Friday, 27 January 2012

Destination Bath

View of Bath
Courtesy of visitbath.co.uk
Copyright: Bath Tourism Plus

The golden, locally-quarried limestone of Bath’s buildings still shimmered, even though it was raining. The green hills in the far distance stood out against the grey sky. A city that can look this magnificent on a cold, rainy English winter’s day is a remarkable sight.

Snuggled in the valley of the River Avon with the Cotswold Hills to the north and the Mendips to the south, Bath is renowned for its Georgian architecture and for its thermal springs. So, my first port of call was the Roman Baths.

It was amazing to find myself walking around this huge, well-preserved, steaming pool on ancient stone pavements that the Romans had walked on almost 2,000 years ago. It was about AD43 that they began building the baths and a temple, dedicated to the goddess Minerva, as well as establishing the city of Aquae Sulis (the Roman name for Bath). 

Roman Baths
Courtesy of visitbath.co.uk
Copyright: Bath Tourism Plus / Colin Hawkins

The Roman plumbing and drainage system, I discovered, is largely in place. I wish I could find builders who were half as good today. You can’t visit the baths without “taking the waters” in the Pump Room. Served from a rusty old fountain, this water, which you drink, reputedly, contains 43 minerals. It’s warm and is rather an acquired taste but, as they say, when in Rome ...

I took a city tour with the Bath Bus Company to orientate myself and to get a quick history lesson about the main sights, such as the Abbey, before doing my own exploring. The beauty of Bath is that every time you turn a corner or wander down one of its small lanes you discover another surprise such as a quirky boutique or a great café. Sally Lunn’s, renowned for its Sally Lunn Bath Bun, is not to be missed.

The Georgian townhouses that filled the Royal Crescent looked even better in reality than in photographs. I half-expected to see Mr Darcy walk out of one. As I am a fan of Jane Austen’s novels, I headed to The Jane Austen Centre to gen up on the life of Bath’s treasured resident. Jane spent five years in the city which crops up in all six of her completed works. 

Royal Crescent
Courtesy of visitbath.co.uk
Copyright: Bath Tourism Plus / Colin Hawkins

The Fashion Museum is a must-see. It showcases clothes from the past and present. There were some evening dresses from the 1930s that I would love to wear today.

Bath has plenty of great restaurants such as the atmospheric Firehouse Rotisserie, a favourite with locals and tourists as the food is good and reasonably priced. I also enjoyed the chic Circo, bar and lounge at The Halcyon, one of the city’s boutique hotels, where I stayed. The service is good and the rooms well-furnished. Ensure you ask for a quiet room, otherwise you could find the traffic keeps you awake all night.

A real treat was going to the Thermae Bath Spa, where you can bathe in warm, mineral-rich waters. The open-air rooftop pool was full of people taking in the views of the city, even though the temperature outside was close to freezing.

After a relaxing massage, I had enough time before I had to catch my train to take a walk along the river. The sun was now shining and the Pulteney Bridge, England’s answer to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, looked resplendent in all its glory.

By Daralyn Danns

Getting there

The Halycyon www.thehalcyon.com
I travelled with First Great Western www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk
For more information on Bath, visitbath.co.uk

Friday, 20 January 2012

Destination Bocas del Toro, Panama


Bocas del Toro
Courtesy of Central America Tourism Agency

Sugar-sandy beaches with turquoise waters set against a backdrop of rainforests are the lure of Bocas del Toro.

The archipelago, on the Caribbean coast, is one of Panama’s most popular beach destinations. It is a melting pot of cultures, ranging from indigenous people from the Western Caribbean to Latinos to globetrotters, who discovered Bocas, as the locals call it, and never left.

It is easy to see why. The islands brimming with abundant vegetation are unspoilt, almost primitive. It’s as if life here has stood still for centuries. It is so laid-back, which is obviously its appeal for the foreigners to have made it their home.

Even in the capital Bocas del Toro, on the Isla Colón, despite having a few shops, some small pretty hotels and a smattering of good restaurants and lively bars, is not packed with tourists.

Bocas is not only a haven for beach goers but it is also attracts bird watchers, surfers and divers. It is also great for snorkelling – the coral reefs here are spectacular.

The best way to see the islands and keys is to spend a day taking a leisurely boat trip. I passed by forests, farms and so many stunning beaches fringed with mangrove. Photographs don’t do them justice. One of my favourites was Buff Beach, covered in vibrant orange sand. You may spot white-faced monkeys and marine turtles.


The Bastimentos Island National Marine Park


The Bastimentos Island National Marine Park, a combination of nature reserve, forest and beach is not to be missed. Also on Bastimentos Island is Red Frog Beach, one of the most popular beaches in Bocas, which gets its name from the small red frogs that inhabit the beach. You can hear them during the day. I was told they are poisonous, but the good news is that they are not a threat to humans.

Lots of tourists stay at the villas here. For me it was just a little too remote although there are plenty of activities on offer ranging from dolphin watching to spa treatments to simply lazing on the beach. Be careful not to swim out too far as you can encounter a strong undertow. 

On route to Restaurante Alfonso

Lunch was at Restaurante Alfonso, a thatched restaurant built on stilts in the middle of the ocean. We stopped off on the tour in the morning to order our lunch which was ready at the designated time. Fresh fish and a room with a view, what more could you ask for?

Well, maybe a home like Lin Gillingham’s Finca Los Monos Botanical Garden. She and her husband purchased this 20-acre property, then a green wall of jungle, about 12 years ago and have now created a tropical utopia complete with views of the Caribbean. The garden is bursting with lush flowers, fruit trees and ornate plants. Walking around the winding paths to the sounds of humming birds, you may bump into monkeys, birds and snakes.

In the evening the town of Bocas comes alive. Caribbean music fills the streets. And the party begins.

By Daralyn Danns


Getting there

Aeroperlas (www.aeroperlas.com)

Playa Tortuga Hotel & Beach Resort, Bocas del Toro (www.hotelplayatortuga.com) For further info www.visitpanama.com and www.visitcentroamerica.com