Sweet Somerset - perfect weekend escape. An apple's throw from Bristol - 3 hours from London with the wind behind you - Somerset is ripe for a weekend break. You have Exmoor to the west, the Mendips to the east, the rolling Quantocks in between, and history in bucketfuls: Bath, Bristol, Glastonbury, Wells. The seaside resorts may be nothing to write home about but Sand Point and Brean Down, thrusting their windswept selves into the Bristol Channel south of Weston, are spectacular. As for the big apple, it's gone organic: Somerset cider rules.
The capital of the West Country, Bristol’s urban attractions are peppered with the highest proportion of green spaces in any UK city (Clifton Down, Brandon Hill Park, Ashton Court, the Blaise Estate), so it really is a lush place to visit! In the summer, the International Balloon Fiesta, the Harbour Festival and Love Saves the Day festival bring colour, crowds and joie de vivre to the city, and during the rest of the year you’ll be kept entertained by theatre at the Tobacco Factory and Old Vic, shows at the Colston Hall, live music at the O2 Academy and outstanding art-house cinema at the Watershed. For a glimpse into Bristol’s past, visit the Georgian House, The Red Lodge Museum and tour Brunel’s industrial icons: Clifton Suspension Bridge, SS Great Britain and Temple Meads Station.
Bristol has a thriving foodie scene. In the centre, nothing beats a lunchtime Pieminister pie from St Nick’s Market or a harbourside bite from one of Wapping Wharf's shipping container eateries. In Clifton, Whiteladies Road is home to The Spiny Lobster (super-fresh seafood), The Ox (tender locally sourced steaks) and Polpo (authentic Venetian cicheti). On nearby Cotham Hill, Bravas has great tapas and an authentic, Spanish atmosphere. The Clifton Lido restaurant is also fantastic for lunchtime tapas and atmospheric suppers. After dinner, take a nightcap at the dark and decadent Hausbar (book in advance).
Georgian Bath is an architectural icon: lovelier each time you visit. Shops, museums, abbey, restaurants, pubs, cafes and a Thermae Spa. Finish off the day with a meal at Bath's simplest, finest gastropub, the King William.
Prior Park is a lovely landscaped gardens owned by the National Trust just outside Bath (no cars, catch the bus) with lakes, grottoes and Palladian bridge: inspect the 18th-century graffiti.
At Glastonbury Tor, clamber to the top of King Arthur’s Isle of Avalon for a 160m-high view of the Somerset Levels; scamper down to buy some New Age crystals and wander round the ruined abbey.
The Somerset Levels offer fantastic cycling and walking, as well as incredible murmurations of starlings in the winter.
For several Gertrude Jekyll-planted acres of loveliness visit Hestercombe Gardens at Cheddon Fitzpaine, just the other side of Taunton.
Walkers bring your boots, for the 36-mile Coleridge Way that guides you through the Quantock Hills all the way to pretty Portlock and Exmoor. Coleridge Cottage (National Trust) is worth a peek in lovely Nether Stowey.
In Bristol, label lovers should head to Cabot Circus (which includes an outpost of Harvey Nics), or the upmarket boutiques of Clifton Village; if you want something more kooky, independent and vintage shops abound on Park Street and the Gloucester Road.
In atmospheric, picturesque Frome buy something vintage on cobbled St Catherine's Hill, a coffee and a 'pastel de nata' in Conduit Street (the conduit still runs past Cafe Strada), and a punnet of strawberries at the farmers' market, one of the West Country's best.
In Bristol, there's plenty of family fun to be had, Take a tour of Bristol Zoo, the Aquarium and @Bristol (a science and technology centre with fun interactive exhibits).
In Bath, head to Bathwick's atmospheric Victorian boating station, where you can hire skiffs and punts by the hour or day.
For lovely landscaped National Trust gardens, Prior Park (just outside Bath) has lakes, grottoes and Palladian bridge: inspect the 18th-century graffiti.