And so to Bath
PUBLISHED: 12:35 11 August 2008 | UPDATED: 15:23 20 February 2013
A tabloid journalist once asked writer Helen Fielding, creator of Bridget Jones, where her heroine would have most wanted to spend the mini break over which she obsessed for so much of her diary. 'Bath - no question', she replied unhesitatingly. I...
Bridget, you see, would be as much at home there as Jane Austen was, and therein lies Bath's essential and universal appeal.
Bath is, even in its own exalted terms, on a bit of a roll. Earlier this year 'The Sunday Times' Travel Magazine Reader Awards voted it the sixth best European City, the Royal Crescent Hotel as the best in the UK and the Thermae Bath Spa as the finest of its kind in the country. Back in 1941, Arthur Mee, whose 41-volume 'The King's England', chronicled each of England's counties, called it 'a piece of England like no other with a piece of Roman Britain matchless in these islands'.
More column inches have been devoted to the city and its charms than almost any other town or city in the British Isles, save London. And it is a tribute to Bath's multi-faceted appeal that there is always something new to write about. It is a city made for walking, gazing and spending. With 40 churches and chapels, a glorious theatre, architectural vistas to compare with anything in Europe, and a social history littered with names synonymous with style, controversy, flair and wit, Bath remains what it has always been - a magnet and catalyst for, and of, all that is most fashionable. It enjoyed its heyday in the Georgian era as the social milieu of Richard 'Beau' Nash and continues to pull in the big players - earlier this summer Jamie Oliver opened his new Italian eaterie in fashionable Milsom Place.
The latest initiative by Bath Tourism Plus, the official marketing body for the city and its surrounding areas, highlights the manifold merits of Boutique Bath. With nearly 50% of its shops retaining an independent status - a welcome and highly unusual quota for any UK city - it is one of the most tantalising, fascinating and complete shopping Meccas on the map.
Home of Jolly's - the oldest department store in the country - it is also the birthplace of the first mail-order company which today, as House of Bath, is the most successful home shopping company in the UK. But why stay at home? This glorious, honey-tinted amalgam of history, tradition, architecture, street theatre and retail therapy is a precious stone's thrown away. Why let Bridget have all the fun? BY KAREN DANIEL