After four months of lockdown in Wales, we decided it was definitely time for a little rest and relaxation. We like Bath, it’s across the Welsh/English border, an hour and a half away in the car and so a midweek, two-night break was booked at the Francis Hotel. At the point of booking, we didn’t even know where in Bath the Francis Hotel was located. We knew it was near the centre – that’s all that mattered.
Luckily, despite the recent issues with hospitality, the Francis is busy. In fact, we had the last room available although we had no idea how busy Bath would be. The Francis is a four star hotel located in a Grade 1 listed building. It is part of Accor’s MGallery luxury boutique hotel collection.
On arrival, we were pleasantly surprised to find the hotel situated perfectly on the south side of Queen Square. Our room overlooked the park which was a bonus. The building has been there since 1728. It’s certainly rich in history. In the Second World War the Luftwaffe did their best to remove it from the map. One well aimed bomb completely destroyed the frontage. The hotel was restored and sections rebuilt in the fifties. The Beatles stayed there in 1963 – “so you know that can’t be bad” (see what I did there?).
The room was pretty nice. You could tell we were in a listed building as the floors were undulating somewhat – a quirk we were quite happy with – it felt authentic. It was compact and bijou but had everything you needed for a short stay. A really comfy Queen-size bed with crisp white Egyptian cotton linen and duvet, flat screen TV, beautifully appointed shower room with The White Company toiletries and super fluffy pristine white cotton towels. There was a nifty cupboard housing the tea/coffee bits and bobs, an ironing board, a safe and super fluffy cotton bathrobes. Yes, this suited us perfectly for our two night stay.
Incidentally, because of Covid restrictions we were advised there was not going to be the usual room services: cleaning, laundry etc. Which was fine, and important to know – the excellent staff at the Francis explained everything very clearly.
For our first evening in Bath we decided to eat at the hotel’s restaurant which also doubles as its breakfast area. Jennifer’s steak was well cooked and my lamb was perfectly acceptable. The Dauphinoise potatoes were beautifully creamy and I could have happily wolfed them down a second time. The restaurant had previously been under the wing of Raymond Blanc (BB on the windows – Brasserie Blanc). This explained the French influenced cuisine. A decent piece of cheesecake and good coffee brought the meal to a close and we headed out into the warm, evening air for a pleasant stroll around Bath before retiring.
Breakfast was a full English for moi and salmon and scrambled eggs for my good lady. We’d decided we’d have a second stroll around Bath late afternoon but head out of the city for the morning. After a brief scroll on Google, we jumped in the car and headed to the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey. Lacock Abbey and its grounds have been used as a film set for two Harry Potter films, BBC’s adaptation of Wolf Hall and Pride and Prejudice (2005) plus, having an interest in photography, it seemed a good choice.
William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of the photographic negative, lived there occasionally, and the museum provides a walk through the history of early photography, complete with old cameras and exhibitions depicting the different photographic processes. That would have been lovely had it, and the Abbey, not been closed to the public which was hugely disappointing. However, the Cloisters was open plus the gardens so, having made the journey, we decided to go for it. I would say, given that a large chunk of the experience was off limits, the National Trust could have reduced the entry fee accordingly, but no. I can’t say we were impressed with that. The gardens and cloisters were lovely but was it worth the entry fee? We’d have to say no. Not without access to the Abbey and museum.
Smarting a little after Lacock, we headed for Wells. Never visited before but the Cathedral, we were reliably informed, was well worth the visit. We weren’t disappointed.
Can’t say we saw much of Wells but what we did see made us think that we’d like to explore it more in the future. One thing that struck us was how clean and litter-free it appeared. We couldn’t say the same for Bath. Britain’s second favourite city looked somewhat tired and neglected – we noticed litter and lots of weeds growing everywhere – a symptom of Council workers having been furloughed perhaps? However, that didn’t explain why Wells looked quite the opposite. Just saying. I’m pretty confident the pride will return once normal service resumes.
Wells Cathedral is stunning. Entry is by donation. I offered £10 for myself and, as it turned out, it proved much better value than Lacock. Jennifer sat and read her book in the grounds. There is plenty of history available online if you’re interested in the history of Wells Cathedral. I would certainly revisit. I didn’t get a chance to visit the Bishop’s Palace or its fourteen acres of grounds. I would definitely add that to my wish list for the future.
Back in Bath in the afternoon, and we spent a very pleasant two or three hours browsing the excellent independent shops. Jennifer loves fashion and you can read all about her experiences on her LifeStyled website.
My favourite shop of the day was Magalleria, a brilliant little emporium selling fine, independent and specialist magazines. I picked up a copy of Sideburn (motorcycles) and two copies of IdN magazine (graphic design). This exceptionally cool shop is run by Daniel McCabe and is a treasure trove of the obscure, beautiful and hard-to-get-hold-of. Loving printed magazines, I absolutely adored it. It was good to know Daniel was doing okay despite the downturn in the economy.
Our wander continued into the evening and we ended up at Pizza Express for a couple of excellent pepperoni pizzas. The staff were superb – they couldn’t do enough and have to be commended for the tough conditions they are having to endure at this difficult time. I certainly couldn’t wear a mask all day and, despite the challenges, they remain incredibly cheerful and welcoming.
While we’re talking about staff, I have to sing the praises of the team at the Francis Hotel. All compliments heaped upon them is deserved. They made our stay very enjoyable and couldn’t do enough. We would certainly book again. Bravo!
Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HH
Cathedral Green, Wells, Somerset BA5 2UE
22a Broad Street, Bath BA1 5LN
01225 471 586
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