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In Focus: #CitySwap = A Change of Perspective

It’s one thing that I’ve tried to do in the (gulp) 11 years I’ve lived in London – always get out of it at least once a month. Whether it’s a trip to visit my parents in the Lake District, a 23-hour press trip to <insert random European city here> or a Sunday afternoon jaunt into the Cotswolds, one of the most important ways of coping with the Big Smoke is to make sure that you leave Zone 1 as often as possible and see some actual countryside. It’s probably a consequence of growing up in the country (the Yorkshire Dales to be precise), but whatever the inspiration, it’s what motivated me to get out of LDN just the other weekend for a #CitySwap to the gorgeous city of Bath.

It’s a pretty self-explanatory idea, this #CitySwap malarkey – take a Hertz rentacar (in mine and my lovely driver, Mr Neil Thornton’s case a safety feature-laden copper-coloured Volvo V40) and explore somewhere new, swapping your well-trodden weekend path for something a bit out-of-the-ordinary. After considering a few options, I decided on the historic city of Bath – somewhere I’d always wanted to visit, with the added and very attractive bonus of being filled to the brim with spas.

We picked up our ride at Marble Arch, speeding off down the M4 for a pleasant, painless journey that made me realise just how pleasant car travel is. I’m actually rarely in a car now (unless I’m pretending to be Anna Wintour in a blacked-out S-Class), but it really is the most civilised way of getting from A to B, even from central London on a busy Saturday morning. A few hours in, we arrived in Bath, the satnav guiding us to the doorstep of a cosy apartment in the centre of the historic city.

We chill out for a bit after the drive – I take full advantage of the free wi-fi to get some work done, and my mate has a quick powernap before we get out an explore the city. And what a city: it’s like visiting those gorgeous places you only see in period dramas: grand rotundas of sandstone-terraced houses, engraved streetsigns, narrow roads, tourists everywhere…Bath’s compact centra makes it pretty easily explorable in an afternoon: we wander semi-aimlessly, following our noses and chance upon a vintage bicycle shop, a gorgeous riverside park and some fab local boutiques, before coming to rest in Kingsmead Square and the gorgeous Society Café where our urban coffee needs are satisfied amid a people-watching chillout oasis.

The slower pace of life is, of course, intoxicating. We dawdle along cobbled streets, snapping Instagrams and pointing out architectural features, before ducking into one of the most fabulous indie bookshops I’ve ever encountered: Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. With some of the best-curated fiction I’ve ever seen (and I used to work in the fiction department at Foyles), I inevitably end up buying a stack of novels – chatting with the owner it’s clear this strategy works as business is, thankfully, booming.

We pitch up at local institution Hall & Woodhouse, meeting up with fashion insider (and convenient local guide Dan Hasby-Oliver) for a few cocktails, a good portion of fish’n’chips and some insider secrets about the city from Dan before heading out into town for a bit of a bar-hop session. The great and the good are all out on the tiles, and as Bath luxuriates into an early-Autumn night, we zip slightly away from the town centre, down into a cellar bar called Opium. As befits its decadent name, Opium is a grown-up, intimate bar, serving brilliant negronis and providing the perfect atmosphere for a glimpse at Bath’s eclectic nightlife.

The morning dawns back at the apartment and we’ve desperately in need of a hangover cure. Luckily (and appropriately) we’ve booked ourselves an early-morning session at Thermae, Britain’s only thermal spa. Thank the lord! It’s the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done – we amble between a warm indoor pool, a heated outdoor pool on the roof and a floor full of differently-scented steam rooms and the world’s best waterfall shower system. Booze sweats out, eucalyptus steam goes in and our hangovers are miraculously erased as we saunter about in the towelling white robes that have become unbelievably comfortable during our couple of hours in the spa. As we munch down an impressively-delicious lunch in the café, we’re acutely aware that the weekend blissout is over.

No matter, we return to the car and hit the road for a smooth run back to London, feeling the total bodily refreshment that only a few hours in a thermal spa can provide. Just before we drop the car back, we fill it with petrol – at just over £40, the Volvo’s running costs have been surprisingly slim, and we’re reluctant to hand it back. But hand it back we must, vowing that we’ll do it again – whether it’s to visit somewhere exciting, or just to get out of the city for a few days.

-       Seb Law



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