GO BRISTOL! – We’re on holiday this week. In Bristol. Where, er, we actually live. I’ve been planning on writing about what a great place Bristol is and how everyone should come and hang out here for a bit – so at least I’m following my own advice. For once.
Bristol is a beautiful city, tall, honied stone Georgian houses and candy-coloured terraces, bisected by two rivers with nature-rich pockets, such as The Downs, home to the Bristol whitebeam and the Bristol onion, which are found nowhere else. It’s a city founded on the wealth of the slave trade (part of the inspiration for my non-fiction book, Sugar: The Grass that Changed the World, and my latest novel, Sugar Island) and is today a contemporary home for world-class grafitti and culture: The Bristol Festival of Ideas runs all year round, my other favourite festivals are The Bristol Festival of Literature, The Affordable Art Fair and Bristol VegFest.
Bristol is one of the greenest cities in the UK. There are wonderful places to walk, run and bike. It’s connected to Bath by the Bristol to Bath cycle track, which you can follow in the other direction all the way along the River Avon as far as Pill on the Bristol Channel. It’s also quick and easy to reach the fens of Somerset, rolling hills in the Cotswolds, sea and surf in Devon and Dorset, mountains in the Breacon Beacons in Wales and undulating river valleys in the Wye.
Leigh Woods: Another new mountain bike trail here too, criss-crossing a wonderful, cliff-edge walk that circles an Iron-Age Fort, before heading down to Paradise Bottom and doubling back along the tow path.
Mud Dock: A great cafe with a bike shop, lockers and showers (for cyclists, not drinkers). There should be more like it!
Westonbirt Arboretum: Glorious at this time of year, full of scarlets and golds, Westonbirt is just half an hour from Bristol’s city centre. A Victorian plant hunters’ collection, it has 2,500 species of trees and 17 miles of paths.
This is an unashamedly biased view. I’d recommend
Boston Tea Party: A small local chain that offers excellent coffee, super healthy salads, and brilliant brunches.
Zazu’s Kitchen: I love this little bar-restaurant-cafe. The food is exceptional: I like hanging out in the day and having coffee and spiced orange and polenta cake, or coming back in the evening for prosecco cocktails with elderflower and vodka.
Maitreya Social: Out of this world vegetarian food. (Roasted butternut squash and smoked applewood cheddar tarte-tatin with pak choi and balsamic plum dressing, anyone?)
One Stop Thali: Homemade style thalis. You can buy a tiffin carrier and have it filled for two for under a tenner. Delicious, healthy and eco-friendly.
River Station: My absolute favourite place to hang out- there’s a formal restaurant upstairs but normally I go to the cafe-bar downstairs and sit next to the river watching swans go by. The savoury tarts are custardy-light and the sourdough French toast made me smile for a week.
The Bristol Lido: The old Bristol Lido in Clifton has been reopened complete with a sauna, steam room and jacuzzi. The treatments are divine. There is a restaurant and a cafe-bar that serves tapas. You can sit next to the pool, sipping a cocktail or a coffee feeling incredibly continental; the homemade bread is the best I’ve ever eaten.
At-Bristol: aka the science museum. This is the business, there is something for everyone, from toddlers who just like pressing buttons, to older kids, who like pressing buttons. Highly imaginative. Sited by the docks, it’s the perfect place for relaxing by the Planetarium in Millenium Square, or strolling alongside the river, once you’re done.
The Watershed and Arnolfini: On either side of the river, they both host events, festivals, art exhibitions and show art house films. The ferry leaves in front of them, if you want a tour of the Avon.
Colston Street: I come here for The Rag Trade, pre-loved designer clothes (anything fancier than high street cut-price retailers) where you can buy and sell your own outfits. A little further along the road are gift shops selling handcrafted wares, such as Blaze and a fantastic second hand book shop, Bloom and Curll.
St Nicholas Market: In what was the old heart of Bristol, St Nick’s is a covered market with stalls, Lucy Flowers for floral inspiration, Big Banana Juice Bar, Source cafe, which sells excellent coffee and had the inspired idea of serving tiny squares of cake (Bites) for 50p so you can indulge without feeling guilty. You can also buy cheap as chips beans on toast, a large lump of amber, stylish silver jewellery, try out umpteen different kinds of hot chocolate, sample a range of ethnic cuisine, and, best of all, visit Bristol’s oldest and best Farmers’ Market.
Gloucester Road: This is virtually the last place in Bristol where you can visit a wealth of independent retailers. Even so, a number of supermarkets and chains are trying to squeeze out our only remaining proper high street. Gloucester Road is where you go for wonderful fresh fruit and veg, fish, cheese, from delis like The Olive Shed, excellent bread from Joe’s Bakery, cake from The Lovely Tart and wonderful wine from Grape and Grind. The Books for Amnesty is a brilliant second-hand book shop, there are fashion boutiques like Make, vintage clothes at Re-Psycho, playful toys at Playfull and gorgeous gifts at Reason Interiors and Fig.
So far our holiday plans include attending The Bristol Festival of Literature (I’m speaking about creating characters), mountain biking, a large boozy lunch at The River Station, shark-spotting at The Aquarium with my Octonauts-obsessed three-year-old, running in the Cotswolds and then soaking in the jacuzzi with a glass of bubbly at Calcot Manor’s spa.