The Francis Hotel: an oasis of calm in Bath
Bath's Francis Hotel is a tourist destination in its own right, says Nicole Garcia Merida.
Legend has it that the hot springs of Bath were discovered by a prince after he was exiled from his kingdom due to an incurable skin disease. After weeks of wandering the countryside, it took a single dip in the thermal baths' magical waters to restore him to his former glory. He travelled back to his kingdom, where he became King of the Britons, and later returned to the springs to found the city of Bath.
The official history tells us that the Romans were the founders of Bath, but when visiting it's easy to believe the fairy tale. It's even easier when staying at the Francis Hotel, a tourist destination in its own right. The Grade I-listed building is situated in Queen Square, a stone's throw from the restaurants, shops and attractions of the city centre.
Walking into the opulent reception fills you with a sense of instant calm it is a relaxing refuge from the hubbub of the busy square, scented with jasmine and patchouli and the staff are kind, attentive and efficient.
All 98 bedrooms are decorated differently, in a quirky and elegant manner. Ours had a four-poster bed with petal-soft linen, a cosy reading nook with a view of the square, and a waterfall shower. The hotel's vibrant decor makes it feel homely and comfortable and there is always something to discover among the artwork displayed inside the rooms and throughout the halls.
The No. 10, the hotel's fully stocked cocktail and wine bar, has all the essentials a complete wine list, Champagnes and classic cocktails. One of the more adventurous options is the rhubarb and honey martini topped off with pink grapefruit juice and the Paloma, which contains Ocho Reposado tequila, fresh lime juice and agave. I can personally recommend both.
For a less boozy treat, ask reception to book you into Emily's Tea Room for afternoon tea. The experience is quintessentially English classics as well as seasonal offerings are served under a crystal chandelier. Add a glass of Prosecco if you want to start the celebrations early.
An unstuffy restaurant
Attached to the hotel is celebrity chef Raymond Blanc's French bistro, Brasserie Blanc. Elegant but not stuffy or pretentious, the restaurant provides a relaxed setting to enjoy really good food. I had the mushroom fricasse to start with and my dinner partner had moules marinire you can't beat the classics! In hindsight I wish I'd gone the whole nine yards and ordered their special, the baked Saint-Marcellin cheese a pot of creamy, melted mountain cheese with truffled honey and bread for dipping. The paella Valenciana followed, topped with king prawns and a soft herring fillet. Other seasonal favourites on the menu included British pheasant with cranberry, girolles, and muscat pumpkin; duck leg confit; and smoked pork belly with apple and crackling. My dinner partner forwent the specials for a classic once again steak frites. If you manage another bite of anything after that, make it the blackcurrant pavlova. Tangy, sweet and delicate, it was an excellent final dish.
A magical Christmas market
All in all, the hotel is wonderful. If you're visiting soon, head out to the Bath Christmas market. At this time of year the whole city seems to smell of mulled wine and Christmas carollers are strategically placed around the city, so you won't leave without a dose of festive music. Bath is beautiful year round, but it gets a bit more magical at Christmas time.
There's plenty to do at any time of year, however. Walk the cobbled streets in search of independent stores and enticing bakeries. Head to the Jane Austen Centre to learn about Bath's most famous resident. Wander through the Royal Crescent and down to Bath Abbey. And don't forget to take a dip in the fabled waters. You can't actually swim in the Roman baths, but there is a modern spa nearby that uses the same waters. As with the prince in the tale, it's quite likely the experience will prove restorative.
Nicole was a guest of the Francis Hotel. Classic rooms start from £129, including breakfast. See francishotel.com.