If there is a honeymoon made in heaven, it must be a summer week in the picture-book countryside around the Georgian spa town of Bath. To wake up in a canopy four-poster in a mansion of a hotel above a perfect English garden is to know that all is right with the world—and let's ring for a pot of tea!
As the two of you snuggle into the window seat and gaze out on the quilted Somerset or Wiltshire fields, you may marvel that the English make a habit of weekending at these posh country-house hotels. And yet a honeymooning American couple can do it almost as easily: A flight to London, a 90-minute intercity train to Bath that takes you past fields of brilliant yellow rape and blood-red poppies, then a short car ride, and suddenly you're spinning up a pebbled drive and stopping before a stately, sprawling house out of Masterpiece Theatre. Picking your honeymoon haven is key. As it happens, there are three choice properties in the countryside around Bath, and an elegant hotel or two within the fair city itself. Perhaps the stateliest of the lot is Lucknam Park, a 42-room Palladian mansion just six miles northeast of Bath. Set at the end of a beautiful avenue of centuries-old lime and beech trees, the mansion is stunning to behold, all dormers and chimneys, towers and turrets. In no time, you will feel like king and queen of the castle, as comfortable in the chandeliered main drawing room and library with French doors leading onto a terrace as you will in your own digs. The Coral Suite is a spacious boudoir that will spoil you with its big fireplace, golden carpet, and views to swoon over.
Nature enfolds you in its arms the moment you step outdoors—roses and clematis tumble over high garden walls. Lucknam sweeps across 500 acres, secreting an equestrian center with 30 horses. Let a groom (guide) take you on a ride of the grounds or off into the countryside. Play a spot of croquet, swat tennis balls, get in a round of golf on one of three nearby courses, or pamper yourselves in Lucknam's recently expanded spa.
A few miles south of Bath are two hideaways with equal appeal but different approaches to English country life. Ston Easton Park is a quietly elegant Palladian mansion with a 450-year history. The 23-room hotel is filled with antiques and paintings that had disappeared during a long period of decline and were painstakingly tracked down and reinstalled in recent years. You'll bed down in a Chippendale canopy four-poster in the main building or in the lovely Garden Cottage out back. On a stroll of the 36-acre grounds in the late twilight, you'll find the scent intoxicating, the romance irresistible. Steal a few moments in the Cutting Garden, amid a series of small recesses thick with flowers, where milady and her swain once retreated for private embraces.
Ston Easton Park can keep you busy with balloon rides over the countryside, tennis, trout-fishing, and golf. Or hop in the car and wend your way to precious Wells, the so-called smallest city in the country, with a huge English-Gothic cathedral in the center.
Seven miles down the road, near the village of Shepton Mallet, is Charlton House, with 25 rooms. Owned by English designer and sportsman Roger Saul, whose famed Mulberry line covers every settee, love seat, and canopy bed within, Charlton House is marked by humor and whimsy—witness the antique opera box that hangs over the dining-room entrance. Ask for the Adam and Eve Suite—the figures of the biblical lovers are carved into an ornate 16th-century headboard, and the bed is covered with a majestic burgundy velvet bedspread.
A big reason many come great distances to Charlton House is the food. The recipient of an esteemed Michelin star, the Mulberry Restaurant is perched above glorious gardens. Chef Simon Crannage marries Continental flavors with those of the lusty local produce. On a tender summer evening, take a table for two in the garden and let him fix you something creatively light: a sweet-potato-and-cumin soup, English sea bass salad with asparagus, and a dessert of fresh summer berries with passion-fruit soup and piña colada sorbet.
Before you leave the area, save a day or more for exploring the city of Bath, as perfectly Georgian and charming today as it was when Jane Austen lived and wrote here. Like Rome, it has seven hills and is clad in rows and crescents of tan stone buildings that glow in the changing sunlight. Bath's narrow, busy streets and subtle surprises demand you make your way on foot. Start at Kingston Parade, the buzzing main square beneath the Gothic towers of Bath Abbey. Grab a bench or café table, watch a juggler or violinist, then leave the happy hubbub behind and step back two millennia into the Roman Baths, an important Roman temple and bathing complex built around local hot springs that are still flowing. A walk through the remarkable excavations here will show you how the Romans frolicked in these colonnaded pools of bubbling-hot green water.
Stroll the city's back lanes and shopping streets and stop for a coffee, pastry, or gelato at one of the many Continental-style cafés. Sally Lunn's, the oldest house in Bath, has been baking the Sally Lunn Bun since 1680. Bath is justly proud of its many one-of-a-kind shops and boutiques. Buy milady a frothy bonnet at The British Hatter and stop at Mee on Bartlett Street, which sells fancy handmade lingerie, perfume, and silk flowers. The family-run Duo of Bath has shoes, boots, and handbags from Europe.
Bath is renowned for its historic crescents, semicircular rows of posh town houses that wrap around elegant small parks. Hand in hand, you can climb to the Circus, a perfect 18th-century circle of town houses, and then still higher to the Royal Crescent, an arcing sweep of 30 connected houses, built around the time of the American Revolution. Encompassing Nos. 15 and 16 is the Royal Crescent Hotel, home to the much acclaimed restaurant Pimpernel's. Ask for the Crescent Suite, with pastel wallpaper, gilded mirrors, and large windows looking onto Royal Victoria Park.
But wherever the two of you choose to stay in and around Bath, whether on a hilltop crescent or deep in the countryside, you'll be making plans to return to this corner of English paradise very soon.
If you are planning a London visit either before or after your trip to Bath, consider Knightsbridge in the West End. Here you will find not only the storied Harrods and the young woman's favorite, the hip Harvey Nichols shop, but also Beauchamp (say Beecham) Street, chockablock with trendy restaurants like San Lorenzo.
Two Knightsbridge hotels (both long on substance and style) are the Berkeley and the Egerton House Hotel. The Berkeley, across from Hyde Park, is the ultimate in quiet chic, while the tiny, tony Egerton House, though just around the corner from busy Brompton Road, feels as secluded as a country estate.
For your journey to or from Bath, consider hopping aboard BritRail, which offers a seamless 90-minute cruise through the countryside. Book a pair of cushy first-class seats, and an attendant will ply you with TLC. Crossing the pond is a simple and stylish proposition with Virgin Atlantic Airlines, which offers all kinds of amenities for upper-class passengers—all the way from a comfy seat that rolls back into a bed to a massage in a darkened corner.
Where to Stay
- Lucknam Park, lucknampark.co.uk
- Ston Easton Park, stoneaston.co.uk
- Charlton House, charltonhouse.com
- The Royal Crescent Hotel, royalcrescent.co.uk
- The Berkeley, the-berkeley.co.uk
- The Egerton House Hotel, egertonhousehotel.co.uk
For travel information on England, go to visitbritain.com. For Bath: visitbath.co.uk.