Al­ways in fash­ion

Take the wa­ters and lap up his­tory in Eng­land’s fa­mous spa city

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

GET­TING STARTED: Bath Vis­i­tor In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre is next to Bath Abbey, open seven days and well worth a visit to pick up free maps and lit­er­a­ture. The UNESCO Her­itage-listed city is com­pact and its Ro­man-era and Ge­or­gian his­tory very ac­ces­si­ble on foot. The “In­de­pen­dent and In­di­vid­ual” shops sec­tion of the cen­tre’s web­site is a use­ful guide for un­cov­er­ing lo­cally made buys, es­pe­cially The Foodie Bu­gle for co­mestibles (and af­ter­noon tea) and lovely sta­tionery; plus Bath Aqua Glass for hand-blown glass­ware, jew­ellery and gor­geous pa­per­weights. The site also fea­tures spe­cial-in­ter­est tours and ac­com­mo­da­tion deals, in­clud­ing good midweek spe­cials, and best photo-snap­ping spots, such as atop the 16th-cen­tury Bath Abbey or Beck­ford’s Tower, from Pul­teney Bridge (in­spired by Florence’s Ponte Vec­chio) over the River Avon (or from a punt be­neath, poled by a straw-hat­ted boat­man) and the el­e­vated Pa­rade Gar­dens, awash with cos­tumed fans dur­ing the Jane Austen Fes­ti­val each Septem­ber. And, nat­u­rally, snap away along that semi-el­lip­ti­cal sweep of the fa­mous Royal Cres­cent. More: vis­it­bath.co.uk.

SCENES SETTER: The city of Bath, set be­tween the hills of the Cotswolds to its north and the Mend dips to the south, is still renowned for the hot min­eral springs that es­tab­lished its fame from the mid-1700s to early 1800s when its pop­u­la­tion grew from about 2000 to 38,000, mak­ing it the eighth-largest city in Eng­land by cen­tury’s turn. The ar­chi­tect John Wood the El­der and so­cial ar­biter Beau Nash are the men whose names are still in­trin­si­cally en­twined with Bath. Wood de­signed squares, pa­rades, ter­races and cir­cles of houses known as cir­cuses in the Pal­la­dian fash­ion us­ing honey-hued Bath stone while Nash dan­di­fied the city with balls and soirees that at­tracted Lon­don’s in­flu­en­tial so­cial set, and roy­als such as Queen Anne, to take the heal­ing wa­ters and to see and be seen at Eng­land’s first “plea­sure and leisure” spot. Much of the so­cial his­tory is ex­plained to me by my ex­cel­lent Blue Badge guide An­drew But­ter­worth as we step out with an il­lus­trated Mar­vel­lous Bath Mu­se­ums map and stick our noses into No 1 Royal Cres­cent, a liv­ing mu­seum of 10 rooms at “the best ad­dress in town”, and walk around the Assem­bly Rooms and the lay­ered at­trac­tions of the Ro­man Baths. Former his­tory teacher An­drew is witty, con­sid­er­ate and brim­ming with small, gos­sipy sto­ries about Bath so­ci­ety as well as the grander his­toric facts. More: sulis­guides.com.

THERE’ST SOME­THING ABOUT JANE: There is no ig­nor­ing the pres­ence of Jane Austen in this man­nered city where she lived from 1801-6 and set chap­ters and scenes of her nov­els. Take a Mr Darcy tea at The Re­gency Tea Rooms in the Jane Austen Cen­tre on Gay Street, dress up for pho­tos in Re­gency-era cloth­ing from its wardrobes, or pur­chase du­bi­ous me­men­toes such as a Jane Austen cookie cut­ter or Ge­or­gian teacup and saucer ear­rings in its well-stocked shop. Bet­ter still, how about a snifter of Gin Austen (aka “gin of a dif­fer­ent Per­sua­sion”) at the splen­didly snug Ca­nary Gin Bar on Queen Street. There’s an il­lus­tra­tion of a saucy, wink­ing Jane Austen, her bon­net slightly askew, on the la­bels of bot­tles of this small-batch gin; or sip a mean mar­tini, Wick­ham’s Mule or Ne­groni-style Pem­ber­ley in­fused with rose­hip in the can­dle-lit bar. You can even stay in the 18th-cen­tury ter­race at 4 Sydney Place where Austen lived with her fam­ily (other res­i­dences were at 13 Queen Square, 27 Green Park Build­ings and 25 Gay Street). Four apart­ments are avail­able at the Sydney Place ad­dress via Bath Bou­tique Stays, named (pre­dictably) Emma’s Gar­den, Cas­san­dra’s, Mr Darcy’s and Lizzie Ben­nett’s Pent­house. Ex­pect pack­ets of Jane Austen­branded loose-leaf blend or Pride and Prej­u­dice oo­long to be sit­ting by the teapot. More: janeausten.co.uk; the­bathgin­com­pany.co.uk; bath­bou­tiques­tays.co.uk.

GET PUMPED: It is touristy but fun to take lunch or af­ter­noon tea at The Pump Room in the city’s h heart. Built in 1706, it had to be en­larged in two stages by 1796 to ac­com­mo­date the flighty and fash­ion­able throngs, all cocked hats and bucket-shaped bon­nets. Af­ter­noon tea starts at an en­cour­ag­ingly early 12 noon, par­al­lel with the lunch menu, and An­drew and I nib­ble from a tiered stand of scones, egg may­on­naise and mus­tard cress sand­wiches, mac­arons and tiny choux pas­tries. The Pump Room fea­tures in Austen’s Northanger Abbey, he tells me, and later I read of Miss Cather­ine Mor­land’s visit there in the vain hope of en­coun­ter­ing her love in­ter­est, Mr Henry Til­ney. “Ev­ery crea­ture in Bath, ex­cept him­self, was to be seen in the room at dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods of the fash­ion­able hours; crowds of peo­ple were ev­ery mo­ment pass­ing in and out, up the steps and down; peo­ple whom no­body cared about, and no­body wanted to see; and he only was ab­sent.” The scene is hardly as stylish th­ese days but there’s a mu­si­cal trio and res­i­dent pi­anist, a pal­pa­ble sense of his­tory and cheery wait­resses who don’t so much serve tea as ad­min­is­ter it from sturdy pots. Take a sip of warm min­eral wa­ter from taps at the orig­i­nal King’s Spring foun­tain and, by the en­trance, look for the Bath Chair of the kind used to carry in­valids to take the wa­ters. Be sure to book a ta­ble on week­days; there’s a queue­ing sys­tem on week­ends. More: ro­man­baths.co.uk.

BOOKED UP: Drop into the de­light­ful Mr B’s Em­po­rium of Read­ing De­lights on John Street where owner Nic Bot­tom­ley’s quest is to en­cour­age more read­ing. A one-on-one 90-minute Mr B’s Read­ing Spa ses­sion over tea and cakes in the up­stairs “bib­lio­ther­apy room” costs £80 ($129) but in­cludes £55 to spend on the “ther­a­pist’s” rec­om­men­da­tions, cloth carry bag and a £5 gift voucher for a re­turn visit. “Life’s too short to read bad books,” Bot­tom­ley re­marks, sim­ply but em­phat­i­cally. More: mrb­sem­po­rium.com.

TAKET THE WA­TERS: Ther­mae Spa in the New Royal Bath, op­po­site The Gains­bor­ough Bath Spa (see Best Beds), opened in 2006 as Bri­tain’s only nat­u­ral ther­mal spa. It’s a com­plex of her­itage build­ings and a con­tem­po­rary, glass-clad fa­cil­ity that in­cludes a rooftop pool with whirlpools and mas­sage jets, steam rooms and the Min­erva and Cross Baths; sul­fate-rich wa­ters are drawn from three springs and spa pack­ages in­clude the likes of watsu mas­sage, mud wraps and Vichy hot stones treat­ments. Or just opt for a Ther­mae Wel­come soak, with towel, robe and slip­pers pro­vided. More: ther­mae­bathspa.com.

PIES IN THE SKY: The pub reg­u­lars sit­ting un­der a b black­board menu hap­pily pose for a pho­to­graph, h hold­ing high their pints of Raven’s Gold ale. “A jour­nal­ist, eh? Will we be­come fa­mous?” they chor­tle as my cam­era flashes. I am on Queen Street at The Raven, pur­veyor of “ales and stouts” and “wines and vict­uals”, and the ac­knowl­edged home of Bath’s best pies, which

City of Bath, top; Ca­nary Gin Bar, top right; Ro­man baths, above; The Pump Room, above right; Jane Austen Cen­tre, be­low

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.