Quotes about Bath from the virtuous yet nonconforming novels by Jane Austen are leaping out of my mind as I stand outside the Pump Rooms unaware of how enamoured I am of this city. It is beyond my understanding, as to why Jane Austen wasn’t quite fond of this harmless, honey-toned town. As recommended by my friends I walk around the city from the courtyard outside Roman Baths through the columns onto the famous Cheap Street from Northanger Abbey leading the way to Queen Square. The antiquated charm of this Georgian city and its morphosis during the Regency Era hasn’t lost to the assaults by time nor the new age boutiques and tea shops that line up the streets. It is official Bath has me besotted and ironically I cannot stand to reason what is stirring these emotions within. I approach Queen Square and take a good look at my ephemeral home for the weekend – M Gallery Francis Hotel at No. 9. I had read a bit of the townhouse designed during the 18th century that saw its glory during Regency period. And there it was standing before me a series of townhouses known for its residents.
If you are coming from London you could drive down in about 3 to 4 hours enjoying the Somerset and Wiltshire countryside. Although a train journey does offer some good vistas of the country as well. The train journey takes about an hour and a half from London Paddington to Bath Spa. A hotel transfer will be recommended if you have luggage or just do as I did and walk through the Roman Bath. My arrival at the hotel was quite welcoming and the guest relations manager was very helpful with his directions. The check-in was well within the two minutes time frame and I was well acquainted with the room and hotel amenities when we entered my room.
In 1728, renowned architect John Wood the Elder sought to transform the city’s map with his design. Between 1728 to 1735 he designed and built townhouses that face the lush patch of Queen Square which today stands as the Regency styled hotel. John Wood the Elder was of firm belief that he was not just redesigning the city’s architecture but returning its lost glory. The townhouses from 5 to 11 were adjoining each other that form the hotel building. John Wood of course, resided in the central townhouse No. 9 which provides a spectacular view of Queen Square stretching out to the Northside up to Gay Street. The central townhouse now forms the entrance to the Grade II listed heritage hotel. Until 1858 the individual townhouses were residences of illustrious owners however, that year Solomon Francis purchased and converted No. 10 as a boarding house. By the late 19th century his wife had bought No. 6 to 11 and had all become a part of the boarding house. Bath has seen ruthlessness from time and history, the most devastating being the Bath Blitz of the last World War. During the war, the hotel’s exterior suffered bombing and had lost its frontage owing to the large missile that landed on the Eastside of the square. The hotel was resurrected and redesigned to its former glory during the early 50s by J. Hopwood. It took The Beatles to stay at the hotel in 1963 for people to sit up and take notice of its resurgence.
The recent $6 million renovation by Accor Hotels has brought a whiff of freshness to its interiors. The charm and vivacity of the Regency Era spring to life as it did when Jane Austen lived in the neighbourhood at No. 13 Gay Street only a block away from the hotel. The corridors have been segregated with cross corridor doors that help differentiate each of the seven townhouses. What caught my attention were the wallpapers, differently hued for each heritage era with Blue Plaques bearing the name of the resident of the townhouse and duration of their stay. The interiors in the lobby and the rooms flanking the lobby are quite a step through the looking glass. I was taken immediately by the accented vibrancy of the rooms. Understated elegance and luxury embodied through the art of the Regency period captured my eye. The welcoming velvet arm chairs and the couch would tempt anyone to a delightful Afternoon Tea while chatting about the town and country.
I was to reside in townhouse No. 5 and was happy to know that a large bed with navy cushions and throw was waiting to swallow me after a long day. The rouge walls with gilded framed art and mirrors only added to the warmth of my cosy abode. I was happy to see the bathroom had a wall imagery of the Roman Baths though the bathroom could have been spacious. My room had all the trappings of the era that we envision through literature and documentary. The dark wood furniture and bright colours certainly were a dance between the old and new age, but it all pulled together brilliantly. Though the colours are pronounced in the room somehow they don’t elevate the senses beyond comfort. Do request for the No.9 series room which has a splendid view of the Queen Square park just like its designer John Wood the elder did when he resided here.
The food is one of the key points to the hotel’s advantage. The John Wood room is a perfect venue to begin your day with a wholesome English breakfast and tea. I had a day to look forward going around the city and the breakfast service was just what I needed to energise my day. The service staff is incredibly swift and friendly and takes pleasure to help you out with your requests and dietary needs. The John Wood venue brings alive the era of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion with its pastel wallpaper decorated with gilded mirrors and paintings. You could enjoy the Jane Austen Afternoon Tea experience right here and regale with some chatter about the 1700s.
Adjoining the hotel is Brasserie Blanc by Michelin Star Chef Raymond Blanc who has been a mentor to many celebrity chefs in Britain. The menu at Brasserie Blanc is influenced and inspired by Chef Blanc’s childhood and hometown. The menu has a prix fixe version as well as A La Carte. With a warm and sophisticated interiors and casual outdoor dining, the restaurant is a perfect blend of upscale to nonchalant chic.
The reason why I am a big fan of luxury boutique hotels for its staff. A home like experience is not limited only to the architecture and design but also the personal interactions with its people. The guest relations team and the front desk team were impeccable in their management and had enough time on their hands to share their personal thoughts about the city and the lifestyle. It gave me valuable insight to walk around the city and absorbing its heritage. If you wish to take home a souvenir with you the hotel does have lovely scented candle and chocolate custom made for them. You could buy these if you’d like by letting the front desk know of your request.
Bath has been a pleasant surprise full of discovery and rich heritage but more so because the heritage hotel I called my home for the weekend. To rediscover history by just walking down the corridors of M Gallery Francis Hotel has left me enamoured and a vow to return for more memories.