Travel: Admiring grand designs in Bath

MPMC Travel - Bath

MPMC Travel - Bath

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As I bite into my afternoon treat, it’s pure pleasure with every forkful, writes Nilima Marshall.

I am so engrossed in relishing what’s on my plate, I sort of resent the waiter for interrupting, even though he is helpfully refilling my cup of tea.

I am not at a Michelin-star restaurant eating a fancy meal, but am instead tucking into a humble bun at a tiny tea room in Bath.

But this it not just an ordinary cafe.

I am at the famous Sally Lunn’s tea room sampling cream buns from its High Tea menu.

And the bun I have ordered is a mini mountain of doughy goodness, topped with delicious cinnamon butter and served with oodles of clotted cream.

Sally Lunn’s, which featured in the Great British Bake off last year, is well known for its Bath buns, and it’s no surprise that this ‘world-famous eating house’ is a magnet for tourists.

The story goes that a young Huguenot refugee called Solange Luyon found her way here after escaping persecution in France in the 17th century.

After finding work in a local bakery, she became known as Sally Lunn and began baking rich brioche delights that we know today as ‘Bath buns’.

My partner and I are spending a weekend in this beautiful Roman city and these delicious buns a great start to our short getaway.

But we’re not here purely to retrace the history of a local delicacy. Instead, we’ve come to look at Bath’s Georgian links, in a year that celebrates the 300th anniversary of an era that was responsible for some of the UK’s most elegant architecture as a high society flourished.

We have checked into Villa Magdala, a beautiful Victorian house not far from the town centre, that’s been converted into a contemporary but cosy B&B with 23 stylish and tastefully decorated rooms.

To begin our exploration of 18th century Bath, we head over to the Royal Crescent, a row of 30 terraced houses, including a five star hotel and museum, which is often used as a location for films and TV shows. We arrive to find it bustling with tourists admiring the mighty Georgian architecture that stands out among the lush green lawns.

The crescent-shape theme also continues at the Circus, which, like the Royal Crescent, was designed by Georgian architects John Wood the Younger and his father John Wood the Elder. Apparently, the architects drew inspiration for the ring of town houses from the Colosseum in Rome.

Around the corner from the Circus is the Jane Austen Centre, where I learn more about the life and family of the famous 18th century novelist.

All the staff at the centre (a Regency townhouse that has been repurposed), are appropriately dressed in historical costumes and I feel like I’ve entered into a period drama.

The centre also has a range of Regency-style dresses for tourists to try on, similar to what Austen would have worn when she went out with her sister Cassandra to visit the dressmaker, or call on friends.

I find myself interested in Georgian fashion, so we head over to the Fashion Museum nearby to find out more.

At the entrance, we come across costumes that Lady Mary, Matthew Crawley and Lord Grantham were seen wearing on ITV’s hit drama Downton Abbey.

The museum also has a huge variety of Georgian clothing worn by the fashionable society of that time.

We admire the dramatic, embellished ladies’ gowns and the fitted embroidered waistcoats worn by style-conscious gentlemen.

Just like the architecture from that era, the Georgians also seemed to have left a lasting impact on the British fashion industry. Designer Vivienne Westwood took inspiration from the Regency era to create her Les Femmes collection S/S back in 1996. Her famous dramatic evening dress with oversized black bows is proudly displayed at the museum.

It’s likely many high society types throughout history would have come to Bath to bathe in its spa water. We decide to follow suit by heading over to the Thermae Bath Spa the following day.

This modern-day public bath has a range of treatments on offer, but we opt for a two-hour relaxing bath session.

I feel my troubles melt away as I soak into a Jacuzzi in the open-air rooftop pool, as we take in clear views of the city.

We also try out the refreshing Minerva bath and complete our full session of relaxation in the fragranced steam rooms.

Rejuvenated, we stop at Roman Bath Kitchen (another Georgian townhouse that’s been transformed into a contemporary restaurant) for lunch.

While admiring the views of the Abbey, we sample the chef’s recommended gazpacho soup with basil sorbet, which just happens to be the tastiest starter I’ve ever had.

For the main course, I tuck into a grilled aubergine sandwich, while my partner opts for the chargrilled steak, and we and finish off our three-course meal with melt-in-the-mouth ice-cream waffles.

Following our food extravaganza, we head over to explore the Roman Baths. One of the busiest places in city, the Roman Baths receives more than a million visitors each year.

Much of the original bath house that was built by the Romans does not exist today, but the main spring is now housed in buildings designed and restored by John Wood the Elder and his son.

It’s time to bid goodbye to this beautiful Georgian city as we head back to London with memories of an amazing weekend and, of course, a box of Sally Lunn’s buns.

TRAVEL FACTS

:: Nilima Marshall from the Press Association was a guest of Visit Bath. To find out more about the 300th anniversary of the Georgians’, and for information on attractions and events happening in Bath, visit www.visitbath.co.uk or call 0906 711 2000.

:: Doubles at Villa Magdala (www.villamagdala.co.uk) start from £135, B&B.

:: Travel to Bath by train with First Great Western (www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk)