by Carlos Melia
I have just return to the United States, after three amazing weeks touring around Europe, which included a week and a half in England. London being the epicenter of my stay, to later explore the rural areas of Bath, The Cotswolds and Stratford upon Avon. A journey back in time to romantic fiction, ancient bath, temples, castles and royalty tales, set in lovely green landscapes and rolling hills.”¨”¨
There was not much I knew about these regions before heading their way. Heard their names multiple times, but for some reason, they were never in my list of places to visit when in England. Being away from London, for more than 3 days, always sounded wrong to me, so in the past I only took day trips to Brighton, but that was about it.
This time, invited by Visit Britain prior to the celebrations of the World Pride 2012 in London (see videos and photos below) , we set in a journey guided by the romantic fiction of Jane Austen and iconic plays of Shakespeare to the rural areas of Bath, The Cotswolds and Stratford upon Avon. “¨”¨
Known as the Roman city, full of vibrant heritage. UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasting fine Georgian architecture. This world-famous city has originated and developed around its hot spring waters discovered by the Romans over 2,000 years ago, and the famous Roman Baths remain to this day. A thriving and vibrant city, Bath combines its fascinating history with a diversity of museums, galleries, gardens and tourist attractions, making it a beautiful, exciting and unique city to visit. (suggested stay in Bath 02 nights)”¨”¨
How to get there: The best way is to take the train, which will take you in less than 2 hours to Bath Spa station. The cost of the single economy class ticket is 15 pounds.
Stay: We stayed at the lovely Francis Hotel by M Gallery Collection. Housed within a classic Georgian-style structure. The hotel is charming and located just across the street of Queen Square. But you may also want to try The Royal Crescent Hotel by Relais & Chateaux.
(video) My Room at Francis Hotel
Restaurants: We enjoyed diners at the following, Brasserie Blanc by chef Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie Blanc, where the food served is reminiscent of high quality, informal French cooking. The Circus Cafe seasonal, locally sourced, freshly-cooked food with a British bias to their menus which change every month. But my favorite, was The Pump Room at the Roman Bath.
At night make sure to stop at one of the local bars/taverns and enjoy the time with locals, while sipping through cider or beers and the local tunes. Or if you feel like a gay night out, you should try the Mandalyns Bar, Bath’s number one gay and lesbian venue.”¨”¨
(video) Bars of Bath
The top MUST do while in Bath are: Here is my list of MUST Do while in Bath. We were lucky enough to see and enjoy Bath through the eyes of our local guide Thomas, an 18th century historian, whom at our own pace, will share stories of Bath. Experience Bath
Roman Bath & Pump Room
Unfortunately this baths are close to the public to bathe, so you wont be able to enjoy them as Romans used to. But you will be able to tour around, and learn more about one of the finest ancient monuments in Europe and Britain’s only hot spring. Visit the Temple, one of only two truly classical temples known from Roman Britain. It was the place where the cult statue of the goddess Sulis Minerva was housed. Deity of healing powers. My favorite spot was the Sacred Spring, where hot water at a temperature of 46°C rises here at the rate of 240,000 gallons every day and has been doing this for thousands of years. Visit or have lunch, tea or diner at the stunning Pump Room Restaurant. At the end of the tour, try the waters right from the hot springs, the myth is that the have healing powers by the goddess Sulis Minerva. Website
Thermae Bath Spa
Have your chance to take the waters as the old Romans used to over 2000 years ago. Thermae Bath Spa is a day spa where you can bathe in the warm, natural mineral-rich waters and choose from a range of spa treatments designed to ease the body and soothe the mind. A treat is the rooftop pool with panoramic views of Bath. The treatments, well I must be honest, not the best I have had in my life, so you might as well skip this part. Website
Royal Crescent and Circus
A residential road of 30 houses laid out in a crescent. A crescent is an architectural structure where a number of houses are laid out in an arc form. One of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture to be found in the United Kingdom by architect John Wood the Younger. The Royal adjective was added later at the end of the 18th century after Pride Frederik, Duke of York and Albany had lived there. Visit house No. 1 Royal Crescent for the full experience, and to see the original states and views over the Royal Victoria Park.
The Circus, also an example of Georgian architecture, is divided into three segments of equal length, it is a circular space surrounded by large townhouses. Each of the curved segments faces one of the three entrances, ensuring that whichever way a visitor enters there is a classical facade straight ahead.”¨”¨
The Pulteney Bridge is the local version of Ponte Vecchio (Florence) and Ponte di Rialto (Venice). Unique all three of them, on its kind in the world, for being the only bridges in the world with stores built on it. This one in particular built on top of the River Avon by Robert Adam
Visit to admire their magnificent architecture, to enjoy their wonderful choral music or for a quiet moment of contemplation. Website
Jane Austen Center
Located at 40 Gay Street in Bath is a permanent exhibition. It tells the story of Jane’s Bath experience – the effect that living here had on her and her writing. Jane Austen is perhaps the best known and best loved of Bath’s many famous residents and visitors. She paid two long visits here towards the end of the eighteenth century, and from 1801 to 1806 Bath was her home. Jane Austen was the author of romantic fiction like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Website
Narrowboats Sail and Lunch
Sail along the canals and locks of Bath and enjoy the lovely scenery and quiet lifestyle of the locals. England and all Europe is interconnected by this series of canals, so if you let yourself away, you might wake up the following day in London. We had a typical British lunch over sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and jam.”¨”¨
(video) Narrowboats Sail and Lunch
The Cotswolds are a range of hills in southwestern and west-central England, an area 25 miles across and 90 miles long, known for its outstanding natural beauty. Quintessential England, with rolling green hills, manor houses, charming churches and grey stone walls pubs. The natural transition between the vicinities of Bath and Stratford upon Avon.
There are many noteworthy historical structures in this area, and we visited one, hosted by a very special person, Sudeley Castle by the owner herself Lady Ashcombe, with whom we shared a traditional English Tea time.
Geologically the Cotswolds is a limestone mass stretching 100 miles from the south-west to the north east, with Bath to the south and Chipping Campden to the north, mainly within Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire.
No visit to The Cotswolds is complete with a short visit to the town of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. Cheltenham , like nearby Bath, spring waters first made Cheltenham’s name but it took an ailing monarch’s visit to truly put the place on the map. George III ‘took the waters’ here in 1788, and his patronage meant it soon became a must-visit destination for the smart-set of the day. (suggested stay in The Cotswolds 01 night)”¨”¨
Stay: We stayed at the MANOR House Hotel, a four-star Manor House, located in Moreton-in-Marsh, is an enchanting 16th century Cotswold retreat where you can revel in comfort, indulge yourself with fine food and drink and relax in a homely and friendly atmosphere. This is a place where you can feel at home.
Sudeley Castle and Tea Time with Lady Ashcombe
Set against the backdrop of the beautiful Cotswold Hills, Sudeley Castle is steeped in history. With royal connections spanning a thousand years, it has played an important role in the turbulent and changing times of England’s past. The Castle was once home to Queen Katherine Parr, the last and surviving wife of King Henry VIII. Looking to have a true Tudor style fun day, exploring a working castle? Then you must come to Sudeley Castle. Visit the 9 magnificent gardens which sweep around the Castle and grounds. Visit the west wing of the Castle; formerly the kitchen range, then the stables and coach house and finally the banqueting hall, a number of fascinating exhibitions. And who knows, maybe you are lucky “¨enough to be hosted for a cup of tea by herself, Lady Ashcombe, like I did. She along with her two children, are the current owners of the Castle. A dream venue to plan your wedding in full Royal style. Website
STRATFORD UPON AVON
Our final stop before heading back to London. We reached Stratford, after a short drive from The Cotswolds. Stratford upon Avon is synonymous of William Shakespeare, the greatest poet and playwright of England, being the place of his birth. Situated upon the River Avon in the heart of England, 800 years of history, containing not only many building that survive today and would have been familiar to Shakespeare, but also offering a more current variety of leisure.
Stay: We stayed where else, than the Shakespeare Hotel by Mercure over Chapel Street, only blocks away from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Royal Shakespeare Company. A four star Tudor style hotel. Now if you ask me, where will I stay for my next visit, well most probably I will at The Arden Hotel, elegant and sophisticated with a chic Waterside Brasserie, stylish Champagne Bar and spacious suites with fabulous views over the River Avon, providing an inspirational backdrop for your trip, whether”¨”¨
We were here only for one night, thus I concentrated my visit mainly and only to the figure of Shakespeare. During the day I visited his birthplace at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which was very interesting indeed. House where William Shakespeare grew up and played. Shakespeare also spent the first five years of married life in this house with his new wife, Anne Hathaway. The house is literally a shrine. Tantalising glimpse into Shakespeare’s early world. It’s a special place that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. Stay at the end of the tour, to enjoy some of his most renown plays being recited with great emoting and pride, by local actors.
But the final treat of this visit was our visit to the Royal Shakespeare Company to presence a modern version of “Julius Cesar”. The RSC is one of the world’s best known theatre companies, a mix of Shakespearean performance, history and biography that’s unique. It’s their job to connect people with Shakespeare and produce bold, ambitious work with living writers, actors and artists. During my stay in England I saw two plays by Shakespeare, “Julius Cesar” and “MidSummer Night Dream”, and I must say that the work they are doing to bring Shakespeare to the common people is amazing, with modern interpretations that take the classics to the everyday life occurrences. “¨”¨
I would like to thank Visit Britain, for introducing me to these, to me, new regions of England, which I have very much enjoyed and look forward to return one day soon, happy to share them all with you.
Unfortunately the trip is over, and after a 5 days stay in London, which is always lovely, I have returned to New York City. Missing the rain… well not really ha ha ha, but what is England withouth rain right. Now, planning my next adventures around the world, which I will be sharing soon with all of you, so stay tuned. Till next week in full luxury. Carlos Melia
Carlos Melia is a Travel Expert, Blogger, Niche Marketing Consultant, Jetsetter, and Bon Vivant, who travels around the world discovering what’s new and cool in Luxury Travel and Hospitality. His reviews on hotels, restaurants, destinations, and attractions, based on his own experiences as an OUT Gay Traveler can be found at www.carlosmeliablog.com