Great British Boltholes: Francis Hotel, Bath, Somerset

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  • Fancy a festive break? Justine Southall gets in the Christmas mood in Georgian Bath

    Fancy a festive break? Justine Southall gets in the Christmas mood in Georgian Bath

    Why go? Bath is perfect for a quality getaway, with pretty streets, historical attractions galore and excellent shopping – including the South West’s biggest Christmas market ( which runs until 15 December with over 150 stalls.

    Best for: Lovers, shoppers, strollers, fans of history and architecture – this is a World Heritage Site with buildings from the Romans on, plus the modern Thermae Bath Spa. Consider visiting in the New Year, too, when the city offers nicely priced ‘Bath Spa and Detox Escapes’, available any night from 6 January to 13 February 2014, including at the Francis Hotel. This classy four-star property has a superb central location right off Milsom Street, the main shopping thoroughfare, and was recently extensively refurbished so everything feels fresh and clean.

    Regency revisited: the lounge at the Francis Hotel Bath

    The look: Part of the style-led MGallery Collection by Accor, the Francis Hotel is formed out of seven Regency townhouses designed by John Wood the Elder, Bath’s master architect, which were converted into a single residence in the late 19th century. While original features are much in evidence, the makeover has added a glamorous take on Regency style – think Miami meets Jane Austen. The 98 bedrooms are cosy and extremely comfortable with fluffy towels and robes, crisp linen sheets, deliciously squishy duvets and a Nespresso machine. The staff are a friendly and attentive team who give the property a warm, West Country feel.

    I’m hungry: The Francis doesn’t have its own restaurant but you can order food in the lounge and bar, while a good breakfast (full English £19.50) is served in the hotel’s breakfast room, plus there’s room service. There’s also a Raymond Blanc Brasserie ( right inside the hotel which makes staggering to your room extremely convenient. The group has a reputation for serving high quality but accessibly priced classic French bistro food, and this branch does exactly that. The menu includes winter-warming fare like wild rabbit stew (£10.80) and Toulouse sausages (£11.80), through to steak tartare and Châteaubriand.

    Winter warmer: snuggle up at the new-look Francis Hotel

    Further afield, Bath has a good range of places to eat but book well in advance. We left it until two weeks before our visit and couldn’t get in anywhere decent, ending up at Aqua in Walcot Street which I wouldn’t recommend. Ask the hotel concierge to help you (you don’t have to wait till you’ve checked in to use such services). Restaurants to consider are the Italian Nonna’s (, The Olive Tree ( and Allium Brasserie ( The city also does a good line in places to stop for a coffee and cake after all that sightseeing and shopping – we like Cafe Lucca ( in The Loft (, a concept store with independent designer boutiques and eclectic home furnishings.

    While you’re there: The great thing about Bath is you can walk to everything, and it was, of course, built as a city to promenade in. The higher you go the less crowded it becomes, so stroll through Victoria Park to the famous Royal Crescent and Circus, then get off the beaten track and go even higher to Lansdown Crescent to take in the views.

    High time: the rooftop pool at Thermae Bath Spa © Bath Tourism Plus/Colin Hawkins

    Among the many attractions, we like the recently expanded No 1 Royal Crescent (, which gives a taste of the Georgian lifestyle. The house is exactly as it would have been in Jane Austen’s time, and the staff wear period costume and tell you about that era in a way that is entertaining and effective. For lovers of fashion, the Fashion Museum ( offers a well edited run-through of fashion from the 17th century on, with some fantastic iconic designer pieces.

    Spa fans should check out the Roman Baths ( to see how people blissed out in ancient times, then hit the state of the art Thermae Bath Spa (, an amazing public facility that has successfully harnessed the mineral-rich thermal waters that have made Bath a wellbeing destination for centuries. You can buy a two hour session (£26) at the New Royal Bath with access to two pools and steam rooms, and pre-book treatments from massages to facials. It gets busy so book a time slot in advance to save queuing. My hot tip, literally, is to go in the early evening to see the sun setting over Bath from the rooftop pool – gorgeous!

    Dress code: Anything goes, really – you can dress up and not feel out of place but there’s a lot of casual jeans and jumpers too. Bath is a fashionable town and generally has a smart urban feel.

    Book now: Francis Hotel, Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HH (01225 424105; Double rooms cost from £129, or book a one-night detox package from £153.50, which includes a four-hour session for two at Thermae Bath Spa, here. Wifi is complimentary, parking charges apply. A taxi from Bath Spa rail station take 15 minutes and costs £7.

    Info: Bath has starred in scores of movies, including The Duchess and Les Misérables – download a free guide to famous locations here. For more information see, or get a free app about the city here.


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