Review by Fiona Duncan, published 9th August 2009.
You have to have a reason to visit a hotel, apart from wanting someone else to make the beds, and recently my cousin Sara and I found a very good one.
The Priory is my favourite Bath hotel, at least among the upper echelons (the wonderfully located Royal Crescent, the Bath Spa and the Queensberry being the other luxury options). The Priory is not central, but though its edge-of-city location can act as a deterrent to visitors, it's actually a plus, combining all the attributes of a typically English country house hotel – spacious rooms, huge luxuriant garden, family-friendly outdoor pool and spa (reopening in the autumn) – with the attractions of the city. The last are close at hand: stroll through stately Victoria Park and you quickly arrive at the breathtaking Royal Crescent and the heart of Georgian Bath. Sara and I, however, weren't in Bath just for its beauty. We were on our way, with trepidation, to become a pair of fine French pâtissières.
Bath has a new attraction, one that's instructive, fun and good value. Bertinet Kitchen is a cookery school that runs a wide array of courses, from bread making to entertaining. Participants can naturally stay where they like, but Bertinet and the Bath Priory have linked up to create a joint package, and very appealing it is too.
Frenchman Richard Bertinet, author of the best-selling books Dough and Crust (published by Kyle Cathie), is a natural teacher, with a nice line in irony and a clever wheeze (find out for yourselves) for getting his pupils to demonstrate their skills in front of the class. We joined a group of 10, from all over the country and all walks of life, many returning for a second or even third time.
As for Sara and I, we entered, nervously, with an unhappy relationship with frozen pastry and a living terror of the real thing. By the end… well I won't boast: suffice to say that choux pastry swans are not unknown in my kitchen now.
As part of the course, a splendid lunch was provided. We tucked in, which was overindulging a bit, since neither of us had noticeably held back on dinner at the Priory the night before. The admirable Michael Caines is now executive chef there as well as at sister hotel Gidleigh Park in Devon. Though the cooking is more than several cuts above at Gidleigh, its kitchen having been honed over many years, the lower price at the Priory reflects the newness of the operation, where his former sous, James Sheridan, is in charge.
I really like Bath Priory. It's not perfect, but it has country house warmth, more than at glossy Gidleigh, plus extremely elegant bedrooms, stylish bathrooms and that oasis of a garden, plus an expansive terrace. Sue Williams runs both hotels for owner Andrew Brownsword with great efficiency, but I feel they would each benefit from a hands-on manager; a host would add more personality and warmth in both.
Weston Road (01225 331922; www.thebathpriory.co.uk). Doubles from £185 per night, including breakfast. Bertinet Kitchen packages from £255 per person or £420 for two. One room for guests with disabilities.