Next time in London, take at least an overnight out-of-that-city to experience the more relaxed uniqueness of Bath. Do not even think of driving. Much of Bath centre is one-way traffic and, anyway, trains run direct, at least every half hour from London Paddington, 80 minutes due west to the centre of Bath.
Now to be honest, staying in a 500-year medical establishment is not everyone’s glass of ale but the three-bedroom Townhouse at YTL-owned and managed The Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel is more than worth changing your mind.
YTL also manages the city’s UNESCO-recognised thermae baths, recognised by Queen Elizabeth, the first, in 1590). YTL’s offices, today, were once the leper hospital, five minutes’ walk away from the baths, and Townhouse was the doctor’s house, adjacent to the hospital.
Similarly, two minutes’ further cobbled walk-on from Townhouse, you come to the magnificent Gainsborough hotel, also once a hospital and, later, a school.
The hotel’s 99 Champalimaud-designed bedrooms are sleek cool, taupe and champagne, and GM is the sartorial Marc Mac Closkey, whose Irish banter can range from fintech, from his finance days, to Hawaiian dolphins, from a spell at the Kahala.
The Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel is booked at 100% for months so plan now, for Townhouse – warning, since earlier Elizabethans did not have elevators, make sure everyone can manage 31 stairs to the master bedroom, or a further 20 to the other two bedrooms, a feat that fortunately negates heading to the hotel’s well-equipped 24/7 Technogym.
Townhouse’s remarkably well-equipped kitchen comes with DeLonghi, Neff and Sabatier, and a powder-pink Smeg: a bottle of Billecart Salmon supplements Bombay Sapphire and Glenlivet 1924, all included. There is a Jane Austen library, hardback of course, in the formal withdrawing room.
The master bedroom, a dream of palest teal and silver, sports a jewelled over-bed canopy, a crystal chandelier and a metal-lined rolltop bathtub that is, rare for its ilk, quite easy to get in and out of.
Throughout Townhouse, indeed, the word ‘bath’ comes continually to mind. I loved the framed Victorian etchings of different styles of Doulton’s Improved Hooded Baths. I asked questions about Bath Chaps, well-brined lower jowls, originally from Gloucester black-spot pigs. Think Bath Oliver biscuits, concocted by physician William Oliver around 1750. For best sugar-topped Bath Buns, head today for Sally Lunn’s, three minutes away. Bath Chairs are sensibly off-menu, especially with the cobbles here around town.
My recommendations? Admire tourist sights and retail brands that honestly combine London’s Bond Street with Borough Market. Revel in the hotel’s thermal pools – they have swim gear if you have left the Vilebrequins behind – and back at Townhouse, get more exercise by climbing those stairs, yet again, while changing for The Ivy Bath Brasserie’s fish and chips. Sensibly, with so much foodie fare immediately around, the hotel has no main-meal restaurant, but, also sensibly, it has a darned good bar.