Review by Fiona Duncan, published 24th August 2008.
Where to stay in Bristol for my son Fergus’s graduation? The Hotel du Vin would be my first choice, but it’s full. What of the rest?
It’s an uninspiring selection. Among a dreary crop of Thistles, Novotels and Mercures nothing, with the exception of this one, stands out. The Avon Gorge is the only hotel with a view, and a commanding one at that, of Brunel’s thrilling Clifton suspension bridge.
There are hotels, those that work, that make you feel good when you walk in; there are hotels (the majority) where nothing much happens either way; and there are hotels that make your heart sink.
Here comes that sinking feeling. Fergus has driven me to Bristol and past the increasingly fine Georgian architecture of Clifton. From the other side of the gorge, the hotel looks splendid, with its vast semicircular terrace and dignified air. I picture it populated by Victorian ladies in their crinolines (it was built in 1898) and fall to thinking of the crinoline that apparently acted as a parachute to save a woman as she tried to plunge from the bridge to her death. And then I think of Cary Grant, who used to stay at the Avon Gorge while visiting his mother. It was fashionable then.
Not now. There are no discernible echoes of the past, nor of Clifton’s elegance in the boring, businesslike foyer. There’s a reception desk, manned by a particularly warm and friendly foreign receptionist, and a door leading to the Bridge Café and adjoining White Horse bar, which spills on to the terrace with that marvellous view. Roles have reversed: Fergus and his student housemates have organised a post-graduation party so their parents can meet one another, and we gather here for pre-dinner drinks. No crinolines, but the White Horse terrace at the Avon Gorge is still a great place to kick off the evening, followed by dinner in an excellent local gastropub, the Albion.
My bedroom, when I finally get to it, is stuck somewhere in the Eighties or Nineties – whenever it was that we thought bamboo furniture, sprigged wallpaper with co-ordinating frieze, brass wall lights and blue carpets were fashionable. But at least an attempt has been made at homeliness, albeit the homeliness of one’s home-before-last. Being a single room, it is of course minute (we lone travellers are well used to being palmed off with the smallest and most awkward spaces), with a small and elderly but well-designed bathroom.
The bed is so hard that when I flop down on it, exhausted (having dragged my bags from the lift along endless corridors and through several swing doors), I jar my back. The room is stuffy and stale smelling. Thank heaven for the American-style electric ceiling fan, a lifesaver during the night, despite its insistent thrump-thrump.
Breakfast in the Bridge Café is cardboard and formulaic, though the waitress with the mad dyed hair is so engaging that she makes up for it. And there’s the view; but even that doesn’t make me want to stick around a second longer than I have to.
Sion Hill, Clifton (0117 9738955; www.theavongorge.com). Doubles from £115 per night, including breakfast. Not suitable for guests with disabilities.