Somerset County's Alluring City Of Bath
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One of the best ways to explore the sites of Bath is to set out on foot. You won't need a car, as the city is easily walkable and you'd miss the nuances that grace each street, building and park.
Walking Tour of BathFor a fascinating exploration of the Georgian-era culture and architecture, begin your walking tour at the Royal Crescent, located in the northwest section of the city. The magnificent Royal Crescent, built in the 1760s by John Wood the Younger, is an 18th-century town house terrace that united 30 individual houses behind a crescent-shaped regal facade.
Royal CrescentLandowners, poets, a duke, art patrons and notables made the Royal Crescent the most fashionable address in Bath and the pinnacle of the city's social scene. In fact, the magnificence of the Royal Crescent is well represented in films The Duchess starring Keira Knightley and in Jane Austen's Persuasion. Today, the Crescent is still home to fashionable Bath residents and the luxurious Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa.
Number No. 1 Royal Crescent, originally occupied by Irish MP Henry Sanford in 1776, is now a National Trust museum and open to the public for tours. This house is especially captivating, as each fabulous room reflects an intriguing view into the socialites' lives of Georgian Bath. An upstairs bedroom displays a woman's lavish room decor and 18th century wig and the gentlemen's retreat room exhibits an odd, electrical machine from the "Enlightenment" period.
In addition, the museum often hosts exhibits related to the Georgian-era, such as the current Portrait of a Lady Ruin & Reputation that runs until mid-Dec., 2014. The exhibit consists of an intriguing collection of mezzotints (copperplate portraits) that featured 18th century ladies that ranged from duchesses to prostitutes; sort of a Georgian Match.com for the period. For additional information, visit www.no1royalcrescent.org.uk.
Visit a Different Kind of CircusAfter visiting the Royal Crescent, head down Brock Street to the Circus. In 1754, John Wood the Elder designed this series of three grand Georgian curved building segments laid out in a circle surrounding a small park. The Circus is Wood's recreation of classical Palladian architecture and his masterpiece. This posh address has certainly seen its share of artists, Earls and celebrities over the past 250-years, such as the portrait painter Thomas Gainsborough (# 17) and movie actor Nicolas Cage (#6). Further, if you wish to visit the famous Georgian Assembly Rooms that were immortalized in Jane Austen's books, continue down Bennett Street for two blocks and turn into the drive on your right.
The Assembly Rooms were bombed during World War II and then rebuilt; however, their basic structure survived and the rooms are as splendid today, as they were in the 1700s. There are four main rooms that feature imposing Whitefriars crystal chandeliers, ionic columns, expansive parquet floors, and a musician's gallery. Originally, the social elite of Bath used the Assembly Rooms for balls and concerts, as well as to convene, gamble at cards and dance their way into the wee hours of the night. The Assembly Rooms are still used today for various private functions, movie location sites and concerts. In fact, if you love music, visit the renowned Bath Music Festival in mid-May for outstanding performances in the Assembly Rooms and throughout the city's venues.
Located in the lower section of the Assembly Rooms, the celebrated Fashion Museum displays collections that span over the past 250-years. From regal flared court dresses to modern body-hugging full-length gowns, the museum is captivating and definitely worth a visit.
Bath AbbeyThe Bath Abbey, located next to the Roman Baths is a must-visit while in the city. This stunning Gothic church, dating back to 1499, was once an Anglo-Saxon abbey and then a Norman Cathedral. It is the last great Gothic church in England. As you enter, the honey-gold stone columns, stained glass windows and ornate, fan vaulted ceiling will mesmerize you. If you plan to visit, make sure to check the schedule for the abbey's world-class choir performances; the choir and music is utterly enchanting.
Roman BathsAlmost three thousand years ago, the Celts built the first shrine at the site of the hot springs (in Bath) and dedicated it to their goddess Sulis (goddess of water). Over 1000-years later, the Romans found the old site and constructed the astonishing Roman Baths. They called the baths, Aquae Sulis, or waters of Sulis. The Roman baths served as a leisure-bathing and health complex with a religious temple devoted to Sulis Minerva, the Roman's life-giving mother goddess.
The Roman Baths are now a designated UNESCO world heritage site, museum and learning center but are no longer used for bathing. Visitors are provided hand-held audio guides for a self-guided tour through this amazing complex that lies below street level. Ancient artifacts and treasures from the Roman era are on display with detailed models of the buildings' original design and film projections that reenact how the Romans used one of the finest spas of the ancient world! The Roman Baths are truly interesting and provide a glimpse of a culture far removed from the city of Bath today. Make sure to bring your camera.
Thermae Bath SpaAfter your journey through the Roman Baths, you may wish to soak and relax in a gorgeous spa yourself. Located just a few blocks from the Roman Baths, the celebrated Thermae Bath Spa offers a splendid menu of massages, bathing pools, steam rooms, spa packages and the excellent Springs Cafe Restaurant.
The Thermae Bath Spa is comprised of three 18th century spa buildings and the New Royal Bath that hosts the main spa facilities. If you wish to take advantage of the bathing pools, the largest pool in the spa is the indoor Minerva Bath. This lovely columned and circular spa pool features a massage jet, whirlpool and lazy river with warm, thermal waters that contain over 42 different minerals. A languorous soak in this pool will lift your tensions and help to invigorate your body.
If guests prefer outdoor bathing, the open-air rooftop pool is equally appealing and overlooks Bath's cityscapes and surrounding countryside. A rejuvenating soak in the pools also tends to enliven one's appetite; just put on your spa robe and slippers and take the stairs to Thermae's, Springs Cafe. The restaurant imbues a relaxed atmosphere and everyone is encouraged to wear their robes rather than street clothes. The cafe menu offers a selection of locally-sourced items with full dinners to light snacks. Try their luscious savory bread pudding if it's listed on the menu.
Lodging at the Bath Priory HotelThe Bath Priory Hotel is located just two miles from the city and resides on a quiet lane with spectacular, award-winning gardens. Originally an abbey in 1830, this superlative country house of elegance and Gothic design is one of the most beautiful hotels in Somerset. With 33 rooms of discerning decor, a complete spa with fitness center and its Michelin star restaurant, the Priory sets the standard for prestigious small luxury hotels.
For many guests, the mature walled gardens behind the Priory possess an enticement. Head Gardner Jane Moore, contributor to BBC Gardeners' World, has developed the four-acre gardens into a paradise that is breath taking. Guests are afforded a private haven to stroll amongst fragrant roses, a sunken Italian pool, English gardens and lush, woodland lawns. Moreover, if you wish to dine on the hotel's stone terrace or bath in the spa pools, both provide a commanding view of these spectacular gardens.
If You GoIf you visit Bath, there are a plethora of attractions to explore; listed are several recommended sites: The Jane Austen Centre, Herschel Museum Of Astronomy, Beckford's Tower And Museum, afternoon tea at the Pump Room and the Victoria Art Gallery. Further, Bath's highly anticipated new luxury five-star hotel, the Gainsborough Bath Spa will open soon. For additional information on Bath and the Gainsborough Hotel, visit VisitBath & TheGainsboroughBathSpa
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Patrice Rapleeis an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site OffbeatTravel.com and is a regular contributor on travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author