I have to admit it from the outset. I love Bath. Not just because of its history, its honey-coloured loveliness or the thought of a Mr Darcy around every corner. I’m only slightly ashamed to say that the main thing that does it for me is the shoping.
It shares a lot with Edinburgh, as well as its Unesco world heritage status. It’s beautiful and civilised in that Georgian way, but much more compact and walkable than our capital.
This was to be a girlie weekend of escape: Edinburgh is simply too near my children and chores. Bath’s themes are shopping, supping and spas. What better destination for a committed shopper like myself and my cousin Mairead, who leaves me in the retail little league? We planned to enjoy everything from the mainstream classics of Debenhams, TK Maxx, Urban Outfitters and M& S at Southgate to the genteel grandness of Milsom Street with its Highgrove shop - whose blue bag is gift enough - to Jolly’s, Bath’s answer to Jenners.
Stick these under streets festooned with huge white chandeliers and “shooting stars” overhead, all turned on by Bath’s most famous bun-maker, Mary Berry, and you have a winning formula to part with your Christmas cash. If the lights weren’t enough of a lure, or should I say excuse, to visit, for three weeks over Christmas 150 lit-up wooden chalets link themselves like fairy lights around the imposing grandeur of Bath Abbey, stretching out along its side streets. The city’s Christmas market has obligatory waft of caramelising nuts, the usual,most welcome suspects of jewellery, knitwear, soaps and foodstuffs. Above all, it’s a showcase for the West County: 70 per cent of its stalls are local (and ninety per cent of its produce is handmade in the UK).
That said, Scotland had a look in. Peeking out from the fake snow-covered wooden sheds on Bath Street were Edinburgh Gin and and Scottish cashmere. For my cousin, it was stocking up on miniature Russian dolls, silver rings and little glass trees while I stuffed myself with tasters of Georgie Porgie’s Puddings. Their traditional rum and brandy was second to none. Sorry, mum!
This market has spread since it began a decade ago but it mixes with the other shops and you get the feeling everyone benefits. Like independent department store Rossiters, which has a garden-inspired Christmas section to the best kids novelty toy section ever. You need several hours for this shop alone.
If that isn’t enough, head into K Fraser’s in Milsom Place with its Devon alpaca scarves which are woven in front of you in the shop. You can even design you own textiles, for a price of course. Yards away, you can park your weary bones and recharge in Carluccio’s before heading off to discover why the Saxons booted the Romans out of their favourite foreign holiday resort.
The Roman spa right beside the Christmas market is Britain’s only hot spring. It’s 46C before it hits the inner pool. We toured it by candlelight. It was magical. Our tour included a meal at the nearby Roman Baths kitchen. The game pie was lovely with the added boon of Belfast waiter Ben who was great craic.
If you want a more upmarket experience head to The Kilted Chef. Dougie Bonar is a Scot whose great grandmother fed the Queen Mother pastries at Glamis. We went there on our last night. My blackened west coast scallops and fillet of McLue beef were superb.
If you get tired of shopping and eating there’s lots of other things to see and do. Take a night time dip in the open air rooftop pool at the Thermae Spa for a hot float. There’s ice skating, and endless great museums for a bit of culture amid the commercialism.
The rich choice of activities is equalled by Bath’s accommodation. From the cedars of Lebanon on the front lawn - very Downton - the Molton Brown toileries to the Nepresso machine in my bedroom (sadly without George Clooney) the MacDonald Bath Spa Hotel was just lovely. It’s outside hot spa echoes the Roman original and the whole place was beautifully bedecked for Christmas - an image of Bath itself, really.
But what really makes Bath special are the people, like the staff at the Bailbrook House Hotel.
This is a city that welcomes you: when you get lost, people don’t just direct you, they lead you to where you are going. They recommend nice bars, like Abbey did on the till in Marks and Spencer’s who said the Crystal Palace was great and she was right. It had fresh orchids on the bar and that’s a city centre boozer.
If you want to be feel as if you’ve been dipped in the true spirit of Christmas, just in time for Santa, you could do a whole lot worse than head to Bath. The market may be heaving but there are no Black Friday Asda elbows here. Certainly not, it’s Bath.
Bath Christmas Market 28 th November -15 th December
Flights Easyjet Edinburgh to Bristol
5 star MacDonald Bath Spa Hotel, Twin or Doubles B&B prices start from £204
4 star Bailbrook House Hotel, Twin or Doubles £134 B&B
Roman Bath Twilight Tour & dinner £38 per person
Thermae Bath spa £26 per person for a 2 hour session