In the heart of Bath, you can hardly move for tourists. And I say this as recent tourist in the city. Its beautiful buildings, spas, manicured gardens and surfeit of afternoon teas are a magnet for visitors seeking a taste of traditional, genteel England. But there's no reason to confine yourself to the centre; venture just beyond and you can escape the crowds while remaining close enough to dip a toe in those thermal waters.
In Oldfield Park, slightly south of the station, you'll find sloping streets of lovely Victorian villas built from the same sandy Bath stone as the city's most arresting architecture. And among these is Grays, once a huge family home, later a mid-range guesthouse, now a boutique b&b.
Spread over three floors, the 12 bedrooms range from compact doubles tucked into the eaves to generous four-poster affairs, with different design schemes including tropical and French château.
I stayed in spacious Room Two, on the ground floor, with a huge bay window offering views over the city to the hills beyond. The decor is dominantly grey, from the walls and ceiling to the birdcage-patterned curtains and striped armchairs. The centrepiece is the king-size bed, an ornate, white, antique-inspired affair, while overhead hangs a contemporary chandelier dripping with plastic crystals.
There is reliable, free wi-fi, and a television in each room. Nice little touches such as Ren toiletries, fluffy towels and a cafetière suggest thought has gone into putting everything together, but my room could have been better planned (the door to the shower room and toilet is right next to the bed) and the decor feels a bit too new – the effect is clean and fresh, but vintage fabrics and furniture might have added more character.
The homely dining room is decked with country-chic check table cloths and blue and white crockery. There's a selection of cereal and fruit and a hot menu that ranges from the usual full English to all kinds of eggs (Benedict, Florentine, royale) and a veggie option that comes with halloumi and a potato scone.
Jamie Grundy previously ran a lodge in South Africa, but Grays, his second venture in Bath, is a family affair. He and his aunt and uncle, Sarah and Michael Jones, opened the b&b in 2013, following sister operation Brindleys two years earlier. Sarah designed the interiors while Jamie's wife, Anel, painted some of the artwork that adorns the walls – in my room this meant a canvas of a swooping bird (grey, of course).
The Grundys live in a cottage on site with their son, and Jamie can usually be found at Grays five days a week, with Michael filling in the rest of the time. They have a team of 12 staff working across the two properties.
A 20-minute downhill stroll brings you into the centre of Bath; this is just about the longest walk you'll need to make during a weekend in this compact city. Learn about the tradition of bathing at the historic Roman Baths (01225 477785; romanbaths.co.uk) before heading to Thermae Bath Spa (0844 888 0844; thermaebathspa.com), where you can soak in the thermal waters while soaking up the views from the rooftop pool.
The Jane Austen Centre (01225 443000; janeausten.co.uk) will teach you about one of the city's most famous residents, while the Royal Crescent is one of the city's most photogenic Georgian gems – a curved terrace of 30 grand houses.
Dating back to 1776, The Chequers (01225 360017; thechequersbath.com) is a beautifully preserved pub, close to the Royal Crescent, serving inventive and delicious dishes accompanied by a fantastic wine list. I ate scallops with pork belly followed by a rich, deconstructed duck pie, but I wish I'd had space for the curried lamb scotch egg too. Mains from £14.50.
Even if you don't usually go in for establishments where the staff are dressed in period costume, it's worth making time for the Regency Tea Room, on the top floor of the Jane Austen Centre, which serves a hearty Ladies' Afternoon Tea (£9.90; not just for ladies). Book ahead at weekends.
Grays, 9 Upper Oldfield Park, Bath BA2 3JX (01225 403020; graysbath.co.uk). Doubles from £105, including breakfast.
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