Standing in the midst of the Royal Crescent in Bath, a tiny speck against the sweeping might of the iconic terraced houses set in a crescent that typifies elegant Georgian architecture, I could imagine myself as part of the ton, or British high society. The stunning honey-coloured Georgian architecture, from the years between 1714 and 1837, in this World Heritage Site recently played a starring role in Shonda Rhimes’ historical romance drama Bridgerton. With Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, a prequel to the popular drama, set to drop on Netflix today, a trip to Bath seems like a good way to immerse myself in the era’s romance and intrigue. The Bath Festival, a celebration of the arts, will also be on from 12 to 21 May, and feature guided walks, and talks and gatherings in the city’s many historic buildings.
Built for pleasure and relaxation, Bath, located in the valley of the River Avon in the UK, has been a wellness destination since Roman times. It is a compact city, and a guided walk is the best way to learn more about the history and culture of a place that everyone from Jane Austen and Thomas Gainsborough to former British prime minister William Pitt the Elder and, more recently, actor Nicolas Cage have lived in.
The Royal Crescent, a sweeping arc of Georgian townhouses fronted by expansive green lawns, was designed by John Wood the Younger to give posh residents the feel of country life in the city, the guide tells us. It leads on to the Circus, designed by John Wood the Elder, and a gorgeous creation that has long been one of the city’s most fashionable addresses. Wood, the guide explains, was a known admirer of the druids, who created prehistoric stone circles such as Stonehenge. He believed that Bath was the principal centre of druid activity in Britain, and studied Stonehenge before designing the Circus with similar dimensions. A closer look at the stonework shows emblems such as acorns and serpents. The Circus is said to be joined to the Royal Crescent by a ley line, straight alignments drawn between historic structures and prominent landmarks. Very Da Vinci code like, I think to myself. Together, these two landmarks are the stunning jewels in Bath’s architectural crown, but there’s a lot more to explore.
At Bath Abbey, we marvel at the stunning Victorian Gothic interior. Founded in the 7th century, it was rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries. The beauteous stained-glass windows, columns of honey-gold stone and the fan vaulting above the nave create an extraordinary experience. The abbey is a living church, with services taking place throughout the week.
The Bath Abbey Tower Tour offers an unusual look into the working side of this place of worship. Huffing and puffing up the 212 steps to the top isn’t easy but it takes me past the bell ringing chamber, to the clock face, to stand above the vaulted ceiling, and ultimately catch breath-taking views of the city and the countryside.
We move on to the well-preserved thermae, constructed around 70AD as a grand bathing and socialising complex that put Bath on the map as an original spa town. The Roman Baths is one of the best-preserved Roman remains in the world. As much as 1,170,000 litres of steaming spring water, reaching 46°C, still fills the bathing site every day. The ancient site houses changing chambers, plunge pools, and an interactive museum that reveal the lives of the Romans, who referred to the town as Aquae Sulis. The waters here are off limits, but if you are in the mood for a spa experience, check into the Thermae Bath Spa, which houses the only natural thermal hot springs in England you can bathe in.
Afternoon tea is an occasion across the UK, but it’s an experience to savour in Bath, the city where Jane Austen two of her six published novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. There are options for all budgets, including at the Pump Room (once described by Austen as the place where “every creature in Bath was to be seen in the room at different periods of the fashionable hours”), Lucknam Park, Roseate Villa, The Regency Tea Rooms at The Jane Austen Centre (complete with a portrait of Mr Darcy), or the world-famous Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House, which serves the famous Sally Lunn Bunn, a light semi-sweet bread.
The next day, I head to the Jane Austen Centre, which celebrates the life of Bath’s most famous resident. Set in a Grade II listed Georgian townhouse, it offers a snapshot of life in Regency times and the society, fashion and food that inspired Austen’s classics. So pervasive is Austen’s influence that not many know that Mary Shelley wrote much of Frankenstein, the world’s first science fiction novel, while living in Bath in 1816. Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein, set over four floors, is an award-winning immersive attraction that charts her life and the legacy of her infamous creation. Complete with ominous soundtracks and smells, it also offers a Frankenstein-themed Escape Room and a horror walkthrough.
Apart from the many attractions it houses, Bath makes a great base to discover the gorgeous countryside and picturesque villages of the Cotswolds, including Tetbury and Bibury, said to be the “most beautiful village in England”. It’s also close to the 5,000-year-old Stonehenge monument in Wiltshire, one of the world's greatest enigmas and most iconic archaeological sites.
I end my trip by promenading along Great Pulteney Street, which at 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, is the widest, grandest thoroughfare in Bath. Flanked on each side by striking Georgian properties, it’s brought back the feeing of being a part of the ton.
Bath is located 185 km west of London.
Car: The drive takes about 2.5 hours via the M4. Factor in traffic delays.
Train: Trains run from Paddington Station (twice every hour) taking about 90 minutes to Bath Spa station. Tickets: £50 upwards.
Bus: National Express buses do the three-hour London-Bath run four times a day. Tickets: £10 upwards.