In a city where the prevailing décor is chintz and hotels are the most expensive in Britain, a stylish new hotel comes like a breath of fresh air. And when that hotel's rooms start at just £99, that air is decidedly sweet.
The Halcyon, built in 1743, occupies a double-fronted, Grade I-listed Georgian townhouse, constructed in the characteristic honey-coloured Bath stone. It was a rundown B&B called George's Hotel until last year, when a local property developer, Giles Thomas, bought and refurbished it for nearly £3m. This is his first of a series of affordable, boutique city hotels, and he will start looking for a new venture in a year or so, with Oxford, Brighton, Chester and Cheltenham on the list.
Inside, The Halcyon is so new (it opened on 11 February) you can still smell fresh paint. The furnishings and décor follow typical boutique hotel territory, where subtle palettes are offset by bursts of brilliant colour. As a listed building, all the original features have been maintained; the Georgian panelling and cornicing echo the elegance of the façade and give the hotel character and charm beyond its boutique label.
There is just one public room, which serves as the lobby, bar and breakfast room, with the bar doubling up as reception. Here are wooden floorboards and stone-coloured walls contrasted with a black and white striped banquettes and orange leather chairs.
Despite not having a restaurant, the original hotel kitchen was retained and serves a superb and good-value breakfast, with bacon and sausages from the local butcher and nice touches such as a mashed potato patty and black pudding, for £9.99. The bar has a good cocktail list and a licence to serve drinks on the pavement in front of the hotel; summer plans include tables, chairs, awnings and a wicker basket full of blankets and hot water bottles.
The hotel is positioned as a "launch pad" for visiting Bath. To that end, don't plan to spend hours whiling away time there; it is not that kind of hotel. Its 21 rooms are comfortable and equipped with plasma televisions (though not satellite systems or DVD players), but they are small and not the kind where you can spend hours languishing in bed without becoming a little claustrophobic.
The Halcyon is in the city centre, a two-minute walk from Bath Spa train station. Two of the city's major draws – the imposing Gothic abbey with its beautiful fan vaulting, and the Roman Baths, a world heritage site and Britain's only thermal spring – can be found in Abbey Church Yard, a five-minute walk in the opposite direction. Though it is no longer safe to swim in the baths because the water passes through the original Roman lead piping, the Georgian building and museum are well worth a visit. You can go on to bathe in the thermal waters at Thermae Bath Spa on Hot Bath Street. To explore a bit further, borrow a Halcyon bicycle or one of the hotel's MP3 players, which are loaded with a walking tour of Bath and a music playlist.
There are three categories of room: standard, deluxe and studio. As they are all on the small side, plump for a studio if you can. Rooms on the first floor are biggest, so ask for one at the front to capitalise on the views; the rooms at the back, though quiet, look on to the back of another row of Georgian houses. It is in the bedrooms that the decorative scheme finds real expression. Velvet headboards and cushions come in one of three dramatic colours – mustard yellow, scarlet or mauve – and have blankets to match, balanced by grey linen trim. The effect is chic but not contrived, and stylish in its simplicity.
Bathrooms are fresh and bright, with Manhattan-style white brick-effect tiles, Philippe Starck fittings and White Company products. Only two of the rooms have baths, and these are small. Other details include jam jars filled with Smarties and gummy bears and black and white photographs of Bath. There is no room service, though there are plans to introduce a breakfast hamper (every room has a kettle for coffee and tea). The four studio rooms also have a tiny "kitchenette", allowing you to prepare a basic meal.
When I visited, The Halcyon was still finding its feet. A corridor was piled high with chairs and staff were trying to find a balance between make coffee and cocktails at the bar while checking in guests. However, occupancy is presently running high, with strong bookings for the coming month.
The Halcyon, 2-3 South Parade, Bath, BA2 4AA (01225 444100; thehalcyon.com )
Standard doubles start at £99; deluxe £115 and studio £125, room only.
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