When I learnt I was reviewing the Bath Priory, my excitement was tinged with apprehension: driving through the city with its one way systems, sharp bends, steep hills and limited parking had always been a nightmare on my previous visits. How pleasing, then, to find that the hotel’s clear directions from the M4 avoided the city centre, with the additional benefit of being a scenic route through the panoramic views of the Somerset countryside. And, on arriving, the ample parking was most welcome. No stress!
Located in the northwest of the city, Bath Priory is close enough to the surrounding countryside and centre of Bath to serve as a base, yet just far enough from the main sites to avoid the tourist crowds. It is, indeed, a retreat within the city. A walk through the nearby Victoria Park – and Bath is a walking city – will take you to the main attractions.
Not that the hotel lacks its own attractions. The more energetic may opt for a work out in the well equipped fitness suite, a spell in the steam room and a dip in the indoor heated pool. Alternatively, for those who seek more relaxation, a treatment in the recently refurbished Garden Spa, might provide the perfect therapy. Nature lovers need only step from the sun terrace – where meals and drinks can be enjoyed on warm summer days – into the beautifully maintained, secluded Victorian gardens. The Drawing Room and Library, heavily hung with Edwardian portraits, constitutes a virtual picture gallery in themselves. Furnished luxuriously with deep, fat cushioned settees, the Drawing Room is perfect place to take coffee and relax. Indeed, as seen on the night of my visit, the peace and comfort it affords caused one highly contented couple to fall asleep after dinner in their arm chairs!
From the outside, the main grey stoned Georgian building looks best at night when the silhouetted gables and brightly lit windows give an eerie yet welcoming feel. The interior has undergone gradual and substantial refurbishment, whilst retaining the classic country house image. The original Dining Room, Library and Drawing Room retain a traditional look – thick carpeting, elegant furnishings, heavy curtains, chandeliers and table lamps – whilst the three function rooms, which can be cleverly converted into one large room, have a lighter, more contemporary look, with paneling painted in mocha and terra cotta and modern spotlighting.
Owners Andrew and Christina Brownsword aim to give the “impression of staying a family home rather than a hotel.” Certainly, the corporate image is avoided both in the public areas and in the bedrooms. All rooms and suites are named after a flower and individually designed. In Begonia, a first floor room with full views of the gardens, the king sized bed, and two-seater settee were supremely comfortable. Floral gold wallpaper, heavy floral patterned curtains to match the bed headboard opposite, and large floral pictures, provided a pleasing coordination of décor. Wall lights, lamp stands, and light wooden tables completed the elegant, classical look, making the flat screen television seem out of place. The pink tiled bathroom with separate shower had indulgent fluffy towels, bath robes and Molton Brown toiletries. The provision of slippers – so often overlooked in top rank hotels – was also appreciated. All this made for a highly satisfactory night’s stay.
However, there were a few, easily remedied, shortcomings in the room: bottled mineral water left to get warm – on a hot afternoon – by the window; a single apple which constituted the “fruit” to welcome the guest; the paucity of literature on Bath itself; missing instructions on how to operate the Sky TV remote control, with no information about the channels; the lack of a clock in the bedroom; the absence of a blind (instead of a net curtain) for the small bathroom window. Strangely, only sample menus – and no reference to tasting menus – of the restaurant were available. Indeed, given the plaudits given to Bath Priory’s restaurant, one wonders why menus are not on display for residents and non residents alike.
With an occupancy rate of 60-70%, the presence of a top Executive Chef, Michael Caines, will certainly prove a major selling point. This feature, along with the opening of the new Garden Spa, has helped to attract a younger clientele of couples in their 30s and 40s. Whilst its popularity with retired and elderly couples remains, this gradual shift in the demographic of guests is to be welcomed. Those who stay can indulge in the luxurious accommodation, the superb amenities, and the first rate food. They also appreciate the continuity of staff – many of whom return after a brief spell elsewhere – and the excellent service they provide. The hotel, now currently holding 4 AA red Stars and three rosettes for its restaurant, is well worth a visit.