The quintessentially British Francis Hotel in Bath
Bath is one of the great open secrets of British tourism.
While most of us plan to visit someday, many won’t.
Arriving for a weekend break - after a short two hour journey from London with First Great Western - I feel for those who never make the trip.
The place is a treasure, a limestone oasis among the rolling hills of the West Country.
This is only destination in the UK where you can bathe in naturally hot spa water and is uniquely beautiful enough for UNESCO to award it World Heritage status, both of which make it wildly popular.
But it has also resisted the rampant commercialisation seen in similar scale destinations elsewhere.
Sure the main sights are crowded, but slip down a side street and it’s possible to stroll alone among Georgian architecture, unchanged for decades.
Dodging among tour groups on a Saturday afternoon I find it reassuring to know innumerable local pubs are always on hand to offer peaceful sanctuary.
While the London craft ale ‘scene’ has a slightly exclusive, knowing edge, here in Bath craft ale is merely part of the fabric of life, an everyday pleasure enjoyed without pretence.
It is simply the way it has always been.
A visit to Thermae Bath Spa is a highlight of any visit to the city
Thermae Bath Spa
Thermae Bath Spa is also a ‘must see’ for any visitor to Bath – a chance to relax in natural thermal waters that have brought health and vitality to the city for centuries.
Benefiting from a multi-million pound overhaul in recent years, the spa is now a centrepiece for Bath; a temple of water.
Fed by the naturally warm, mineral-rich waters Thermae Bath Spa’s sleek white walls guide guests around its many pools and aromatic steam rooms.
A personal favourite is the open air roof-top pool.
Floating around here, taking in the views over the surrounding city, it’s easy to think this must be one of the best tourism spots in the country.
But downstairs there is plenty more, with the flowing curves and grand columns of the Minerva Bath - named after the Roman goddess of health - offering a modern take on the timeless waters.
Regency decor at the Francis Hotel
The Francis Hotel
But it is The Francis Hotel I am here to visit – a unique Regency-inspired hotel combining the personality of the period with 21st century elegance.
Located in the heart of Bath - on the famous Queen Square - the property forms part of the MGallery collection from French giant Accor.
Aimed at lovers of unusual destinations, each property in the portfolio is inspired by a story, with guests joining the journey as they visit.
In the case of The Francis, we are invited back to the Regency period, with the hotel crafted from seven Grade 1 listed townhouses to form a unique new experience.
The hotel dominates the south side of classical Queen Square, and was originally built between 1728 and 1735 by architect and town planner John Wood the Elder, creator of so many of Bath’s prestigious buildings.
It spectacularly shows off Bath’s honey-coloured stone to its best advantage, and was Wood’s first major project and where he made his home.
The genius of Wood is to be seen throughout Bath – including his achievement in later years of drawing up designs for two more Bath masterpieces of world renown, the Circus and the Royal Crescent.
Period flourishes at the Francis Hotel
The Francis Hotel itself houses 98 guest rooms, all of which are individually styled.
The property is all creaking woodwork, oil paintings and high-tea - quintessentially British and perfectly suited to the location.
Arriving on a busy Saturday afternoon, the service is prompt and polite – a touch above what might be expected from a four star property.
The gorgeous colours in the reception area are vivid and vibrant, reflecting the boldness of the Regency period – ultramarine blue walls with bold geometric floor tiling and gold lighting.
The Francis Hotel exudes a warm, homely feel and an atmosphere of exclusive privacy and comfort.
The gentle chimes of an eight-bell longcase grandfather clock set the tempo.
We are quickly in our room relaxing.
Our Classic Double – benefitting from the £6 million refurbishment the hotel underwent in 2012 - is spacious, neat and filled with character, with everything from the ornate mirrors through to the tailored furniture adding to the period character.
Elsewhere, the Regency feel is celebrated throughout with gorgeous colours and eclectic inspirations - peacock-patterned fabrics and wallpaper, gilt-framed mirrors, beaded panelling, carpeting in regal blue with period Aubusson detailing, and bespoke table lamps.
Downstairs, everything stops for tea in a fashionable city like Bath.
And tea at the Francis Hotel in the elegantly eclectic setting of the Regency-style lounge is very special; delectable sandwiches, freshly-baked cakes and generous platters for sharing.
The hotel’s afternoon tea truly sets the bar before heading back out to take in the many sights in this fantastic city.
This is a place where visitors can be reminded of an era of British grandeur, an era of quiet sophistication, impeccable manners and luxurious design.
An exquisite experience in one of the jewels of British tourism.