Bath is ideal for a weekend break, with great food, relaxing spas and interesting historical sights. It's also the perfect base for exploring the surrounding countryside and nearby charming villages
As we arrived into Bath, my first impression was that time really had stood still in this wonderful part of Somerset. Impressive Georgian architecture, beautiful sandstone buildings and typical English cottage gardens all merge into timeless scenery. The only thing that struck me as odd, given that the city lies more than 20 miles from the coast, was the odd cry of an urban seagull. But then maybe these birds discovered the beauty of Bath, and decided not to leave...
The glorious Georgian houses of the Circus and the Royal Crescent are simply stunning. These classical buildings, with their impressive architecture, are said to have been inspired by the Colosseum in Rome, and it's easy to see why. You'll also get amazing views across the city from here. While you're there, pop into the luxurious Royal Crescent Hotel (www.royalcrescent.co.uk) or The Circus Cafe and Restaurant (34 Brock Street, www.thecircuscafeandrestaurant.co.uk) for a coffee.
For centuries, the famous Roman Baths (www.romanbaths.co.uk) have attracted royalty and the upper classes, who believed that the waters originating from an ancient sacred spring could miraculously cure many ailments. The magnificent Great Bath is a pool with turquoise waters where bathers would have swum, bathed or simply socialised. To get the most out of your visit, allow two hours. Tickets cost £11.50 for adults.
Nearby Bath Abbey is spectacular, standing majestically overlooking the river Avon, as it has done for the past 12 and a half centuries. It offers a peaceful respite from the city. A tower tour costs £5.
If you want to have your very own Bath spa experience, spend a couple of hours in the unique Thermae Bath Spa (Bath Street, 0844 888 0844, www.thermaebathspa.com), where you can relax in the mineral-rich pool overlooking the city. Entry is about £22 for two hours.
The magnificent prehistoric site of Stonehenge is a relaxing 40-minute drive away across the scenic Salisbury Plain, and near the medieval towns of Salisbury and Amesbury. The colossal stones of the monument make for an unforgettable experience. Try to arrive early in the morning, and you will practically have the place to yourself. Tickets are £6.20 for an adult.
Sarum Castle, just outside Salisbury, is also worth a stop - you have unlimited views over four counties from this vantage point. You can also see one of the region's famous white horses just outside picturesque Westbury. Set high on a Wiltshire hill, this is one of the oldest and finest surviving examples and can be seen for miles around. It is worth it for the panaromic views alone.
The enchanting village of Lacock, about 13 miles north of Bath, is one of the prettiest villages I have ever seen. This charming rural spot has been the inspiration for many writers and artists and has been used as a setting for many TV shows and films. The village has been virtually untouched for centuries, and the streets are lined with beautifully preserved cottages and inns that date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Visit the stunning abbey, have a wander around the village, and end your trip with a relaxing drink in the lovely garden of The Red Lion inn.
Where to eat and drink
For lunch, head to The Packhorse Inn (www.packhorseinn.com), a traditional Somerset country pub in tiny South Stoke, just two miles south of Bath. This gorgeous inn has a cottage garden where you can dine al fresco, and serves great local food, washed down with local ales and cider. Try the crab cakes or the cider-marinated pork - both are mouthwatering and delicious. Lunch is served until 2pm, and main courses cost from £10.
The elegant Pump Room at the Roman Baths is the perfect spot to relax over a champagne afternoon tea, which is both indulgent and decadent. It costs about £42, but it's worth it. For about 50p, you can sample a glass of the famous water of Bath, which is said to contain over 40 vital minerals and have health-boosting benefits that hopefully make it worth braving the rather bitter, sulphurous taste - but definitely try it before the champagne!
For dinner, head to Bistro La Barrique (31 Barton Street, 01225 463861, www.bistrolabarrique.co.uk), where you can sample petit plats, a French twist on tapas, for about £5 or £6 each. There's a good selection of wines and a gorgeous garden, where you can eat al fresco on balmy summer evenings.
For a drink, I’d suggest The Raven (Queen Street, 01225 425045, www.theravenofbath.co.uk). A traditional pub on a cobbled street, it serves a good selection of wines, beers and ales, and was conveniently located about two minutes from our hotel.
Where to sleep
If you are here for a short break, location is crucial. We stayed at the Mercure Francis Hotel, which is right in the centre, on Queen Square. All of the city’s attractions are right on your doorstep, and there are many cafes and restaurants within just a few minutes' walk of the hotel.
Macdonald Bath Spa Hotel is a fine five-star hotel just outside the city centre. With gorgeous rooms overlooking landscaped gardens and an award-winning restaurant on site, it is hard to beat for a treat. Double rooms start at £243.