Where to stay in Bath: The Queensberry Hotel

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We adults have it pretty tough at this time of year – short days, miserable weather and no half term to look forward to. For those reasons, taking a couple of days off last week for a short but sweet visit to one of our favourite UK cities was much needed.

Bath is barely an hour away from Cardiff on the train, but stepping out of the station and onto its iconic brown stone streets reminded us why tourists flock from all over the world to see it. Because the entire city is a World Heritage Site, its striking mix of Roman and Georgian architecture has been preserved beautifully. We probably could have spent the whole trip strolling up and down the streets marveling at the impressive buildings, but drizzly weather convinced us to seek refuge in one of Bath’s equally alluring boutique hotels.

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We couldn’t have picked a better base than The Queensberry Hotel on Russel Street. Converted from four terraced Georgian townhouses, the hotel is a tastefully curated clash of old and new – period furnishings are mixed up with touches of contemporary luxury and the owners’ love of classic English wit.

After being welcomed by a smiley member of the concierge team, we were led to our luxurious room. With a mighty king sized bed taking pride of place, we couldn’t resist faceplanting gleefully on to its cushty mattress as soon as the door was closed. You haven’t known comfort until you’ve spent ten minutes lying on one of these beds while Classic FM blares triumphantly from the bedside digital radio; nibbling complimentary chocolates as you allow your eyes to roam around one of these incredible bedrooms.

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It was the small touches that made this room really special, from a stately trio of winged pugs soaring up the wall to an indulgent (and free) overnight shoe cleaning service. This was much needed after our soggy roaming around the city; waking up to find two pairs of spotlessly polished boots next to our complimentary newspaper made both of the mornings we were there feel like Christmas.

The generosity continued downstairs in a cosy drawing room, where Teapigs tea and fresh coffee is freely available from 8am until 8pm every day. We made a habit of spending at least an hour in here each day, sipping our hot drinks in front of the fire while collaborating on a crossword. Old fashioned, perhaps, but timelessly satisfying.

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For us, the jewel in the crown of The Queensberry had to be its restaurant, The Olive Tree. We had the pleasure of meeting head chef Chris Cleghorn, whose résumé includes time with Michelin Star chefs including Heston Blumenthal and Michael Caines. Chris told us that his menu was all about treating the diner to bold and well-matched flavour combinations, without leaving anyone bloated or overfed. After three sublime courses, this was exactly how we both felt.

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The kitchen aptly accommodated for our resident vegan, from the creamy butternut squash soup starter to an intensely savoury salt baked celeriac main and three scoops of sweet sorbet – blackcurrant, chocolate and mandarin – for dessert. Having been faced with countless humdrum veggie options at other restaurants, Amy really appreciated being able to choose from a range of original and thoughtful vegan dishes.

As for me, I purposely went for food that I’ve not had the chance to try before – a melt-in-your-mouth crab lasagne, an exquisitely British take on duck à l’orange and, finally, a super indulgent chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream. It took a shot of espresso to rouse me from my flavour-induced stupor to truly appreciate what I’d just eaten – an absolute sensation, matched with impeccable service that made the evening unforgettable.

The next morning, The Olive Tree’s similarly delicious but more relaxed breakfast was chance to reflect on what an experience staying in The Queensberry had been. We can’t imagine anywhere else in Bath being more accommodating, comfortable or uniquely charming – a real treat for anyone seeking something special enough to rival the vibrant personality of the city.

We did manage to tear ourselves away from The Queensberry to experience some of Bath’s other attractions – look out for some of those in another blog post!

Matt

Blackberry picking on Cumnor Hurst, Oxfordshire

mamyonhurstI think everyone should have somewhere they can go to feel like a kid again. For me, Cumnor Hurst is one such place.

hurst2This wooded hill on the outskirts of Oxfordshire isn’t too far from my parents’ house, and is perfect for an autumn adventure. It’s best known as the site of some famous dinosaur discoveries: Europe’s first fossilised Camptosaurus was discovered here, along with sea dwelling monsters like Plesiosaurs and Ichthyosaurs.

The Hurst has more to offer than ancient lizard remains though – nowadays, it’s home to a couple of amiable Dexter cows who wander freely to graze on brambles, and the top of the hill boasts spectacular views across the Oxfordshire countryside.

The two of us wandered up there last weekend to hunt for conkers, but found something even better – turns out it’s the perfect time of year to pick blackberries, and we weren’t about to let the opportunity go to waste.

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So many berries!

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Amy did most of the harvesting…

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…but her enthusiasm led to a few thorny situations.

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Blackberries are full of nutrients, and can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. Oh snap.

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Fields and trees as far as the eye can see.

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Dexter cows have short legs, so enjoy snacking on low-lying vegetation. This guy didn’t mind us taking a few berries.

For us city dwellers, this stroll through the countryside was a welcome break. The blackberries tasted ten times better in the knowledge that we found and foraged them ourselves. I highly recommend making the most of the season’s new arrivals and finding a local patch to pick your own. If this post hasn’t persuaded you, hopefully our upcoming recipe for wild fruit crumble will!

Matt

Sunday stroll at Riverside Market, Cardiff

MillStadSunday is the perfect day for hitting local markets. The fridge is empty, there’s nothing on telly worth watching and, as you’ve not got work to tend to, you may as well spend a few hours strolling outdoors.

Riverside Market in Cardiff has been operating since 1998, bringing fresh produce and exclusive local wares to visitors for over 15 years. It’s not just the goods on offer that make Riverside a treat – it’s the smells (mediterranean, Indian, sugary, earthy), the colours (vibrant organic veggies, deep amber spices, opaque ruby red jams) and the sounds (buskers, jolly traders, the occasional gossiper).

We went to Riverside Market on a chilled Sunday morning in September and took a few photos of the Cardiff landmark. We can’t promise that you won’t be tempted to attend (and hey, if you see us there, come say hello over a cronut!).

SceneTo set the scene: river (check), market stalls (check), punters (check)

PiesMr Nice Pie‘s offerings living up to the name

PastaSuper-bright and completely natural fresh pasta from Casa del Cymru – zingy!

FlowersA beautiful bunch of fresh flowers pulled together by The Flower Hive (these guys know how to match colours)

BriochePillowy, sticky brioche oozing with blueberry sweetness

MimimmmnomOh, and they are vegan! Happy Amy! (Thanks Wigmores of Monmouth bakery)

CronutTa-da: the mighty Cup and Cake cronut! So so sugary, so worth the wait…

Mattmarket…as that big grin confirms. The Caffeine Kid‘s coffee (washing the sweet beast down) is 100 times better than any high street cafe brew

BombsveganBig thumbs up to the amount of vegan produce on sale. These beetroot bombs from The Parsnipship are naturally neon

BreadIf you like speciality bread, you’ll love the San Francisco by Riverside Sourdough. Malty, edgy and robust

SpiceSpice of Life, one of the best spice shops in Cardiff, bring a mini version of their Roath spice and herb mecca to Riverside

OliveOlive Bar’s wooden buckets were bulging with plump goodies. If only you had smell-o-vision…

There is a real sense of community that buzzes through the bustling riverside street of stalls and marquees. If you go once and return again next time it’s in town, you’re bound to recognise someone or be recognised by somebody who was there the previous week. In cities, this is really hard to come by – yet another reason why Cardiff ticks our boxes.

Have you been to Riverside Market in Cardiff, or another market worth recommending? Get in touch @Creative_Hacks or leave us a comment below.

Small city adventure in Llandaff, Cardiff

Summer holidays are off the cards for us this year – it’s been a crazy few months with both of us leaving education and starting full time jobs, so we decided that we’d save up our collective pocket money for an adventure abroad next year instead.

We might not be able to afford plane tickets or stays at fancy hotels, but there are a few places that we haven’t explored just a short ride from home. Like Llandaff, for example – the “city within a city” that’s home to an impressive cathedral, some cosy cafés and Roald Dahl’s childhood memories.

Yep, the Roald Dahl – he was born here in 1916 and became notorious with the locals after putting a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers at the local sweetshop. That sweetshop is now a Chinese takeaway, but the story lives on in his autobiography Boy, and there’s a plaque on the building to make sure no one ever forgets Llandaff’s most mischievous resident.

We spent our afternoon wandering up and down the small high street, pottering around thoughtfully arranged gift shops and stopping to refuel with tea before marvelling at the colossal Cathedral and its well-kept garden. It goes to show that anyone can have a lot of fun simply by hopping on a train and exploring a local spot that, for one reason or another, had escaped their radar until now.

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Amy sipping tea in Garlands

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…where they also serve up delicious lunches, like this super fresh salad

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This cute little gift shop, Halls of Llandaff, stocks crafty cards and homeware

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Me trying to be a tour guide

llandaffcemetary llandaffsteeplellandaffstepsAmy hanging out in the grounds of Llandaff cathedral

Regardless of where you live, there’s probably someplace cool nearby that you haven’t checked out yet. Next time you get the urge for adventure, try being a tourist a couple of miles from home – it did the trick for us.

Matt