WHAT IS IT?
The location, plumb in the middle of the Royal Crescent, made me giddy with its loveliness: this is Georgian architecture at its finest, in buttery Bath stone, the whole grand sweep of it Grade I listed. Set in a pair of terraced houses, this hotel is vast, with great panelled walls and ceilings garlanded with fancy cornicing lofty enough to accommodate even the silliest of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’s wigs (as evidenced by Keira Knightley in the 2008 film The Duchess). Long sash windows give wonderful views across the amphitheatre or overlook the acre of gardens out back, across which are the Dower House restaurant, a spa, the Garden Villa and the pillared Pavilion.
BEHIND THE SCENES
When John Wood the Younger built the crescent in the 1760s, it was simply a façade. Each of the 30 frontages was sold, and owners had their dream homes built behind it: mansions made for entertaining (Jane Austen had the Elliots take one in Persuasion). The hotel takes up numbers 15 and 16, which in the 1970s were turned into a one-star property (and has since picked up another four). A top-to-toe refurb in spring 2014, by local interior designer Jane Clayton, updated and revivified that Georgian grandeur with an eye on the present day.
Though not quite themed, each of the 45 rooms and suites has a different colour scheme and antiques from the original property. The Royal Crescent Suite has its own drawing room and a silk-draped, jump-on-me four-poster so high you need a leg-up. The blue-and white Duke of York Suite is breathtakingly large and light, with floor-to-ceiling windows from which you half-expect to see Anne Elliot tottering after her Captain Wentworth. Even the most modest rooms – reached up the butlers’ staircase to the attic quarters, past a window-seat reading nook – are lovely.
Scottish chef David Campbell is going for rosettes rather than stars, but still, it’s all thrillingly theatrical: an island of smoked trout in a kryptonite green cucumber sea comes out still smoking from under a bell jar. Some things have been done three ways and intricately arranged; there are vegetables that sound like verbs, still-lifes of scallops and smoked eel, and miniature mushrooms. Dabs of charcoal-infused squid-ink cream infused my very head so I went to bed dreaming of bonfires.
WHO GOES THERE
Johnny Depp stayed in the Garden Villa for three months; U2 and the Rolling Stones have, independently, taken over the entire hotel. ‘Lovely people,’ said one member of staff. ‘And no throwing TVs out of windows now that they’re middle-aged.’
Having all this history to yourself once the day-trippers have left. From the moment you drive up on the cobbled street outside, the welcoming staff get everything spot-on. Both spa and restaurant are superlative.
WE DON’T LIKE
Sockets are so discreet you’d have to be a ninja to plug anything in. There’s no minibar, so you have to order, which can take some time.