Staying in Jane Austen's former home in Bath puts Katrina Lobley in a romantic state of mind.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in Bath will be on the lookout for an agreeable companion.
Of course, I'm twisting the opening line of Pride and Prejudice as I cross the Avon River towards Jane Austen's former home in the time-warped city of Bath.
Sunshine bathes the Cotswold limestone that's used to such effect in the Georgian buildings that the entire honey-hued city is World Heritage-listed.
The day is so temperate that a young man jogs towards me wearing nothing but shorts. The sight of a bare rippling torso on English streets is so unexpected that a small child says, "Mummy, that man is naked!"
"He's not naked," she says, giving me a wry smile. One can only imagine what Austen would think.
Her former family home is just off Great Pulteney Street – one of Bath's grandest thoroughfares – at 4 Sydney Place. The unassuming terrace, in a row of identical terraces, overlooks leafy Sydney Gardens and The Holburne Museum.
Bath Boutique Stays has taken over every level of the terrace bar the basement, turning the former student flats into four self-contained apartments lightly themed along Austen lines. Guests can stay in Emma's Garden Apartment, Cassandra's 1st Floor Apartment, Mr Darcy's 2nd Floor Apartment or Lizzie Bennet's Penthouse Apartment, where I'm about to install myself.
My luggage weighs as much as a guilty conscience, which is what I'm suffering watching the staff lug my bag ever upwards, through the tiny door leading to my garret and up a set of narrow stairs.
The apartment is comfortable rather than luxurious but what I love most – apart from all the space after weeks of hotel rooms – is that the theming isn't overdone.
There's a set of silver goblets on the kitchen table, Austen fan newsletters on a side table and an intriguing ladder leading to a tiny rooftop window that inspires thoughts of illicit liaisons (indeed, a cigarette butt lies outside the window like a too-obvious clue).
On the kitchen counter are "Jane Austen blend" teabags along with Bristol-roasted coffee, and there's fresh milk in the fridge. Ducking out through my apartment's door, I'm amused to see "Please mind your hat" inscribed in gold above the doorway. In the downstairs hall, a bookcase holds Austen-related books and authors are encouraged to leave behind their own works.
There's so much to do in Bath that to spend only two nights here puts a rush on things.
As soon as I've checked in to my apartment, I'm off for a sunset soak at Thermae Bath Spa's open-air rooftop pool. Before heading skywards, I flop into the Minerva Bath and its lazy river, and try out the futuristic aroma steam rooms infused with the scents of lotus flower and eucalyptus mint.
But for me, the roof is where it's at. The late-afternoon air has enough of a chill that steam rises from the warm waters where couples seem inclined to canoodle. I hadn't expected romance up here among the rooftops. A lone gentleman is also taking the waters but never glances my way. Oh well, onwards to other possibilities.
I cannot come to Bath without exploring the famed Roman baths. An audio guide provides insights from travel writer Bill Bryson about the baths and temple built almost 2000 years ago.
Don't miss seeing pieces from the Beau Street Hoard. The collection of 17,577 Roman silver coins was unearthed while creating The Gainsborough Bath Spa (the nearby luxury hotel, which opened in July, draws upon the same thermally warmed waters that still flow into the Roman baths).
With my Bath time running out, I head to the Jane Austen Centre – a few doors away from another address where the Austens lived - to learn more about the author's time here.
Outside the centre is bewhiskered greeter Martin Salter, not only dressed as Mr Bennet but channelling a Regency-era personality that doesn't allow him to recognise 21st-century gadgetry. The ebullient Salter is known as "England's most photographed man".
If the Jane Austen Centre is right, the plaque outside Austen's Sydney Place home stating she lived there from 1801-05 isn't quite right. According to the centre, Jane, her sister Cassandra and their parents moved into Sydney Place in May 1801 and relocated to the less desirable Green Park Buildings in October 1804.
Austen was a country girl through and through – she wasn't at all pleased with her parents' decision to retire to Bath. At Steventon Rectory in rural Hampshire, where she'd been raised, "she had written (but not published) three novels but now her writing almost withered away", says the centre of Austen's time in Bath. "Perhaps there were too many distractions or too many anxieties for her to live fully in her imagination."
In Bath, Austen revised earlier work and started a novel (later titled The Watsons) but abandoned it after 17,000 words. Her beloved father died in 1805 and, after several more moves, the Austen women left Bath the next year. However, the city had made a deep impression on Austen. You only have to read Northanger Abbey and Persuasion to know that.
The writer was a guest of Jane Austen's Home and Visit Bath.
Trains to Bath depart from London's Paddington station; buses depart from Victoria Coach Station (a bus also travels from Bath to Heathrow). Upon arrival in Bath by train or bus, it's a 15-minute walk to Jane Austen's Home. See www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk; www.nationalexpress.com.
Apartments within Jane Austen's Home cost $390 a night on weekdays and $470 a night on weekends (two-night minimum stay). See bathboutiquestays.co.uk.
SEE + DO
Thermae Bath Spa is open from 9am-9.30pm, a twilight package that includes three hours' spa access, a light dinner and a drink costs $98. The Roman Baths complex is in Stall Street, entry costs $30. The Jane Austen Centre is at 40 Gay Street; admission $20, entry to its Regency Tea Room is free. This year's Jane Austen Festival runs from September 11-20. See thermaebathspa.com; romanbaths.co.uk; janeausten.co.uk; janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk.