Meticulous planning promises our two days in the West Country will bulge with eating, drinking, pampering and all-action edification. Schedule at the ready, spa treatments and gourmet grazing awaits: with no margins for error, we plunge into a rare, romantic escape to Bath. Having clocked up over 16 years of travel-time together, I’m by now well aware that historical excursions, to Mr Smith, equal hard labour – thankfully Bath’s Georgian grandeur should provide a stealth-like serving.
As the sun sets on our spring drive through Somerset, we arrive in the honey-coloured heart of this Spa town, its mellow majesty instantly calming. Bath Priory is a country estate in miniature – in the middle of the city. Hidden behind a high stone wall, this luxury hotel’s dignified 18th-century building marries an ecclesiastical air (well, it has a pointy roofline with a cross on it) with vintage country-house flair.
Beyond the bijou gravel driveway and low-key entrance awaits all we could want from an aristocratic home from home: plump sofas piled with cushions, ancestral artwork and just the right amount of silver service. And fasttracking its way to our hearts: delicious food for him, and splashing around in a spa for me.
Chic tartans, candy stripes and bold Colefax & Fowler florals have ousted any chintz, thanks to a contemporary renovation by talented local interior designer Carole Roberts. Pelmets and heavy curtains are in and original paintings, portraits and still-lifes preserved, laying on the character and luring loafers and loungers galore to the hotel’s sitting rooms.
Padding through the library to our suite, we pass groups of families and friends from grads with grandparents to loved-up couples. There is a genteel Friday-night feeling as staff unstuffily buzz around replenishing everything from cream teas to G&Ts, doling out amuses-bouches and Scrabble boards.
Settling into our ground-floor room, Mr Smith and I concur that Bath Priory combines a helping of glamour with lashings of English country manor. ‘It’s sufficiently comfy-cosy yet feels like proper boutique hotel’, I say sagely. ‘And we’ll definitely be OK for cushions,’ smirks Mr Smith gesturing to a bed piled high with jewel-toned pillows. Through wisteria-framed windows we look out over the celebrated tended-to gardens and luminous immaculate lawns.
With all this greenery, little wonder the hotel’s Garden Spa has wild flowers, oils and berries dominating its indulgent treatments. Admiring the shrubberies I mention to Mr Smith that I’m having a 80-minute Mala Mayi Wrap the next day; he reminds me that I already told him this about as many times before we’d even left West London.
Ah, Bath Priory, what a slurp of the good life you give. Sipping champagne on the back terrace, we toast those green grounds that have unsurprisingly won head gardener Jane Moore awards. So intoxicating is the landscape we’re starting to savour our setting as though it’s actually ours. Like our fellow guests, we’re decked in finery fit to sample a tasting menu from local lad Sam Moody, one of Michael Caines’ acolytes.
In this context, even urban Mr Smith looks the landed gent. I’ve managed to convince Lord Smith that it is fun dressing up, which is a relief, as the schoolmarm in me is convinced that in this kind of context, formal attire is somewhat essential. For those not blessed with such old-fashioned instincts (or ‘neurotic Victorian tendencies’ as Mr Smith so sympathetically puts it), there is an obligatory dress code. (It’s testament to the restaurant’s rep that I managed to prise Mr Smith out of his denim and trainers.)
Moody’s menu is a peon to provenance, with dish of locally sourced this after ethically farmed that. Microsalad-garnished canapés kick off Michelin-courting magic. Outsized plates showcase the imaginative creations, with artistic squirts of pulps, purées and puddles, around intense mouthfuls of proteins. We match our parade of savouries and sweet with half bottles from the tantalising wine list, and an obscure marmalade-scented, amber-coloured South African dessert wine provides a fitting grand finale.
Galvanised by a full English breakfast on the back of a silent night of downy sleep, and we’re primed for our action-packed Saturday in one of the world’s most popular weekend rendezvous. A few minutes from the hotel is a pitch-and-putt on a super-steep golf course. Flanked by Bath’s most elegant Georgian terraces, parades and crescents in warm sun-kissed stone, I sneak some history into Mr Smith while we get lungfuls of fresh air. Sidestepping the typical tourist trail, we swerve next to Kennet and Avon Canal where we happen upon a sandwich-selling kiosk near Bath Deep Lock.
Tucking into trad-as-can-be cheese and pickle on white (with a distinct smear of margarine and a hillock of ready-salted crisps; Michael Caines this ain’t), it’s as though we’ve stepped back 50 years. Kids nag for ice-cream while their parents try and read the weekend papers, and on a bench in a sliver of sun we ponder how our stay at the Bath Priory has struck the perfect balance of then and now. Hunter wellies or Louboutins, Land Rover or Hackney carriage – you don’t feel out of place for a moment.
I’d be fibbing if declared these Smith never to have clashed in holiday tastes in our years of globetrotting – but here on our Bath weekend away, we’ve been remarkably in sync. ‘Well, Mrs Smith,’ smiles my contented companion. ‘I do believe we’ve find somewhere that’s a good old-fashioned modern classic.’