Where exactly is it? A short walk from Bath’s highly photogenic Royal Crescent, that sweeping semi-circle of Georgian opulence overlooking parkland. The Queensberry Hotel is also a croissant’s hurl from Bartlett Street Quarter, a hilly independent shopping and dining district nestled by the 18th century Assembly Rooms. Here many a Jane Austen novel was set, and the wealthy denizens of the city would gossip, flirt and generally get off with each other. In a civilised manner, of course.
The interior? Owned by husband-and-wife team Laurence and Helen Beere, four Georgian townhouses have been squished together to create a lateral conversion with a whopping 29 bedrooms: staircases and stairwells abound, while a succession of chic lounges and bars might even allow guests, should they wish, to conduct more than one romantic tryst at a time. The garden-facing living room (main pic, above), with its various winning shades of green, would be especially wonderful – although we had to imagine this – if the fire was lit; while the connected walled courtyards, with mirrors, tropical shrubs and outdoor rattan chairs in secret corners, must be dreamy in the summer.
What was good about the rooms? Ours, with dark ochre walls, rugs and low ceilings, was right at the top of the house, six flights up. There’s a lift, but if you prefer to use your legs, it’s enough of a climb to make you pant a little after a cooked breakfast (or a prolonged lunch, see below). It’s worth it for the views over the terraces of Bath sandstone and countryside beyond. The king-size bed is both wide and comfy enough to forget you’re even sharing it with a partner, and the bathroom is all tiled magnificence with rain shower and sniffably pungent toiletries (a sensor also means it conveniently lights up should you need a wee in the night). There’s obviously a flatscreen telly and tons of local literature too.
Anything on the snagging list? Nothing, other than that we’d have liked a kettle in the room. A Nespresso coffee and tea station is only one floor down – yet you can’t quite make a brew in your pants (there are, conveniently, bath robes on hand, however).
Ok, let’s talk about the food. Basement restaurant The Olive Tree is the big reason for staying: 33-year-old head chef Chris Cleghorn (ex-Michael Caines) has been there for five years and just bagged a Michelin star – unbelievably the only one currently awarded in Bath. So expectation as we take a seat is suitably high. On our Sunday lunch visit there’s a trio of different menus, a three, five and seven course, as well as à la carte. We choose the five, with an additional cheese plate; amuse bouches pad it out further.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. The cooking, pace and service are all extraordinary; it’s one of the best meals of the year. Our opener, raw Orkney scallops, come thinly sliced with horseradish cream, a pale pink grapefruit granita and dill; but these are soon outshone by fresh tagliatelle, rich with umami-laden white truffle and a 36-month aged parmesan sauce poured over by the (charmingly cheeky) waiter.
To follow? Two lustrous fillets of stone bass, seared skin-crisp on onion, artichoke and a cloud of lardo – basically pig fat – with a light mushroom tea poured over for savoury thwack. The showpiece though is sliced duck, its flesh carmine, edged with fat, alongside a neat bonbon of slow-cooked meat, a whorl of lemon curd, toasted hazelnuts and a blistered floret of cauliflower. A jug of dark meaty juices makes it all sing.
Surely you didn’t scoff desserts? Of course we did. A small cheese course of Tunworth (the British Camembert) with autumn truffle and honey, on a finger of fermented bread, matches an aromatic Gewurtztrammer perfectly, while an unlikely (but fitting) sake works with an extraordinary double act: baked milk chocolate tart, with peanut, brown butter ice cream and salted caramel; and blueberry sorbet sea-shell with mascarpone, orange blossom, grapes, lemon balm and meringue, all sharp tang and sweet-sourness.
To drink? A wine flight, if budget permits, with its combination of safe and experimental (the sommelier explains they happily replace a wine if it’s not to individual taste). A citrusy Spanish Albarino and crisp Gavi suits our first dishes, before the honeyed ripe complexity of a Marlborough chardonnay (with the bass), and the slightly spicy soft fruits of a South African merlot with the duck.
What’s the service like? Sweet, friendly, with a touch of formality – a good formula that must be part of its success.
Breakfast? 100% better than the usual hotel offer: we gobble air-light scrambled eggs with delicate oak-smoked salmon on sourdough; and French toast with crispy bacon. Coffee is strong and smooth, with freshly-squeezed juice, pastries and croissants to scoff too.
Elsewhere in Bath? Don’t miss the ancient spas, of course. After lunch, we slope down to the Roman Baths which, dating back 2000 years, are remarkably preserved. It’s incredible to think that the city’s thermal springs rise in the site and they still flow with natural hot water. At sun-down, the flaming torches lit, the crowds not as heavy, it’s mesmerizing. It takes a couple of hours to look round, so allow time.
Can you swim? Not in the Roman Baths, silly. Head instead to the Bath Spa Thermae, which we visit next morning. A multi-storey complex of natural hot-water baths, saunas, steam, treatment, relaxtion and ice rooms, the key draw is the outdoor rooftop pool, naturally heated at 33.5 degrees – unbeatable, even on a day when it’s an icy few degrees above freezing. Warning – it gets very busy: at 10am it was peaceful, but by 11am packed to the gunnels.
Where else should we check out? For a simple meal, the chicken is tasty at the Firehouse Rotisserie, which also does sourdough pizza, or try quality tapas at the stylish Pintxo. Fancy a pub crawl? Ancient watering holes as well as modern bars are dotted across the city: Coeur de Lion is a diminutive touristy boozer, The Raven a characterful local ale haunt, The Salamander an upmarket gastropub, and the Bath Brewhouse a craft beer den with a younger crowd. Dive in.