Magpie Anthology

What did the Romans do for us?

Bath is a wonderful city and I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t been there before. If you’re a lover of architecture, good food, a cocktail or three and the Romans, then you’ll be right at home there.

Our friends who we travelled with, have been to Bath on many occasions so we let them work out a good itinerary for four of us for a weekend. We stayed in The Brew House found via AirBnB which was a leisurely fifteen minute stroll into town. With two bedrooms and a well equipped kitchen, this converted former brew house was built in 1795 to supply beer to the main house. It’s small but well formed, although I do think that a weekend was just enough time to spend here as there is no outside amenity space but it’s great for breakfast and a late night glass of wine.

For dinner on Friday we chose Sotto Sotto, an underground cavern of a restaurant with impeccable Italian waiter service and great food. For starters we had bruschetta ai gamberoni, squid and then moved on to rack of lamb and pine nut crusted sea bass and a fillet steak. The atmosphere is definitely old school Italian with the irony being that the restaurant itself is just a hop and a skip from the Roman Baths and if you shut your eyes you could easily be in Italy. Prices are reasonable for what is traditional Italian food with a modern twist and with wine and cocktails to start we came out £200 lighter for four of us.

Talking of cocktails, the Dark Horse is a subterranean den of fabulousness with velvet curtains, subtle lighting and a giant eagle adorning the bar. Using many English ingredients, wines, liquors and herbs, the cocktail menu is extensive. It’s a bit of a ‘if your name’s not on the list you can’t come in’ (the lady on door bouncer is suitably scary) so you should call ahead to book as the bar is quite small with table service, so no room for standing. With names like ‘Swallow’s Tail’ and ‘Flight Risk’, the cocktails are expertly made and presented and according to my compadres – delicious! Great pre dinner venue.

For a touch of class, book afternoon tea in the Royal Crescent. Designed by John Wood and completed in 1774, this crescent of terraced houses with the hotel in the centre is an iconic part of Bath. Priced at £37.50 (£50 with a glass of champagne or £62.50 with accompanying drinks flight) the tea is an indulgence not to be missed. Choose from a traditional tea or one, as we did, which leans heavily on the savoury and enjoy the wonderful garden in summer or the Dower House restaurant in winter. Service, as you would expect, is excellent and the food is thoughtful and, with the savoury option, offers a different take with Bath chap beignet, a tomato and basil yoghurt and a sublime sausage roll just some of the treats. We rounded off our afternoon with a ghost walk, not so much spooky as historical, but at £8, a great way to hear some of Bath’s fascinating history via some of its most famous and infamous inhabitants.

Lastly on your Bath weekend, go and take in some serious culture at the Roman Baths. Get yourself an audio guide (with extra commentary by Bill Bryson) and immerse yourself (not literally) in the history of the bathing habits of the ancient Romans. With holographic screens playing over the 2000 year old plus walls, you have a unique insight into how our forebears spent their leisure time.

Bath is a beautiful city, great for shopping, restaurants, bars and culture but which seemed, on the Saturday evening we were there, to be a bit of a mecca for stag and hen dos. Book where you want to go carefully and be prepared for some loud groups late on in the evening – but don’t let this dissuade you, just be aware.

Words: Leigh Miles

Pictures: Leigh Miles & Iain Cranwell

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