20 December 2019

In Honey-Hued Bath, Subterranean Spas and Vegan Victuals

When I found myself with a few days booked off work and no plans last week, it was the perfect opportunity to return to Bath, which I last visited two years ago. I took a train from Paddington on Sunday morning, returning home on Monday evening, which cost £42 (return tickets from London are generally around £60 unless you manage to score an advance fare). Bath accommodation can get quite expensive at weekends — with some properties requiring two-night minimum stays — while Sunday nights are often cheaper, hence the timing of my visit.

Where to stay
I stayed at No. 15 Great Pulteney, a boutique hotel on the titular Great Pulteney Street, a rather grand street a short walk east of the city centre, across the River Avon. My 'cosy double' room was indeed very cosy, and colourful too with a woodland mural on one wall. Although small, it was well-appointed with a kettle, Nespresso machine (I supplied my own pods from Bath-based Colonna Coffee), Dyson hairdryer and bath products from 100 Acres Apothecary. Guests also have access to the 'larder', which has a range of snacks and soft drinks.

One of the reasons I chose the hotel was its underground spa. Guests pay £20 to access the hot tub, sauna and steam room, although it's free with a spa treatment. As part of my package, I booked a facial, which was wonderfully relaxing, and enjoyed using the spa, which cleverly uses the curving space of the vaulted cellar, beforehand.

Things to do
I arrived on 15 December, which was the last day of the Christmas Market, but as I wasn't in the market for a Christmas market, I spent most of the day avoiding the area. Instead, I coffee-shop-hopped, visited the Royal Crescent and then retreated to the spa at my hotel.

The following morning, I joined a Mayors' Guides walking tour. Unlike many 'free' walking tours, the Mayors' Guides do not accept tips, and the two-hour city centre tour I took with Simon was informative and entertaining, as we saw famous sights and hidden gems (the remains of a centuries-old pharmacy, for example, and the house where Plasticine was invented). The volunteer guides tailor their tours according to their own interests so even if you've done a Bath walking tour before, you will probably get a different perspective on the city.

I've been to the Roman Baths before, but not for many years, so I was overdue a return visit. It took me about ninety minutes to walk around the well-preserved remains of the baths of the Roman city Aquae Sulis. There is an audioguide included in the £16 fee, providing detailed information about the history and culture of the site. Although you can't touch or drink the steamy jade water, there is a fountain near the exit where you can sample some of the water. Let's just say I won't be brewing coffee with it anytime soon!

While in Bath, I did a spot of shopping. Beyond the Christmas Market, there are lots of interesting independent shops. In particular, Bath is blessed with two excellent bookshops: Topping & Co, which I've been to before, and Mr B's Emporium. 'Emporium' really is the right word to describe the latter: the themed labyrinthine rooms house many literary delights with personal recommendations from staff. They also offer a 'reading spa', where you (or your gift recipient) can spend time with a Mr B's staff member chatting about your taste in books, before they select some new additions for your reading list.

I have more suggestions for things to do in Bath in my 2017 city guide.

Food and drink
I put together a Bath speciality coffee guide when I visited the city in 2017, and was keen to revisit Colonna & Small's, which is, in my view, one of the best speciality coffee shops in the UK. Not only is the coffee excellent, but the staff are also incredibly welcoming and make real efforts to encourage guests who have not yet fallen down the speciality coffee rabbit hole to learn about and try coffees that they may have considered out of their comfort zone. Filter coffees are served via immersion methods, and I opted for a Kenyan Makena Estate PB, which was super-fruity, with notes of blood orange and raspberry when brewed with the siphon. I also bought some natural Rwandan beans and the aforementioned coffee capsules. The following morning, I returned for a piccolo made with a Mexican Limonada espresso, and had the chance to say hi to Colonna Coffee founder Maxwell.

I also visited the new-to-me Good Day Cafe, on Upper Borough Walls in the city centre, a pink-accented speciality coffee shop and cafe run by Steph. The house coffee is from Scotland-based Unorthdox Roasters, and they were also serving a guest coffee from China, roasted by Girls Who Grind Coffee. I had a very fine piccolo, brewed with a Brazilian espresso from Unorthodox, and scrambled eggs on toast for my brunch. The cafe was bustling in the Sunday brunch / Christmas Market rush, but there was only a short wait for a table and the staff were very welcoming.

Finally, I stopped by The Colombian Company on the recommendation of Debs for a Colombian cortado in the cosy, Abbeygate Street cafe. I may also have stocked up on some Colombian chocolate for the train ride home...

When I last visited Bath, I tried to eat at venerated vegan restaurant Acorn but I hadn't booked and they were completely full, so I didn't make the same mistake again. The menu includes small plates of varying sizes, and I decided to order three savoury courses: roast beetroot with a walnut, coffee and cumin puree; cauliflower 'many ways' with fenugreek croquetas; and smoked potato and hazelnut agnolotti pasta. With an amuse-bouche — a delicious pine nut arancino with the most vibrant green cavolo nero sauce — this was more than enough food for one. The food tasted great and each dish was well-conceived and attractively presented.

The following day, it was cold and drizzly, and a cosy pub lunch was in order. I dined at The Chequers, a gastropub that dates back to 1776 close to the Royal Crescent. I enjoyed my fish and chips, although there are also dishes on the lunch menu that cater more for the 'gastro' market than the 'pub'. At weekends, especially for Sunday roast, it's worth booking ahead.

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