Located within 90 minutes of London by train, Bath – a delicately-sized town of 85,000 – is perfect for a relaxing getaway.
The Somerset city’s famous Georgian architecture and rich history give it the feeling of a film set. This, combined with its compact, visitor-friendly size mean it’s a wonderful place to lose yourself of a weekend.
But the surrounding countryside, comprising the quaint counties of Wiltshire and Somerset, are equally worth exploring. I recently visited the area with a traveling companion who is from the area. He said he will never look at it in the same way again. Why? Because of the fantastic tour we undertook.
For personal and detailed day trip in and around this historic city, try Around and About Bath’s ‘Hidden Cotswolds & Kings’ tour, which lasts from 9am to 5pm. From the moment our tour guide Jules [below, holding the antler] collected us from our hotel, we knew we were in safe (and incredibly knowledgeable) hands.
As a former history teacher, Jules has a clear passion and a natural ability to impart knowledge. But the amount of knowledge that he imparts, in an easy to digest and accessible way, is staggering.
Indeed, it is testament to Jules and the quality of the tour that at no point was my partner bored or restless (!). This, despite essentially being taken on a tour of the places where he grew up. I would recommend the tour to anyone, whatever age, without reservation and whether or not you have a good historical knowledge.
The tour itself takes you away from the sometimes crowded tourist traps in and around Bath and out into the stunning surrounding countryside. You take in ancient towns, churches and settlements. An important part of the company’s ethos from the outset is sustainability and the environment (especially given the stunning natural beauty of places like The Cotswolds, below) which is something lacking in a lot of tour companies.
Details are being kept secret for the posterity of the places involved. But you will not be disappointed. You stop, on a cost inclusive basis, for coffee at Britain’s oldest hotel and for lunch at a brilliant pub. (Again my partner said it was the best pub in the area and very well chosen). You then visit another beautiful town before exploring a country house and garden (perhaps the gorgeous Abbey House, pictured below).
We also enjoyed a short walk through a chocolate box village. Many villages visited have been used time and time again for film locations. I won’t spoil it too much but In and About Bath manages to offer many experiences and surprises on the tour yet make the tour leisurely and relaxed.
We travelled in a group of six, along with a couple from California and two single travelers (both visiting from Dubai). Jules did a fantastic job bringing everyone together and it wasn’t long into the day that we were all having a great laugh together. We never felt awkward which is something I fear when going on a tour.
You travel in a very comfortable minivan and stop regularly at a number of fascinating sites. Water is provided. You can tell from the warm reception that Jules gets at each stop that he is a considerate tour guide and one that puts a lot of effort into researching the local community, so that tours can be conducted in a respectful and sustainable way. This is a tour that lets you get into the fabric of the local area and really build an understanding of its rich history and also what it is like to live there without being pretentious.
The award-nominated Around and About Bath also run two other full day tours. The first is ‘Stonehenge and Secret Somerset’; the other ‘Medieval Marvels & Movies’. They furthermore run a half-day city tour of Bath (‘Behind the Facade’) and a ‘Historic Pubs & Gourmet Dining tour which I suspect, based on Jules’ choices for the full day tour, is fantastic and one that I will target in the future.
Surely Jules and his team have tapped into the future market of tours. High quality, small groups, sustainable, all-inclusive, educational, invigorating, fun and memorable. Superb.
Harry and Douglas (the owners of Hill House) have nailed it. Nothing is too much trouble. Every little detail has been thought of, including, among many others, chilled water and fresh milk for tea and coffee for your room, an abundance of White Company toiletries and an emergency mobile number on your key.
Located close to the city center, this is one of those places where you instantly know that you are in good hands and made to feel at home. You get the personal, welcoming touches of a B&B but furthermore, the privacy and quietness of a larger hotel.
Breakfast was superb; there is a buffet table full of delicious fresh fruit, compotes, yoghurt and granola. Then, on top of that, we were served with a wonderful veggie breakfast of potato cake and poached eggs. On our second morning, we enjoyed a mouthwatering stack of strawberry pancakes. This was served along with freshly brewed coffee, squeezed orange juice and piles of lovely thick toast. (There’s an equally delicious alternative for meat eaters).
Everything is beautifully presented. Harry and Douglas were wedding caterers before running Hill House and it shows. You are also served around a large farmhouse table along with the other guests. To some this may sound like a nightmare. But such is Harry’s warmth as host, so great are his ice-breaking skills, that it’s the perfect start the day. It was fascinating to meet people from around the world and find out their reasons for being in Bath.
The building itself dates back to 1760 and has bundles of character. It has been tastefully decorated and feels very homely. We were in Room 5 (at the top of the property) with a great view over the rooftops of Bath. It boasted a large ensuite bathroom and a king size Hypnos bed. Like the rest of the stay, there was nothing you could fault.
We also dined at Tapas Revolution near Bath Spa train station, about a 15 minute walk from Hill House Bath. You might be looking for a more historic and quintessentially Bath meal during your visit, but if you’re looking for excellent service, reasonable prices and decent Spanish fare food was good (with a good selection for veggies), you could do a lot worse than here.
Words by Jennifer Betterton