Bath Spa - A Roman legacy

Posted: Fri 15th April 2016
By: Dena Roché

Now is the time to enjoy the healing waters of Bath as a new hotel and spa has opened offering exclusive access to the thermal springs…

Thermal waters have bubbled in Bath throughout the centuries – from the earliest settlers right through to modern times. And these healing waters have made the town a mecca for those seeking its restorative powers. However, it finally received some luxury attention when the Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel opened last September.    A member of the Leading Hotels of the World, the Gainsborough Bath Spa married the concept of taking the waters with a luxury spa. It is the only hotel in the UK with private access to the thermal baths. While anyone can go to the Therme Bath Spa across the street, only registered guests are allowed in the Gainsborough Spa. And the difference between the two options is the difference between going to a tourist attraction and a holistic spa.

EXCLUSIVE ACCESS. Centred. in this UNESCO World Heritage city, the Gainsborough is a study in architectural adaptive reuse. The 99-room, five-star hotel is housed in two Grade II buildings that have previously served as a hospital and a design college. A third brand new building was seamlessly integrated into the Georgian Bath Limestone façade. Because the hotel is in the thermal spring area, engineers were able to install a borehole giving its Spa Village Bath exclusive access to the waters.    Named after Sir Thomas Gainsborough who painted portraits of Bath’s most fashionable residents and visitors in the 1760s, the Gainsborough blends classic bones with modern amenities and contemporary design. Stepping into the spacious lobby the most striking feature is a centre staircase that I become intimately familiar with in an attempt to work off all the food I eat during my stay.    Since this was a restoration, no two rooms or suites in the hotel are the same, but they all share a colour palette of bluish grey, taupe and mustard. I am booked into a classic room, but for a truly unique experience book a bath spa room or bath spa suite. These rooms have bathtubs that offer direct access to the thermal waters. Taking the waters doesn’t get more exclusive than that!    I got a glimpse of the Spa Village Bath as I walked to my room, thanks to the four-story glass atrium perched above the Bath House. With my spa diva appetite whetted, I’m anxious to get to the heart of the hotel and experience the waters for myself.

PERSONALISED AROMATHERAPY. Every Gainsborough guest is invited to do the Bath House circuit, regardless of whether they book a treatment or not. I arrive at the Spa Village Bath and the receptionist asks if I’d like to create my custom aromatherapy blend to use in the sauna and steam. That’s like asking me if I’d like to go to a Jimmy Choo sale, um, yes please.     I’m led to their spa apocatheray bar where I fill out a questionnaire about how I want to feel after my bath circuit. Choices include calmer, less irritable, less jet-lagged, have better digestion and more. I add my own box that simply says “All of the above”. Sensing this might be a tall order, Nick, my aromatherapy bartender has me smell three base oils and I pick a neroli scent. He adds several other oils to that and mixes it with bath salts. The salts are placed in a little satchel that I’m instructed to inhale from while I’m in the sauna and steam rooms. The spa keeps your recipe on file for return visits.    Armed with my smelling salts, I’m ready to hit the circuit. I love that in addition to the standard robe and slippers, I’m given a plastic tote to hold a towel and bottle of water.

DOING THE CIRCUIT. My session begins with 10 minutes in one of two warm balneo pools. The two thermal pools are slightly different in temperature, but both are designed to warm me up. Next is the Cool Lymphatic Hose, which is a handheld showerhead that I’m instructed to start in a circular motion at my feet and move up.     Afterwards, I’m happy to jump in Infrared sauna for another 10 minutes. Infrared saunas supposedly rev metabolism and increase calorie burn. Added to that staircase workout, I’m sure I can have dessert later at dinner! It’s time to cool down again with a handful of crushed lavender ice from the alcove. Next is a liquid warm-up in the form of a decadent spiced hot chocolate.     This seems like an odd element in the spa, but I later learn it is because the 17th century bathers would drink it while musicians serenaded them in the baths. The circuit ends with a float in the main pool. There are a variety of jets designed to provide hydrotherapy for tight shoulders, lower back and feet.    The spa itself blends the healing traditions of Bath with Eastern qualities that play homage to the Malaysian roots of YTL Hotels (the parent company). The spa has two tatami rooms designed for the Asian therapies and a ‘couple’s suite’ that provides private access to the thermal waters. Choose the Tranquillity Experience, which is a self-guided spa ‘play’ time, where couples can use moor mud, salt scrubs and lotions on each other and then soak in the UK’s only ofuru-style wood tub (a Japanese bath).

MICHELIN-STAR CHEF. Suitably relaxed and hopefully healthier than I have ever been thanks to the 42 minerals in the thermal waters, I’m ready to try the hotel’s Johann Lafer restaurant. This is the first restaurant that Lafer, a Michelin-star chef and TV personality, has launched outside his native Germany. Lafer is known for his dining without borders philosophy, and his cuisine focuses on using local ingredients often with an ethnic twist. My meal is a prime example of this. I start with the sautéed scallops served with tiger king prawns, crab risotto and Pak Choi leaves followed by a curried fillet of local brill. 

EXPLORING BATH. The Gainsborough is in the heart of Bath, meaning it’s perfectly situated to walk through this gorgeous city. The following day I don’t have a definitive plan I just start walking and find myself at the architecturally stunning Royal Crescent. Designed by John Wood the Younger, it is considered the high point of Palladian architecture in Bath.     Tour the museum at 1 Crescent to get an idea of what it was like to live during the Crescent’s heyday. For first-time visitors, a trip to the Roman Baths and tea in the Pump Room are a must. Download the Bath tourism’s World Heritage walk to your mobile phone before you head out and go on your own walking tour and learn the history behind the gorgeous Abbey, Bath Street, The Paragon and more. When you get hungry, pop into Hall & Woodhouse, one of the top tables in town, and the only place with rooftop terrace dining.    If it’s been a while since you have been to Bath, the opening of the Gainsborough and its spa makes this the perfect time to take the plunge and head out for a relaxing long weekend.

Image of Camilla Kaas-Stock
By Dena Roché


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