BATH, ENGLAND - "Oh! Who can be ever tired of Bath?" - Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
The beautiful English spa city of Bath, home to ancient hot springs and novelist Jane Austen, is now bubbling with exciting new gastronomic pleasures.
Nestled in the lush green Avon Valley, Bath is a honey-coloured marvel founded in 1AD by the Romans, who used the natural hot springs as a thermal spa.
It struck me that, not dissimilar to Singapore, Bath is an ingenious union of old and new and is pleasantly green.
Explore Bath, set in the lush south-west of England, on foot as much as possible. Then discover its fabulous food scene.
You can jump on a Red Bus tour of Bath, a Unesco World Heritage Site. However, pottering around is the best way to soak up the city.
Head to the iconic Roman Baths (Abbey Church Yard, BA1 1LZ) - no swimwear required.
Although we could not bathe in the water, we did "take the cure" (rather like sipping chalky-tasting tap water), view the columned courtyard and walk through the exhibition.
On some evenings, the baths are lit by flickering torchlight.
If you are keen to fully immerse yourself, head to the Thermae Bath Spa (Hot Bath Street, BA1 1SJ), where the mineral-rich waters are open to the public for a dip. You have to be older than 16 and queues can be long if you do not book ahead.
Visit the Pulteney Bridge (Bridge Street, BA2 4AT) for the best views and a chance to take a boat up the River Avon. The shop-lined bridge is a splendid piece of Georgian architecture.
Try on costumes at the Jane Austen Centre (40 Gay Street, BA1 2NT). You can also enjoy an informative small tour, use a quill and ink and take tea.
Photographer and local historian Simon Christie takes small private groups for anything from two- to six-hour walking tours of Bath (www.phototoursinbath.co.uk).
He is a walking storybook when it comes to Bath, its architecture and its quirky residents. He will also show you secret gems for great photographs.
I love his early-morning ambles through the city before the shops and attractions open. He has a number of tour options, which include all the must-see places, such as The Royal Crescent, Queens Square, Assembly Rooms and The Circus.
EAT AND DRINK
After all the pottering, it is time to refuel (leave the Jane Austen corset at home).
From a Michelin-starred restaurant and cafes to pubs and bakeries, there are endless gastronomic options here.
Bath is in one of England's richest farming areas, so local organic produce, cheese and meat feature prominently on menus.
For breakfast, you may want to check out The Green Bird (Margaret's, 11 Margaret Buildings, BA1 2LP) for its avocado and poached eggs on toast, with an order of crispy bacon on the side.
For a cuppa, head to Colonna and Small's (6 Chapel Row, BA1 1HN), which serves the best coffee in town.
For lunch, The Circus (34 Brock Street, BA1 2LN) offers seasonal and fresh ingredients in a good mix of British and modern European dishes. Or go to The Ivy (39 Milson Street, BA1 1DS) for modern British cooking and classic dishes.
The British are big on teatime. At The Pump Room Restaurant (13 Abbey Churchyard, BA1 1LZ), enjoy afternoon tea along with live classical music.
Open since 1680, Sally Lunn's Eating House (4 North Parade Passage, BA1 1NX) is a great place to try a sweet Bath bun. Its warm lemon-scented scones are pretty good too.
Dinner and drinks can be had at The Olive Tree Restaurant (4-7 Russell Street, BA1 2QF), Bath's only Michelin-starred restaurant, which is run by British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal's protege, Chris Cleghorn. It has a seasonal tasting menu with sumptuous wines to match.
Claytons Kitchen (15a George Street, BA1 2EN), a bustling restaurant with charming staff and a seasonal menu, is brilliant for families or couples.
At Beckford Bottle Shop (5-8 Saville Row, BA1 2QP), enjoy delicious wines while grazing on an expertly curated selection of British charcuterie and cheese.
Visit The Bath Sweet Shop (8 North Parade Passage, BA1 1NX) to choose from hundreds of jars of classic sweets - from humbugs to pear drops.
It is also worth popping into Paxton & Whitfield (1 John Street, BA1 2JL), one of Britain's leading cheesemongers for more than 200 years.
At The Bertinet Kitchen (12 St Andrews Terrace, BA1 2QR), learn from breadmaking expert Richard Bertinet.
If you are willing to venture a little farther, Lucknam Park Hotel And Spa (Colerne, Chippenham SN14 8AZ) offers a great selection of day and evening classes within the beautiful hotel just outside Bath - from handmade chocolates to cooking.
Bath offers every type of accommodation - whether you prefer fancy or homely.
Cosy boutique hotel The Queensberry (4-7 Russell Street, BA1 2QF, www.thequeensberry.co.uk) is situated near The Circus. It comprises four Georgian townhouses renovated to play homage to their original design both inside and out.
The Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel (Beau Street, BA1 1QU, thegainsboroughbathspa.co.uk) is ideal for those who prefer to enjoy the thermal waters privately. The hotel backs onto the Roman Baths, which feed the hotel's luxurious spa and pool.
For a family stay, Caroline Place (2 Caroline Place, BA15HU)- book via Airbnb - is centrally located at the edge of Hedgemead park.
Direct flights from Singapore to Heathrow take around 13 hours. Then it is an onward journey of 1¾ hours by car.
Or take a train from Heathrow Airport to Reading, with a quick change to Bath.
Alternatively, fly with KLM to Bristol, which is about 40 minutes by car to the centre of Bath. KLM has a brief stopover in Amsterdam.
• Choose a Meet and Greet service at the airport to avoid an extra hour or so getting a shuttle bus out to the car rental carparks.
I recommend Traffic Self Drive (www.trafficselfdrive.com) for the impeccable service and a good choice of cars. The representative will meet you at the arrival hall and all paperwork for the car rental is done there and then. I recommend a small fun car to nip around the lanes of Bath. Ask your hotel about parking as not all hotels offer it.
• Each season brings its own delights, but avoid peak times such as high summer (July and August).
Ghillie James is a British food and travel writer living in Singapore.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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