We are always fascinated here when we come across a new and innovative way to redefine the city break. Perhaps because we have spent way too long in generic, boxy, overpriced and, above all, soulless rooms over the years. Sure, we understand the quandary. You’re far more space restricted in city centres, surrounded by listed buildings and the legacy of hundreds of years of town planning and, well, there’s a lot going on. Cities wouldn’t be cities without it! It definitely requires some thinking outside the box. So you can imagine our delight when we were invited to check out one of Bristol’s most talked about spaces in the very heart of the Old City. Yes, we were about to head to the rooftops and stay in a ‘rooftop rocket’ American Airstream!
It was my first time visiting Bristol, so having spent my university years surrounded by the many associated cultural references, with bands like Massive Attack and Portishead exploding out of the trip-hop scene that burgeoned out of the city, I was keen to explore the scene and find out why it’s often referred to as ‘London Lite’. The journey itself was very scenic, particularly when passing through Bath Spa and Bradford-on-Avon – the architecture gleaming its distinctive honey-coloured limestone hues, before arriving into Temple Meads, the Brunel-designed station dating back to 1840, itself a noteworthy building amongst many historians and architecture buffs.
After a short stroll into town taking in Bristol Harbour, we found Brooks Guesthouse, our base for the evening and the location could not be any more central and enviable, set right inside popular St Nicholas Market. Originally an office block, the house is a 1950s building that has been lovingly converted into contemporary guest rooms, and the first thing that greets you walking through the gate is an inviting Mediterranean courtyard. The weather wasn’t exactly on our side on arrival but we could still imagine how this would be a great place to enjoy the sunshine in the summer months despite being so central – it felt like an oasis in the Old City.
In 2013 owners Carla and Andrew decided to boldly introduce the city’s most unique and exciting accommodation to their rooftop: four gleaming silver Airstream caravans which they would name their ‘rooftop rockets’ and yes, you guessed it, they would be airlifted to the roof garden of the property ready for unique adventurers to experience and enjoy a slice of urban cool. It was interesting chatting away to the friendly team at Brooks, they told stories of how the project took time to get all the paperwork required through local administration, particularly as it involved closing one of the neighbouring main roads for a short time to allow the crane access! It was quite fascinating and really quite a task, which just demonstrates the vision of the owners to create something very different and daring.
So, armed with this context and background, upstairs we headed to see the end result itself. The space has been cleverly converted to accommodate its four shining beauties, with a turfed lawn to give it a nice roof garden feel, and the views of the surrounding buildings, church spires and rooftops made the setting all the more special. The four rockets themselves range in size and price: one 16ft rocket with a small seating area, two 18ft rockets and finally the largest a 20ft rocket, and the latter was to be our home for the night.
There is something quite special about catching sight of your first Airstream, it may sound a little cliched but they really do capture the timeless, kitsch glamour of the aluminium design often seen in movies and programmes over the years. Stepping inside the rocket, our immediate impression was an instant ‘wow’, and if the exterior dazzled in the daylight, reflecting its surroundings beautifully then the interior was equally impressive. Clever mood lighting lights up the bedroom area, moving from red to green to blue in sequence.
The bed itself in the 20ft rocket is a decent size at 5ft in length but with ample space to stretch out, and with really comfy bedding. Our particular rocket was also a great option for families, with a lounge area that includes a sofa/seating area that converts to single beds for two children up to 12 years. Inside the bathroom, the shower was a modern unit, surprisingly so for a caravan, as my mind was casting back to my childhood days of unsatisfactory caravan showers, and it was evident that things have evolved somewhat! The bathroom mirror had a nifty digital clock feature, and a heated towel rail – nice modern touches to add a bit of luxury, we even had tea & coffee in-room which was another nice extra. The wall-mounted TV was also fitted with a handy swivel arm so that you can either position it towards your bed or facing the lounge. Very clever!
After settling in we decided to check out some of the things Bristol is renowned for. We started with a bite to eat in ‘St Nicks’ market which you enter immediately upon leaving the guest house. This indoor market dates back to 1743 and rightly famous for the most varied street food you can find in the city centre. After devouring some gyoza from Eatchu, we set out to find some original Banksy street art and booked ourselves on the award-winning ‘Where The Wall‘ tour which proved to be a brilliant decision, as we would no doubt have missed some of the key sites and the guide gave us such useful insight – he even knew Banksy himself (protecting his anonymity of course)! The scale of some artworks was astounding, many covering the entire facades of huge tower blocks and buildings.
We ended the tour in Stokes Croft which has a raw, gritty vibe so we explored here before heading to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which many would describe as the symbol of the city. Also designed by Brunel, this was worth swallowing the vertigo for a few minutes as the views from either side of the bridge were sensational. Back on terra firma and in Clifton Down we checked out a place called Bravas (below) that several people had recommended, and we could see why, as this authentic tapas restaurant had the perfect mix of friendly service, great food and lively atmosphere. After a visit to the Everyman cinema we retreated back to our rocket, having walked pretty much everywhere our limbs had decided enough was enough. It couldn’t have felt like a cosier place to return to after a full-on day exploring.
The measure of any accommodation ultimately has to be about the quality of rest and sleep, and we awoke after a full and deep sleep in with our curved Airstream roof above our heads, two very happy and refreshed punters!
We joined the breakfast at the guesthouse which had a variety of hot dishes to order as well as a continental buffet and great coffee. As we were checking out for our train home soon after breakfast we decided to enjoy the lounge area (below) and its leather sofas – the perfect spot to do some quick email checking before hitting the road.
As we checked out, we both reflected on the unique time we’d spent on the rooftop and agreed that we’d never had such an exciting city break experience in Bristol thanks to the Rooftop Rockets, something that we knew we would recommend to anyone planning to head there With so much to see in the city, why not plan a break there in the near future? If you’re a fan of art, architecture, history, bridges, and Airstreams of course, you’re certainly going to leave with a smile on your face.