It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man and his wife in possession of a free weekend, must be in want of a fine hotel to spend it in. So it was that Mr and Mrs Smith, along with Master Smith took to the sunny Western highway in the direction of the Royal Crescent Hotel at Bath.
Not only is Bath famed by acolytes of Jane Austen and all things Georgian, its spa waters are reputed as among the most tonic in Britain. Our first question when we alighted at the columned entrance of this elegant townhouse, our car discreetly parked for us and bags carried, was ‘Is the pool open? And can Master Smith come?’ Seated in the drawing room, surrounded by lavish cornicing, crystal chandeliers and walls the colour of sugared almonds, we waited for our answer. Perhaps not used to boisterous three year olds, they nevertheless quickly returned to say yes, as long as the pool was quiet that was fine, and would we like to see our room now. As if we needed it, our instincts about a glorious weekend ahead were confirmed.
The hotel’s setting deserves its boast of sitting in the centre of the world’s most famous crescent. At the front, where our pistachio and dove-grey rooms looked out, identical and imposing townhouses in neoclassical style encircle a rolling green, overlooking the town beyond and the Somerset hills in the distance. At the back, a surprisingly large garden opens out, leading to the restaurant and spa. It is a quintessentially English garden, mellow with pink roses, lavender-fringed paths, sculpted box and grass strewn with half-finished games of croquet. We adored the enormous round copper seat that swings from a tree, like an off-cut from a Henry Moore piece and just as relaxing to be around.
In the pool, I discovered my alter ego might be a lady of a certain age in flowered swimming hat and enormous glasses. I lolled on the surface of 37-degrees water. At eight-and-a-half-months pregnant, why break a sweat, particularly in the inner sanctum of what looks like an old stone chapel, with tall windows pouring sunlight onto the water. Master Smith could not believe his luck, as this pool for post-therapy lolling was ideal for a boy of his proportions, especially with just us his two doting parents a captive audience to his delight in the warm water.
Nothing could follow a dip in English spa waters better than an excellent cup of tea. We emerged into the garden, found a table under a white parasol and sat down to read the extensive list of teas, from classic Earl Grey to exotic combinations of herbs and chai. The detoxifying aromatic Pu-erh chai from the Yunnan did not stop me wrestling with said small boy for more of the buttery home-baked biscuits that came with it. In other respects, the restaurant and setting had a strangely deceptive effect. It was so elegant, and the food so subtly combined, it made me think I was not in England, but in France. High praise, Mr Smith will testify. Loire Valley rabbit, cèpes mushrooms, a sip of his Sancerre, and sides involving emulsions, purees, foam, jellies and compotes fitted perfectly with Bath’s style of neoclassical order. The desserts cluster two key flavours together in a medley of techniques; one called Lavender and Strawberry was a particularly brilliant combination of different textures and deliciousness.
Thankfully, Mr Smith and I shared the same approach to tourism on our Bath weekend: a very minimal one. It was Sunday afternoon before we ventured across the cobbles and green, down the hilly streets and crescents into the town centre. Bath’s single architectural vision is on display everywhere. Despite the ubiquity of chains like Garfunkel’s and Whittards here as on every other British high street, peeking from gorgeous facades, I was assailed again by the city’s serenity and stylistic order – and the sense we must have popped up in France. The world’s worst street performers – a classical orchestra pre-recorded in the background while mimed, yes mimed by a group of delusionists – could probably have taken place anywhere on earth. They didn’t ruin the view.
But we were in merry England after all, and back at the hotel for another swing from the tree, we decided to order fish and chips for an early supper together in the garden. Master Smith had rummaged in the wicker toy box you can request by age group and produced a box of dominoes for us to play meanwhile. It was the perfect Sunday evening, before retiring to our room for baths and dousing ourselves in Penhaligon’s lotions. It was time to recline under the moulded chandeliered ceiling of our bedroom, the view above perhaps even more important for a weekend in a romantic hotel as the view from the window. We also hear the Jane Austen Cultural Centre is well worth a visit too… But as the author herself said: ‘There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.’ So I’m sure she’ll forgive us for not having budged further from this home from home.