With the pandemic stopping tourists from flying in to visit Bath, Truro and Exeter, Brits have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the beautiful cathedral cities without having to fight for a table or get swept along by the heaving hordes
Why is a city break never quite as beautiful as it looks in the brochure? Because in marketing images the elegant streets are never flooded with tourists barging their way around, standing in front of buildings you want to gaze at in quiet contemplation, and photobombing your snaps.
Currently, however, our much-visited South West cities are quiet: you can wander without being bumped into, and the quaint architecture is all yours to take in. You can even get a restaurant table most nights of the week and a good deal on bed and breakfast in some of the region’s most luxurious hotels.
Witness the historic hotspots like you’ve never seen them before and feast on a slice of slow tourism.
Think of Devon and it’s probably the packed seaside resorts and crowded beaches that spring to mind. Yet the county capital has wonderful delights to offer visitors: take a guided tour of the Gothic cathedral, and explore the interesting architecture and waterside pubs and cafes on the historic quayside.
Adventurous types can whiz around the city on an electric bike (check out www.co-bikes.co.uk), taking in the Tudor shop fronts, Cathedral Green and Roman walls along the way.
Nearby Lympstone Manor is the destination to book if you want to combine historic charm with exquisite country house luxe. At the time of writing the manor house is offering four nights for the price of three and its chef proprietor Michael Caines says:
‘People are missing a trick by not visiting our wonderful cathedral cities. Exeter is just a short drive from Lympstone, and our guests always enjoy exploring the Devon capital.
‘Now is a great time to visit as everything is so much quieter than usual – before returning to the haven of Lympstone where Michelin-star cuisine, the beauty of the Manor, and our vineyard and parkland round off a day of city sightseeing with country house luxury.’
On the outskirts of the city, the charming estuary town of Topsham offers an attractive and eclectic cluster of independent shops and fine restaurants. Check out Tom William-Hawkes’ British/French fusion cuisine at restaurant with rooms, The Salutation Inn; or feast on delicious local fish and shellfish at the delightful The Galley Restaurant.
Sweeping crescents, soaring spires and spectacular architecture are just a few of the good reasons to want to waft around the golden-stoned city of Bath channelling your inner Elizabeth Bennet.
The tourist hotspot, which includes a Gothic abbey, Roman Baths and the Jane Austen Centre, attracts around six million visitors each year – many from overseas. Without them, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has arisen for domestic tourists to take in the elegant architecture and ancient attractions without the usual argie-bargie.
Seasoned foodies will know to book a room at The Queensberry Hotel and a table for dinner at its Michelin-starred basement restaurant, The Olive Tree (re-opening in October). Set on a quiet street near to many of the city’s most famous attractions, the elegant boutique hotel is an ideal base for sightseeing and feasting on head chef Chris Cleghorn’s incredible tasting menus.
For a bucolic oasis on the edge of the city, stay and dine at The Bath Priory where exquisite cooking and country house hotel glamour are ensconced in acres of mature gardens.
Georgian tourists flocked to Bath to ‘take the waters’; the modern equivalent is a five-star luxury stay at The Gainsborough Bath Spa where incredible pools and treatment rooms are so much better than a glass of mineral-rich liquid. At the time of writing it has a special Welcome Back deal with discounts and offers on a three-night stay.
Those wanting to experience the attractions of the city before beating a retreat to the countryside should book a break at nearby Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa, a Palladian mansion with Michelin-starred dining, 500 acres of stunning grounds and sumptuous accommodation.
A visit to the Cornish cathedral city of Truro is a great way to enjoy a laidback city break without having to head abroad: roam the charming, cobbled streets and explore local shops, cafes and restaurants, then head towards Truro River for stunning walks and views across the estuary.
Discerning diners will want to pay a visit to bijou restaurant Tabb’s Restaurant where chef proprietor Nigel Tabb fashions everything – from freshly baked bread to homemade chocolates – in his one-man kitchen.
The Alverton is a veritable oasis in the city if you decide to stay for a few days and offers secluded gardens, delicious AA rosette dining and luxury rooms full of character and history.
‘In Truro, you get to experience the best of both worlds: a gorgeous city full of character and things to do, but also coastal resorts and countryside spots just a stone’s throw away,’ says the hotel’s Yohann Thuillier. ‘Most people make a beeline for the idyllic coastal locations, so staying inland is a great way to avoid the crowds.’