Town and Country
The Gainsborough Bath Spa, Bath
While its gleaming Georgian façade exudes polished grandeur, there is no hauteur about the welcome at Bath’s newest five-star hotel, right in the middle of town, which is all warmth. We’re soon on first name terms with all the staff, who’ve checked us in and whipped away our bags before you can say ‘spa break.’ And yet those are surely the words on every guest’s lips, thanks to the fact that the hotel’s name refers to more than just its spa town location.
Offering all the well-documented benefits of Bath Spa’s healing waters, extolled since Roman times, the hotel’s refreshingly contemporary take on age-old rituals allows guests to take a circuit of three natural thermal plunge pools, all housed within a resplendent glass atrium. After which restoral and renewal, relaxed guests can dip in and out of the saunas, steam rooms and even an ice alcove, the waters of which are all supplied by Bath’s original thermal spring. Treatments are influenced by Malaysian healing customs, though it is thanks to a Swedish massage that we emerge unwound and smelling of neroli, rosemary and pine. As befits a member of the Leading Hotels of the World group, this sets high standards for the operation as a whole – and then exceeds them. In a town that has always been a big draw for visitors, this excellent 2015 addition has raised the game.
On the third floor, our luxurious lodgings offer stunning views over Bath through elegant sash windows, allowing us to see everything from the Abbey to the fields beyond. Lovely touches abound, from the welcome bottle of Billecart-Salmon and selection of sweet treats to the gloriously comfortable bed.
Chef Dan Moon, who himself hails from the West Country and thus understands what it is to cook locally, is behind the restaurant that bears his name, where guests can choose from the a la carte to a creative six-course tasting menu. Thanks to his own links to the area, expect to sample seasonal examples of the cream of the west, from Creedy Carver duck and the wild garlic that proliferates in the countryside to Bath Blue Cheese and Mendip lamb, as well as Wye Valley asparagus. But what makes the evening so special is that the staff give every impression of wanting you to have the best time possible. This newcomer is reassuringly excellent in all regards, making guests’ stay a sybaritic pleasure. You won’t want to leave.
Chewton Glen, Hampshire
There is little, in a sense, that needs to be said about the doyen of England’s luxury hotels, the great Chewton Glen. The ethos is, and has been for decades, of sophistication, of luxury without bling and of creating a home-from-home.
Yet Chewton Glen, like everywhere of its calibre, has to innovate. People with deep wallets and expensive tastes are highly selective, and expect 21st-century luxury of a calibre equivalent to any newly built five-star behemoth. A few years ago, this took the form of opening uberluxurious treehouse suites within the grounds, complete with al fresco hot tubs, welcome bottles of Taittinger and the ‘breakfast boxes’ delivered to one’s room for a lavish picnic.
Now, the latest innovation is a more food-oriented one. The celebrity chef James Martin differs from many of his peers in firstly being a hands-on presence in his restaurants. Thus, it comes as something of a boon that he has worked with the hotel to open a new and decidedly exciting restaurant and cookery school, The Kitchen. Unlike the more formal main hotel’s dining room, the emphasis here is on keeping things family-friendly and at a reasonably accessible price point. Thus, a small toddler might be placated with pineapple and pancetta pizza (which, frankly, her parents looked at with growing envy as she happily wolfed it down) and a scoop of delicious Laverstoke Park Farm ice-cream, while aforementioned grown-ups might feast on mussels and local chorizo to start, followed by panzanella salad and (very good) rib-eye steak. The wine list, by standards of five-star hotels, is a steal, with a bottle of light and delicious English wine costing a mere £25. Even the cocktails, at a tenner apiece, represent excellent value, compared to what you might expect.
James Martin’s presence in the adjacent cookery school is keenly felt, as underlined by a life-size portrait of him in the lobby. He hosts a dozen classes a year, which are announced at relatively short notice, and allow the lucky ten who can book the chance to have an intimate experience with one of Britain’s most beloved chefs. Yet Country even if you’re not attending one of those, there are plenty of other treats, such as events with guest chefs including Duck and Waffle’s Dan Doherty, and a variety of classes aimed at everyone from the aspirant Fanny Craddock to the most limited of novices. Even children can get in on the fun, with a ‘Junior Chef’ class aimed at the eight to twelve year olds. Expect mess, fun and the chance to get one’s son or daughter to whip up an award-winning soufflé upon returning home.
We stayed the night in the beautifully furnished ‘Croquet Room’, which has a vaguely baronial air, thanks to the tartan armchairs, tastefully muted wallpaper and sense of refined comfort; the complementry half-bottle of champagne made for a splendid accompaniment to a post-prandial muse, uninterrupted except by the gentle slumbering noises of a replete small child. Which was, to be fair, much how her parents felt the next day, after an excellent breakfast in the main hotel. Parting is such sweet sorrow, as Juliet might have told Romeo, but the hope with Chewton Glen is, forever, that it is ‘adieu’ and not ‘au revoir’.