From London, Somerset can be reached in around three hours along the M4. The journey along the M3 and wonderful A303 is more leisurely, taking you up and down rolling hills, and right past Stonehenge.
If you're coming from the sky, then Bristol airport is the best point of access. Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) flies in from Derry; easyJet (www.easyjet.com) jets in from Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Newcastle.
There are regular trains from London Paddington to Bath Spa; the journey takes around 90 minutes. Bristol is also easily accessible from Birmingham and the Midlands, and there's an unmanned station at Frome, on the Cardiff-Weymouth route. Connections aren't great though, so a car is advisable if you plan to explore properly.
UK country code: +44. Bath: (0)1225. Shepton Mallet, Wells: (0)1749.
Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey portrays pre-Victorian Bath; John Cowper Powys' epic A Glastonbury Romance details rural life in the early 20th century; Henry Fielding, born in Glastonbury in 1707, set parts of his novel Tom Jones in Somerset.
Do go / Don't Go
Spring is glorious, with impossibly green fields and spreading flowers; summer can be wonderful but you'll have competition for the best picnic spots and hotel rooms; autumn is our favourite time, when sunsets are red and mornings are crisp.
Potent Somerset cider and scrumpy, products of the hundreds of orchards that dot the landscape, are rightly famed throughout the country; try a pint of Thatchers, a Cheddar Valley cider that has been made in the area for more than a century (www.thatchers cider.co.uk). Blessed also are Somerset's cheesemakers. Named after a gorge in the Mendip Hills, cheddar is the region's most famous export. Ignore that plasticky rubbish from your local supermarket - try Bob Bramley's traditional tangy cheddar, made at Lower Westcombe Farm near Shepton Mallet (01749 838031), or the delicious, creamy variety made by the Keen family at Moorhayes Farm near Wincanton (www.keenscheddar.co.uk).
Try Bath Spa Taxis (01225 313131) in Bath, Mike's Taxis (07773 900274) if you're in the Mendips, or Valley Cars (01749 343888) in the Shepton Mallet area.
About 10-15 per cent is usual in restaurants - make sure that service isn't already included in the bill, though.
Pound sterling (£).
Put a tartan blanket in the boot of your car, so you can lie beneath apple trees, watching clouds skit through summery Somerset skies.
Though many think its major cultural contribution was foisting the Wurzels upon the world, Somerset has a vibrant arts scene. Choirs have been hitting the high notes in Wells Cathedral (www.wellscathedral.org.uk) for more than 800 years, and the town's choristers are regarded as being among the world's best. Folk music is also huge in the area - many pubs double as live-music venues. Bath's attractions aren't limited to baths, museums and Jane Austen worship (www.visitbath.co.uk): top bands regularly play the Moles club, and the city hosts an excellent fringe festival (www.bathfringe.co.uk).
Laugh if you must, but many people - OK, mainly those who like rainbow knitwear and Peruvian hats - swear that you will boost your psychic energy and wellbeing if you stand on the leyline that cuts through the Vale of Avalon.
In the west Mendips, the market town of Shepton Mallet is still a good place to browse and buy: Friday is market day. Moneyed Bath is not short of stylish shops, but if you're after something a little more quirky, the Bath Sweet Shop (+44 (0)1225 428040) is the place to stock up on aniseed balls and sherbert pips. Though nearby Taunton is Somerset's most fertile antiques-hunting centre, Frome's antiques shops are worth a look, too: seek out Valentine Antiques (+44 (0)1373 453233) and Past Perfect (+44 (0)1373 453342). Take your ethical shopping bag along to one of Somerset's farmers' markets (www.sfmdirect.co.uk/markets); Midsomer Norton's is held on the first Saturday of every month, and there are interesting shops and browse-friendly boutiques to nose around.
Beloved of druids and folklorists, the mystical Glastonbury Tor offers wonderful 360-degree views of the lush surrounding countryside from its summit.
There are plenty of gorgeous walks to be had for free, but if you want more bang for your imaginary buck, walk in the footsteps of Jane Austen with a downloadable audio tour of Bath. Taking in the Assembly Rooms, the Royal Crescent and Gravel Walk, a spot featured in Persuasion, the guide also includes the Thermae Bath Spa, where Austen's brother eased his gout (http://visitbath.co.uk/janeausten).
February/March The Bath Literature Festival brings a glittering roll call of novelists to the city, emptying the coffee shops of Hampstead (www.bathlitfest.org.uk). June Mudlarks and music fans gather for the glorious Glastonbury Festival (www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk). August Put together by Glastonbury supremo Michael Eavis, the Glastonbury Abbey Musical Extravaganza is an annual series of classical-to-classic-rock concerts (www.glastonburyextravaganza.com). Get the insider lowdown on Glastonbury and other UK events online at Smith 52: The Game Plan, our European events guide, or click here to buy the book.October The Mendip Food and Drink Festival attracts county-wide producers (www.mendipfoodfestival.co.uk). November The touring West Country Carnival features parades of floats that even Liberace would find ostentatious; it's Somerset's way of marking Bonfire Night (www.westcountrynow.com). December Bath Christmas Market sees more than 100 stalls set up between Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths. Mulled wine is compulsory (www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk).