Dip a toe in Bath
Thomas Breathnach explores a city rich in Roman history, cider and jaw-dropping architecture
A World Heritage Site and England's original spa getaway, Bath's allure as a city break springs eternal.
Keen for a fix of old-school pampering, I recently visited the Somerset city for a weekend of rugby, cider sipping and some good ole Roman R&R.
The grand arrival
Whistles trilled, doors clamped and I was off. Jaunting off from Paddington Station on the First Great Western express, London's burbs soon petered out to bucolic panoramas of the Wiltshire and Somerset countryside. Chocolate-box villages surrounded by rapeseed meadows were alive with fauna – but no sooner had I lost myself in a trippy Beatrix Potter trance, I'd arrived at the listed platforms of Bath Spa station, just 90 minutes down the tracks.
A steady stroll from the station, my base was Brooks Guesthouse, located along a line of quaint cottage-garden B&Bs on Upper Bristol Street. The last bed in town (given the Easter rush), my single room was surprisingly spacious, featuring attentive details from homemade gingerbread cookies to ergonomic chairs and an iPod dock. As part of a group of sister inns across the UK, Brooks might have lacked the personal touch of family-run B&B but a blissful bed and a delightful communal lounge packed very worthy compensations.
An urban legend
Picturesquely poised on the barge-dotted banks of the River Avon, Bath, with its Roman roots and Georgian grandeur is one of Britain's true urban legends. The compact city centre is itself an entire World Heritage Centre and jaw-drop architectural finds abounded around every honey-hued corner.
The Crescent and Circus terraces offer a true air of yesteryear preserve while the bustling downtown lanes reflect all the signets of Bath 2014 (think rugby groupies, socialites, boho boutiques and Nandos).
The historic Roman baths may be the town's most popular tourist site but with taking a dip here not permitted, the city's Thermae Bath Spa (thermaebathspa.com; £27) was my best bet for a soak Caeser-style. Effectively blending the ancient with modern, here visitors float through ivory spiral cases from one thermal haven to another.
The facility also features steam-rooms infused with the likes of lotus flower and eucalyptus and is topped by a roof-top spa with views of the city – from infinity pool to beyond.
The Somerset menu
Being on the doorstep of the bounteous Cotswolds, it's little surprise that Bath's food scene puts the art in artisan. Jika Jika, a chunky-funky café run by England rugger stars Lee Mears and Matt Stevens, is a buzzing place to grab brunch and people-watch, while the Pig & Fiddle is one of the town's most popular pub-lunch haunts (try the wild-boar and apple burger with a pint of local cider).
The Olive Tree proved Bath's true gourmand go-to however. My scallops with marinated cauliflower and cumin caramel was followed by a sublime main of spring lamb and the most delicious cheese board, straight from dairy heaven. Or perhaps Wiltshire.
Props to rugby
Bathonians may well brag of their history or their eclectic list of past and former residents (from Jane Austen to Manolo Blahnik) – but what truly sets this city's pride level agog is rugby. Bath Rugby (starring Gavin Henson and some bloke called Peter Stringer) are currently enjoying a resurgence in form and catching a home game at the city's 'Rec' grounds is a stellar way to take in the local vibe.
I joined the masses for an Aviva League battle against Worcester, where a home-side victory marked a cracking crescendo to a kicked-back weekend in this postcard city. "Now, everybody back to the Pig & Fiddle!"
The know how
Aer Lingus (0818 365 000; aerlingus.com) fly from Cork and Dublin to both Heathrow and Bristol from €75 return while rail fares from Paddington to Bath cost from £30 (€36) return with Great First Western (greatfirstwestern.co.uk).
Room at Brooks Guesthouse (brooksguesthouse.com) from £32pps (€39) for a double room.
For more, see visitbath.co.uk.