I close my eyes and drift back more than 2,000 years. I’m a Roman Empress – naturally – and I’m spending my day luxuriating in the natural hot springs of Bath. I’m being fed grapes by my man servant, and I plan on doing little else with my day.
I open my eyes back to the present, and it doesn’t actually look that different. I am, indeed, luxuriating in the natural hot springs of Bath – and plan on doing little else. Okay I’m not a Roman Empress (although I’m sure if the Roman Empire still ruled, I would be), and my man servant is in fact my boyfriend. But, hey, tomato, tomato (hmm, I guess that saying doesn’t work when written down…). He’s not feeding me grapes, but he is pushing me around as I sit on one of those floating noodles, so perhaps that’s the modern-day equivalent.
Indeed, Thermae Bath Spa (thermaebathspa.com) combines the old and new, allowing modern-day patrons to take a leisurely dunk in the naturally hot waters of Bath – as the Celts and Romans did more than 2,000 years ago – but in the contemporary glass and stone building designed by award-winning architect, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw – and with a healthy dose of chlorine.
The comparison is all the more striking when you visit the old Roman Baths (romanbaths.co.uk, £14 entry) just next door. Unlike many remains, where you pay to see a pile of rock and a few half-formed pillars, this Roman bathhouse built between the first and fifth centuries is remarkably intact. Grab an audio guide – included in your entry – and follow the trail to see models of the complete complex as it was, collections of statues and carvings, and – the piece de resistance – the rectangular shimmering emerald pool of naturally hot spring water which the complex was built around. Off the main pool are smaller rooms with ancient versions of saunas, Jacuzzis and icy plunge pools.
Not only would people come here for a pampering, but also in the hope of curing various ailments. We now know that a thorough wash is good for our health as it rids us of germs, while the minerals in natural spring water cleanse our skin and ease our muscles, but for the Romans this water was miraculous – even more so as legend has it the waters were first discovered when they healed Prince Bladud of a skin disease in 863BC. And so it was here that people would travel to from across the Kingdom to bathe in the magical healing waters.
But for a modern-day pampering session, it’s the Thermae Bath Spa (thermaebathspa.com) you need to head to. The two main pools are open to the public for £32 (£35 on weekends) for a two-hour session. Entry also allows you to breathe in the scented vapour of four steam rooms – ignore the sign on the door and see if you can guess what is what. Oh yes, we know how to have fun.
The Minerva Bath on the bottom floor – named after the Roman Goddess of health and wisdom – looks like a regular swimming pool, complete with a whirlpool bath and lazy river. It’s only when you step into its waters that you find that this is no normal pool, with the temperature at a balmy 35C.
And then on the rooftop is the poster-girl pool: enjoy striking city views and the refreshing feel of fresh air on your face while your body luxuriates in the warm waters. It’s this spot that makes the twilight packages so popular, as you watch the sun sink behind this gorgeous city for £45, or £85 for two, including a three-hour spa session, towel, robe and slippers, and a dish and drink from the Spring café’s menu.
No spa day is complete, though, without a treatment, and so I recommend you go for a package that includes one. If you’ve got your other half (aka man servant) with you, try the Thermae Together package (£195), which includes four hours in the spa, towels, robe and slippers, two dishes and a drink from the café menu and a full body massage, or facial or Watsu – a unique massage which takes place in the hot water of a private pool.
I can vouch for the full body massage: a gentle scrub to get the dead skin cells off is followed by a blissful 50 minutes of magical handiwork, getting rid of tension, aches and pains, and skin ailments. It seems we still have our miracles, just like the Romans did.
What else to do
The city of Bath is gorgeous, and you can kill plenty of time just meandering around its cobbled streets and admiring its sandy-coloured locally sourced stone, which nearly all of its buildings are constructed with. But I recommend you also pop to the Tourist Information Centre, on the main square next to Bath Abbey, where you can talk to guides and pick up a host of leaflets on what to do on your visit. Here are our recommendations…
If you love a good gawp at a stained glass window, you will love Bath Abbey, which has plenty of vibrant panes depicting scenes from The Bible and the crowning of England’s first king, King Edgar. It also has stunning fan-vaulted ceilings and huge honey-gold stone columns. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the tower to see the bells, the clock and views across the city (after climbing A LOT of steps).
£2.50 suggested donation; £6 for a tower tour; Bathabbey.org
The Royal Crescent
This stunning piece of architecture from the 18th century shows off Bath stone at its finest. A riches to rags to riches tale, the 30 terraced houses, which form a sweeping crescent, once hosted princes, dukes, lords and the like, but fell into disrepair after it was damaged in World War II, with mainly students and squatters calling it home. Now, it has been converted into million-pound flats, a hotel or two, and you can find a museum at No.1, which shows how a house here would have looked during the Georgian era.
£9 entry; No1royalcrescent.org.uk
Fashion Museum and Assembly Rooms
The Assembly Rooms are where, in Georgian times, people would get together for parties and balls, showing off their Sunday best. It’s fitting then, that this is the home of the Fashion Museum, which exhibits a collection of clothes spanning 400 years, from 1750 to present day. It’s free, so worth a look.
Free entry; Fashionmuseum.co.uk
Bath Skyline walk
This picturesque city is far from the concrete jungle of London, but should you still feel the need to escape the hustle and bustle, it is surrounded by completely glorious countryside. Take the Skyline Walk, which is a self-guided National Trust six-mile walk across fields of cows, shaded wooded pathways and luscious stretches of grass overlooking the city.
And come nightfall…
Food and drink is pricey in Bath, but try The Stable(stablepizza.com) in the centre of town for a hearty pie or pizza, washed down with a cider.
For drinks, try the unpretentious Bell Inn (thebellinnbath.co.uk) on Walcot Street, which is a spot so loved by the locals they bought it when it looked set to be sold and knocked down. It celebrates with live music three times a week.
Sub 13 (sub13.net) on George Street has a great secret garden and serves top cocktails, offering two for one every day from 5pm-8pm. Try the killer Mojitos…. Or if your more of a Martini man, or woman, try the Canary Gin Bar (thebathgincompany.co.uk/the-canary-gin-bar/#bar1 ) on Queen Street, which has a dedicated Martini Bar and its own gin micro-distillery and botanicals lab. Fancy.
Picture credit: Thinkstock