Tim Saunders - pictured with
his two daughters,
is a travel writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
My wife and Sir Michael Caine have two things in common. Not only do they share the same birthday but they have also both stayed at The Queensberry in Bath. Not a lot of people know that…
It was a significant birthday for Caroline and I had pondered long and hard about the best treat for her. For some time she had dropped hints about wanting some quality time. Her mum and dad had kindly offered to look after our daughters Harriett (4) and Heidi (2) for the night while I whisked Caroline away.
Celebrities seeking luxury and a haven away from the crowds are drawn to The Queensberry, the award winning boutique hotel originally commissioned as a residential home by its namesake the 8th Marquess of Queensberry. As soon as we arrive at the Georgian terrace we begin to share this unique experience. A valet takes care of the car and the luggage. This is a really useful service because car parking in the city can be difficult. From the moment you set foot through the front door of the restored Georgian property guests can relax attended to by the friendly staff. With the option of reaching our room by lift we decide to walk, preferring to stretch our legs. It is only by walking the several flights of stairs that the sheer size of this hotel can be fully appreciated. Arriving at our room we are met by beautifully decorated and comfortable surroundings; owners Laurence and Helen Beere pay great attention to detail. The settee by the large sash window looks so inviting that we simply have to slump on it and pour ourselves a glass of water. The sophisticated interior; a perfect mix of historic and contemporary, is in keeping with the period but there are also modern day features such as a flat screen television and Roberts DAB radio. Incidentally the radio in every room is tuned to Classic FM and so on arrival the relaxing sound of classical music further eases you into the right state of mind. The rooms are individually designed.
With its acclaimed three AA rosette restaurant - The Olive Tree - that has even been recognised in the Good Hotel Guide guests cannot help but feel that this is quite a find. Dining in this environment is an occasion. We sit at the table with the large mirror so I can see what is going on behind. When savouring expertly crafted food, diners need to know what wine compliments the dish and it is encouraging that there is useful advice from the staff. A crisp and enjoyable Jordanian white wine that I would not even have considered selecting is a perfect choice to accompany my crab lasagne. The sherry that Caroline drinks with her goat’s cheese, pumpkin seeds and butternut squash soup does indeed highlight the nutty taste of the dish. This is followed by duck à l’orange and I have to try the delicious chocolate pudding for dessert.
Returning to our room and thumbing through the hotel literature we note that the shoe fairy exists. As a complimentary service to guests they can leave shoes outside their doors at night and by morning they will be returned fully polished and shined.
The bathroom is a delight as you would expect, finished to a high standard. It is always interesting to see the value that an establishment places on a good night’s sleep. The Queensberry scores very highly indeed with an extremely comfortable bed. And the full English breakfast is a perfect way to start the day.
Bath is the only destination in the UK to have the whole city designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO. It is renowned for its natural thermal waters and so it is important to visit Thermae Bath Spa which allows you to actually swim in this water – just a 10 minute stroll from the hotel. Charlotte Hanna from the Spa shows us round and provides an extremely informative tour. “This is the only hot water spa in Britain,” she explains.
The water fell as rain around 10,000 years ago and then sank to a depth of about 1.2 miles. Here it is heated by high temperature rocks before rising back up through one of the three hot springs in the centre of the city, the Cross Spring, Hetling or King’s Spring, which supplies the Roman baths.
“All the other spas in Derbyshire etc. are cold water and this makes Bath special.” The Romans discovered this and many worshipped the water for the healing powers that many believed it possesses. “People with arthritis and other illnesses came from all over to bathe in the waters,” says Charlotte. “But of course at that time people might have had a bath once a year and so the water was filthy. We are all much cleaner these days and so it is a much more pleasurable experience.” Vast sums of money were poured into opening Thermae Bath Spa and it took some years before the building – a fine marriage of traditional and modern architecture - finally opened in 2006 but according to Charlotte the large numbers of visitors now bring in some £40m to the local economy each year. It is a fantastic experience. There is a pool in the basement and one on the roof top both relying on the natural spa water and the temperature is around 92 Fahrenheit. Both incorporate Jacuzzis.
Visitors are supplied with gowns, towels and flip flops but must take their own swimming trunks/costumes. Uniquely you can dine in the restaurant in your gown. It is quite a surreal experience looking at all your fellow diners in their gowns and dripping hair. Waiting staff are in suits. The menu is full of tasty and healthy choices which are changed on a monthly basis. We have a Chicken Caesar salad and chicken and bacon sandwich. Caroline has a rooibos tea while I try Hiver beer. The latter is made with honey and is quite delicious. But you can’t spend all day eating and drinking and we soon return to the water. There are various steam and treatment rooms, too.
Magnificent architectural symmetries are another major attraction of this city. And it is by chance that we stumble upon No. 1 Royal Crescent, where Glenys Hale, the housekeeper and her guides provide great insights into how Bath was created. “The housekeeper ran the Georgian household, it was an extremely important role.” She explains that three men were responsible for making Bath: Richard Beau Nash, the socialite, Ralph Allen who quarried Bath stone and John Wood, the architect. The success of Bath was down to rich Londoners buying the properties and renting them out. The grand Royal Crescent terrace was basically built like a theatre set; the purchasers had to employ their own builders to finish off the interior and decorate. Few of the properties had a garden. Owners, who spent about £1,700 on each house in 1767, threw lavish dinner parties where they sought to promote their level of wealth by the number of expensive beeswax candles they displayed, how much sugar was provided and whether there was an £80 pineapple on the table. These magnificent grand residences fell out of favour in the 1960s and when Glenys arrived in 1967 she recalls how the buildings were black, a result of the soot from coal fires. Ship owner Bernard Cayzer bought No.1 Royal Crescent in 1968 for £11,000 and it was opened as a museum in 1970. It is now owned by the Bath Preservation Trust. In the hall there is a portrait of the Duke of York who stayed in the Royal Crescent.
The Dower House at The Royal Crescent Hotel, the luxury hotel in the middle of the Crescent has named one of its new afternoon teas after this famous visitor. The Duke of York Afternoon Tea sees savoury meeting sweet. It allows diners to have a light three course lunch accompanied with three glasses of delightful Taittinger Champagne: Brut, Rose and Sec that we enjoy quaffing. Starting with a variety of sandwiches including coronation chicken this is followed by such enjoyable treats as croque-monsieur and spiced goat’s curd and lemon profiterole. With a sweet of warm scones and chocolate dacquoise this is a fantastic way to while away an afternoon with a loved one. “We have only just launched Afternoon Tea and it has already proved extremely popular,” deputy general manager Piers informs us.
The Royal Crescent Hotel, in the middle of this exquisitely designed curve of Georgian terrace houses, is the only property in the row to boast a large garden. Sitting in the dining room we admire it through a large Georgian window.
With its opulent surroundings, friendly and attentive staff, we get a good sense of how the rich and famous must feel being waited on hand and foot.
It is such a privilege to visit Bath and its Royal Crescent, which has featured as a backdrop in numerous period dramas.
Needless to say Caroline was very pleased with her birthday treat.
Tim Saunders http://www.travelwriter.biz
Sunday Arrive Bath - Afternoon tea at The Dower House, The Royal Crescent
No.1 Royal Crescent - tour
Check in at The Queensberry with its valet parking
Dinner at The Olive Tree Restaurant – superb à la carte menu
Bath Thermae Spa where we tour the facilities and while away the day in the relaxing Bath water
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Tim & Caroline - afternoon tea
The Queensberry, Bath