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For the last decade or two, with increasingly reasonable air travel, brilliant house swaps and inventive boutique hotels to be booked at first swipe, Instagram inspo and some of the best city guides ferreting out secret sources of joy and relatively undiscovered charm, travelling the world has become a widely undertaken and easy rite of passage.
Sadly, the pandemic has brought much of the above to its knees. Long haul travel has quickly become frightening and, in many cases, off-limits. Even short stints across the channel come with fresh disadvantages, such as the chance that the government’s Covid-19 rules will change while you’re abroad, throwing your return (and potential quarantine period) into question.
Luckily, necessity is the master of all invention. And like a phoenix rising from the ashes of our habitual trip across the world, staycationing around the UK has become a lifeline for those who can’t live without a dose of escapism. We’ve sought out the best glamping sites in the UK for getting back to nature, explored which of the sea front coastal cottages are worth booking ASAP, for those short on time, just looking for a night away to be completely pampered, we’ve identified some of London’s most luxurious hotels, and for the few who actually can’t leave their houses at all, we’ve even brought you the means for virtual tourism.
As we reach a new juncture in the course of the pandemic – a second lockdown, with some cities in particular closing their borders for a time, to limit the spread – our choices have once again narrowed. But while a few continue to welcome guests, we’re looking at which of the UK’s historical hotspots are worth booking a trip to right away.
While Leicester, Manchester and some places in the Midlands look to be closing, North East Somerset remains open for visits, which means that World Heritage site Bath is still an option for a weekend jaunt. And just as well, because the city is one of the UK’s most beautiful and charming short-stay destinations, with plenty of sweeping views, antiques markets, cute shops, Roman-built pieces of history and grand hotels to fill up your time with. So while the visitor attractions remain accessible – keep up-to-date with changes on Visit Bath here and via the Government site here – it’s high time you booked a stay.
Need further encouragement? Below you’ll find five great reasons to hop in the car and head West.
The Glorious History Of It All
Thermal springs? In the UK? As we stare down the barrel of a bleak Autumn and Winter, it seems farfetched that Britain might have hot springs to rival Turkey’s Pamukkale or Mexico’s Hierve El Agua, but we do. And we’ve been taking advantage of them since as far back as 60–70 AD. These days, you can still visit the original Roman Baths or take a dip in the more modern Thermae Bath Spa.
Naturally hot water isn’t Bath’s only historical draw. For those planning to keep their clothes on, the centre of the city is home to Bath Abbey, a church and former Benedictine monastery, founded originally in the 7th century. It’s not quite the Duomo di Milano, but it’s an incredibly impressive structure and in it you can spend time scanning The Great East Window, which tells a bible story in 56 stained-glass scenes.
Beyond the Abbey, Bath officially became a World Heritage site in 1987 for various other reasons too. And one of those other reasons is the neo-classical architecture which characterises the city. Beginning in the mid-18th century, prominent architects including Robert Adam, John Wood the Elder, Thomas Baldwin and John Eveleigh began to shape the framework for how we now see the city, local limestone to create buildings of great grandeur and shapely, dramatic avenues like the Royal Crescent and the Circus.
The 5* Hotel Offerings
The historical sites aren’t the only Bath attractions with a bit of pomp and majesty. Bath’s hotel scene is rich with 5* offerings, from art-laden boutiques, through to the splendour of a place like the Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa. Located, yes you guessed it, within the sweeping Georgian-built Royal Crescent, overlooking Royal Victoria Park, the hotel is the first word in luxury and pampering.
If you’re looking for a place to unwind with a partner, at total contrast to the chaos of home life, this is the place to come. The experience starts with the valet parking. There’s something indescribably perfect about pulling up to a richly green arbour framing a stately set of doors and handing over your keys to a trusted custodian, so that you can saunter straight in and begin your stay without delay. It’s a wonder more UK hotels don’t offer this service.
The rooms themselves are abundant in 18th century spirit, but with modern character and elegance. A stay in one of the various suites is a particularly delicious experience, with the private living room and writing desk making it a home away from home – if your home were extravagantly designed and immaculately clean.
The real draws of this hotel though are both the spa and the Dower House restaurant. The spa, especially during Covid-times, provides an excellent place to escape to. Abiding by the strictest of social distancing rules, you have to book a slot to use the main pool and the vitality tub, which has the handy effect of all-but guaranteeing you’ll have the whole thing to yourselves, if you’re early to rise.
The restaurant is, as you might expect, a fine dining experience, with tasting menu designed by Executive Head Chef, David Campbell and sommelier chosen wine.
Rooms start at £330, you can look up options for full and half spa days here, you can read all about their Covid-19 precautions here and, for anything else, take a look at the hotel’s main website.
The Boutique Shopping
What weekend away would be complete without a spot of shopping? For all your high street needs, the town centre plays host to the usual major chains, including H&M, Urban Outfitters and Topshop. But if you’re in the market for something a little different, heading North up the hill, towards Walcot street and beyond, has many benefits to reap.
If thrift store rummaging or vintage vinyl are your bag, Walcot street houses a couple of excellent charity stores and a record shop too. There’s also Grace & Ted, a second hand designer boutique on Kingsmead square.
Walcot street also houses Graham and Green which, if you’re into interiors, you probably already follow on Instagram, for their quirky animal candleholders, kitsch doorknobs and plush poufs.
To the south of Walcot street, on Saturdays you’ll find Bath’s Antiques and Flea market – a series of stalls full of trinkets and bonafide bargains, a small walk from Pulteney bridge.
Exhibitions In Art And Fashion
Shopping over with, you might find yourselves keen to take in a different sort of culture, by exploring one of Bath’s many exhibitions and galleries. Sadly, Bath’s fashion museum is staying closed during the pandemic, but keep an eye here for any updates on that front. But there are other institutions who’ve kept their doors open, with precautions in place, to allow for art-inclined visitors.
Continuing through to January 2021 is the Grayson Perry exhibition at The Holburne Museum on Great Pulteney Street. Exploring his ‘pre-therapy years’ the collection houses much of his early pottery, a testament to his great sense of irony and the mirthful turning of classic themes on their heads. Perry’s own commentary has been threaded through the literature at the exhibition and provides an excellent accompaniment.
You can also visit Gray M.C.A. and have a mosey around their fashion illustrations – with masterclasses and interactive events scheduled regularly – more information here.
Considering the likelihood that lockdown rules will change on the turn of a dime, staycations with handy proximity to London and major roads are ideal. Depending on whether you’re Chelsea, Stoke Newington or Brixton based (or further afield), you can get to Bath from London in just two to three hours.
A word to the wise though, the M4 is undergoing construction as plans continue to soon unveil a new digitally-enhanced ‘smart motorway’ and while this sounds exciting, the current work means that 50mph average speed checks apply to pretty much the entire stretch that would get you to Bath.
Happily for drivers though, the A36 and the A303 are both scenic and quiet, plus provide much in the way of excellent pub lunches as pit stops for your journey.
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