights each weekday from Leeds Bradford to Bristol. Fares cost from £111 one way, including taxes and charges, and can be booked via the website: www.easternairways.com
* Bath city centre is a 30 minute drive from Bristol Airport.
* Sophie stayed at the Queensberry Hotel, Bath, with classic double rooms starting from £130. Breakfast starts from £7.50 per person. Visit www.thequeensberry.co.uk or contact reservations on 01225 447928.
* For the Pump Room Restaurant, The Green Park Brasserie or Sally Lunn’s go to: www.visitbath.co.uk
* More information about the Christmas Market can be found at: www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk