Dip your toe into the therapeutic waters of Bath for a reflection of a Roman era. Echoing a bygone time, it’s easy to imagine servants carrying vessels of mineral rich water, bathing in the warm waters that promise miraculous healing powers, being pampered in majestic surroundings with high domed ceilings while pompous and imposing Romanesque statues watch over.
From the Celts, Romans, Saxons and Georgians, Bath has long been associated with well-being which is well documented and exhibited at The Roman Baths, a first-class museum honouring the excavated remains which centre around the Sacred Spring. The rituals of spiritual contemplation, social interaction and the belief in health-giving properties of water are showcased and owe much to the Roman philosophy. Here you look and learn while a short distance away a more immersive experience awaits.
The Gainsborough Bath Spa has become the City’s crowning glory over healing waters. It’s tucked away in the quaint and aptly named Beau Street, minutes from the Roman Baths Museum and opposite the new and popular Thermae Spa facility. The hotel was originally built as a hospital, taking advantage of the curative properties of the underground springs. It was named after the artist Thomas Gainsborough and reflects a colourful history and a modern, sophisticated interpretation of its classic design. It stands as the only UK hotel with a naturally-occurring source of hot water with each guest room having its own supply of natural thermal water
The staff welcome guests like returning friends of the house. If your sat nav is not behaving, don’t despair, the hotel concierge will personally accompany you and guide you to the entrance. The rooms are elegant and tastefully furnished, complete with bathroom amenities from Asprey and a pillow menu to ensure a perfect night of slumber. It’s easy to stay in this cocoon of luxury.
Accommodating the lower ground levels, a star attraction awaits. The Spa Village offers its own version of Roman history, enjoying the privilege of exclusive access to naturally hot mineral-rich waters. This serene environment, swathed in natural light from a glass atrium, offers a range of aquatic body treatments, crafted for individual needs and conditions.
Your experience starts at the Aroma Bar where a delicate pouch of aromatherapy salts is crafted according to your mood preference. This accompanies you throughout your time like a personal aroma mascot. Use it as a reminder to enhance your mood during the recommended thermal circuit of three natural thermal pools, an ice alcove, traditional and infrared saunas, steam room and relaxation areas. And don’t miss the hot chocolate on tap, purported to be an ancient roman indulgent!
Treatments are designed to ensure the full benefit of the thermal waters through exfoliation, hydration and essential antioxidants and nutrients to complement the absorption of the Spring’s unique minerals. I selected the magnesium wrap, my choice based on the fact that most of us are deficient in this mineral. Apparently, magnesium is better absorbed through the skin rather than as a tablet supplement. It was a 90-minute relaxation experience combining a body scrub, massage and wrap in warm comforting towels. My skin took on a new suppleness and my mind equally nourished in relaxation. My therapist, Karbir Aliri, an expert in body nutrition, emphasised the significance of water as an essential component to relaxation, psychologically washing away stressful thoughts while immersion relaxed the muscles, allowing the breath to renew energy.
Two minutes away from the hotel is a rather different immersive experience at the Thermae Bath Spa. This popular facility is renowned for its rooftop pool created to maintain a connection with the surrounding landscape while providing therapeutic benefits. Go when the light is fading at twilight to enjoy the fabulous skyline views across the city.
The Thermae Bath Spa has involved the restoration of five historic buildings and a new contemporary structure to combine modern with a tradition of well-being which dates back over 2,000 years.
There are four natural thermal baths, one being The Minerva Bath, aptly named after the Goddess of Health and Wisdom. There are 24 treatment rooms offering a wide range of 40 therapies.
I experienced the “Nurture and Nourish” treatment which is one of the newer and recommended therapies using aromatherapy oils blended for dry or tired skin. The treatment involves a rose scrub to prepare the skin for a nourishing, light mud wrap. While wrapped cosily in towels, a facial and head massage furthers the relaxation process. The mud was showered away and the natural oils sealed in with a final massage. I then retired to the adjoining relaxation room with a comforting cup of herbal tea in a far more calming state than when I arrived.
For that wow factor, the Wellness Suite, which was added this year, will certainly sparkle your senses with its range of colourful thermal chambers leading guests on a multi-sensory journey of seven experiences. These include Roman and Georgian inspired steam rooms, infused with aromatherapy oils, an infrared sauna, ice chamber, and an astral relaxing room, so popular that you may find a short queue. (www.thermaebathspa.com)
Bath may be brimming with restaurants but the Gainsborough Hotel’s cuisine is outstanding. A young chef so impressed the hotel with his classic British dishes and creative use of local foods that they named the restaurant after him. Dan Moon at The Gainsborough Restaurant offers an interesting menu as well as a creative seasonal six-course tasting option. I delved into the main menu to savour Sauteed Scallop which consisted of king prawn risotto, spring onion and yuzu – scrumptious. The Fillet of Turbot followed, laced with crab tortellini, green peas, broad beans, girolles and crab bisque – mouth-watering and finally a menu of hard to resist desserts to include Lemon Parfait, healthy described with lavender sugar, lemon balm and raspberry sorbet. Gluten-free requests are honoured without reminder and signature dishes modified to suit. It’s an informal yet sophisticated atmosphere with beautifully presented dishes honouring local, seasonal foods.
Before dinner, do find time to sample a cocktail made to suit your own personal taste. The bartenders are very talented and can craft a specially designed cocktail with your signature notes from a quick brief of your favourite tipples. You won’t be disappointed. The Gainsborough bar is also well stocked with artisan gins, local ales and champagnes.
Bath’s wellness tradition is more than a bridge over flowing healthy waters. Its natural springs have inspired architectural richness, aquatic treatments and a reverence towards the traditions and heritage of a healing destination. This is a place fashioning thermal health and wellness with the curative powers of warm hospitality.
Water floweth – The Facts on Bath’s waters:
There are three natural spring heads in the centre of Bath- The Kings Spring which fills the Roman Baths, The Hetling Spring and The Cross Spring
Each day the flow of water in 1.25 million litres at 45 centigrade.
The water contains 42 minerals. The most concentrated include calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, hydrogen carbonate, silicate and sulphur.
Places to visit…..
The Cross Bath is an 18th century open-air bathing pool where spring water rises up under natural artesian pressure through a sculptured fountain. It is a hidden sanctuary and an official sacred site, used in a similar way to years gone by for private gatherings reminiscent of Georgian bathers sipping hot chocolate with serenading musicians on the balcony above. This hidden gem is recognised as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
A must is to see the “halo” of Georgian houses designed by John Wood the Elder which has become Bath’s memorable piece of architecture. Walk west to the Royal Crescent.
Bath Abbey is a former cathedral which has stood since 757 AD. Visit to see its stained glass windows and towering stone columns.
Jane Austen Centre is a draw for literary enthusiasts. Hear about her own experience of Bath when she wrote “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey”. www.janeausten.co.uk
The Pulteney Bridge provides a view over the horseshoe-shaped weir and views to the high grounds.
The Grand Pump Room for afternoon tea while enjoying a recital or string quarter.
Sally Lunn’s is the city’s oldest eating house and kitchen and home to the famous Sally Lunn Bun – a recipe dating back 300 years.
How to Book:
For the Thermae Spa bookings:
Reservations. Tel: 01225 33 1234,
For The Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel
Reservations. Tel: +44 (0) 1225 358 888