This summer we’re going to have to get creative with our travel plans. In a new series we’re exploring some of the places within easy reach of London that still feel like a holiday – starting with Bath. Nestled at the bottom of the beautiful green valley of the River Avon, wander amongst the Georgian architecture stopping along the way at independent coffee shops and bookshops. Here are the places to put on your list.
The west country seems to have a magnetic pull for creatives. Londoners’ Patrick and Neri Williams, founders of the design studio Berdoulat de-camped to Bath eight years ago with their young family and dreams of opening a shop selling beautiful things. They started out running a B&B, Berdoulat and Breakfast, the kind of place where guests would come down in the morning full of questions – where’s that egg rack from, what colour paint is on the walls? Partly in response to the demand they’ve spent the past few years developing a collection of furniture, kitchenware and tableware drawing on the skills of artisans living within an hour’s radius from Bath. Then the perfect space came on the market, an historic shop on Margaret’s Buildings, a pedestrianised street situated between the Royal Crescent and the Circus. It had a wonderful story; it was previously Stoffell and Fortt’s grocery store (known as the ‘Fortnum’s of the West’) as well as being home of the Bath Oliver Biscuit.
After four years of renovations following the Berdoulat interior decorating ethos that ‘the building is the client’, the shop is now just two weeks’ away from opening. I went in for a sneak peek and was shown round by the lovely Paul and Neri and their dog Elizabeth. A kind of miniature department store for all things culinary the shop spans three floors. The ground floor is styled as a Victorian shop with mahogany and marble counters that will soon be filled with wine, spices and homewares. Frome’s Rye Bakery will occupy the back corner; take a coffee upstairs to the gallery and sit looking down on the hubbub below as you browse the collection of cookery books. Down in the basement there will be a florist, a showcase of Berdoulat kitchen furniture and a space for events. It is the shop to find the perfect iteration of everyday household items: a set of taps developed with Barber Wilson & Co, a Berdoulat x Farrow and Ball paint colour, a functional and beautiful laundry maid, a solid oak pepper grinder. Do go and visit when they open from 4 June.
Just along the street from Berdoulat visit Uber, an independent shop launched in 2006 (and named before the taxi business) selling mens and womens clothes. And you can’t miss the sunshine-yellow façade of Mercy in Action opposite. Bath has some excellent charity shops but this one has a boutique feel – we found a Seraphina dress (£8.50) and a pink string bag (£4).
Edgar Buildings is the new home of Persephone Books. Lamb’s Conduit Street’s loss is already Bath’s gain. Buzzing with customers when we visited, the shop is utterly inviting with an enormous bookshelf filled with grey-jacketed books opened to show their colourful endpapers, and tables to stand around and browse. A top tip that anyone visiting the shop from London can claim a free Persephone mug designed by Cambridge Imprint.
Bath is a rare town that can have so many good bookshops that all do really well – just along the street from Persephone the independent Toppings Books is another must-visit. We could have whiled away a good hour in there, the staff are friendly too.
On New Bond Street Nam is a tiny but perfectly-formed shop selling Astier de Villate, John Derian and trinkets made by local craftspeople. We loved the beeswax birthday cake-style candles – different lengths take from 10 minutes to an hour to burn down and can be used for timing meditation, yoga or just a bit of time out. They also come with wonderful cannele holders.
Finally, cross the shop-lined Pulteney Bridge to reach Found, a lovely gift shop for greetings cards, Baggu laptop sleeves, Hansel From Basel socks and Meadows dresses. And down by the station the wonderful My Small World toy shop is a treasure trove for little ones.
Eating and Drinking
Bath is not short of coffee shops but it’s worth making a beeline to the best ones. Our favourite, Colonna & Smalls really doesn’t do anything other than coffee. Go for the perfect Flat White. There are then two bakeries to put on the list: Landrace Bakery for sourdough and cinnamon buns, and The Bertinet Bakery which has a cookery school and a small shop selling bread, pastries, sandwiches and coffees. Fans of pasteis de nata will also want to visit Nata & Co. For brunch or lunch the Green Bird Cafe is lovely, with tables out on the pedestrianised street in front.
For something smarter, Beckford Bottle Shop is a wine bar in a very pretty part of town serving up small plates – think courgette fritti and burrata with peaches and prosciutto. In a similar vein, Corkage on Chapel Row is an excellent tapas restaurant with a wine shop attached. Bath’s only Nepalese restaurant, Yak Yeti Yak is one of its longest-standing institutions and for good reason. And for a British tasting menu, Henry’s is the place with 2 courses at lunch and 5 or 7 in the evening.
One of Bath’s best placed hotels, Number 15 Great Pulteney has just been taken over by new owners. Stay in the newly-decorated bedrooms – there are also six tranquil treatment rooms in the basement. From £162/night.
Trains to Bath take one hour twenty minutes from Paddington. You arrive right in the centre of town and can walk from the station. If you’re driving you get the most incredible views over the sweeping green valley as you exit the M4 and descend on the A46 into Bath. Street parking is tricky so aim for Charlotte Street car park.