Why Bath is currently the perfect weekend escape

Penny Walker
Bath is Britain’s original spa town - olliemtdog

The washy word “wellness” should have been banished into Room 101 the minute after it was coined. Whoever conjured it should have been sat on the naughty step and made to think carefully about what they’d done.

It is everywhere at the moment, clinging to life on the front of magazines far and wide, complemented by that most irritating of terms; “New Year, New You” which foolishly assumes that after the likely drunken sleep you had on the December 31, you miraculously awoke as a different person.  

And it’s not just fitness. The travel industry is guilty too. There are plenty of holidays out there offering the solution to ‘kick start’ your year. For the more extreme fitness fanatics, this includes drinking the sort of green-coloured smoothies that a four-year-old might mash up in the garden and practising hardcore regimes on what appear to be tiny, colourful hammocks in exotic locations, leaving you feeling like a ravenous raggy doll.

But what about us mere mortals? Those of us that spent the festive season running all over the country visiting friends and family, now questioning whether or not a break was ever actually had? Those of us that don’t have time to jet off for a “rejuvenating” break as the one thing that we did learn from 2018 was not to use all of our annual leave in the first six months of the year. How do we reboot after a season of frivolity?

The Romans, it seems, gave us the answer long ago. Bath is Britain’s original spa town – and for Londoners, just an hour and a half by train from Paddington. What’s more, they’ve hit the idea of “New Year, New You” on the head by running their new ‘Feelgood’ program in February – when most people have got all of those extreme New Year’s resolutions out of their systems and are compromising on a more realistic change.

Head into the Roman Baths and you can travel down to see where the thermal waters run Credit: istock

Bath is a city where you can unwind, relax and return to your everyday life. It’s the ‘normal’ person’s solution to looking after oneself a bit more in 2019.

The original

If you’re heading to Bath to relax, it’s good to start with the history. The Roman Baths are believed to date back to the first century AD and were built around one of the UK’s only natural hot springs.

Prior to the Roman invasion, the Iron Age Dobunni tribe worshipped the Goddess Sulis here, who was thought to possess curative powers. When the invading Romans erected a temple at the site, along with the spa complex, they appeased the locals by naming the city Aquae Sulis and worshipped the goddess Sulis Minerva here – combining Celtic and Roman beliefs.

Today, the Roman Baths are one of the country’s most fascinating ancient sites, but it’s worth arriving early to avoid the modern-day crowds (see our guide to visiting the Roman Baths).

The Georgian

After the Romans departed, the popularity of Bath dwindled. By the early 18th Century, the city was a slightly decayed place with just fleeting traces of its former glory. That is until Queen Anne visited in 1702.

The Georgian period produced some of Bath's finest architecture Credit: Getty

What followed was a renaissance of the spa city, led by dandy and later Master of Ceremonies, Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, Post Master Ralph Allen and architect John Wood and his son John Wood the Younger. In 100 short years, Bath’s population exploded from 2,000 to 30,0000.

It was during this period that the beautiful head of Minerva was unearthed (1727), the Pump Room, finished (1799) and the Assembly Rooms completed by John Wood the Younger (1771). The well-to-do flocked to the now fashionable city to take the waters.

So where did they stay? Any fans of Austen will know that the Royal Crescent was a hard hitter when it came to the most fashionable place to stay in the city. If you want the complete Georgian experience, you can also stay here – at The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa . The only landmark building in the world you can actually sleep in, the hotel sits in the middle of the row and as its name suggests, has its own on-site spa.

Every room is different but still resplendent with its former Georgian glory. Each of the grand windows overlook either the crescent itself (the green out front is for the exclusive use of those residing on the crescent or the hotel and separated from the common folk by a ha-ha) or the one-acre garden.

The intimate spa at the Royal Crescent

Inside, it’s all grand staircases, oil portraits and regal furniture, giving the impression that you’ve just stepped back in time to a rather elegant Georgian home rather than a city hotel. One of Bath’s more exclusive spots, it has an intimate spa complete with a pool, hot tub, sauna, steam room, spa garden and private treatment rooms. After you’ve whiled away a few hours remembering what ‘relaxed’ feels like, the British-focussed menu here is worth sampling.

The modern

The beauty of Bath is that the city doesn’t discriminate by wealth. If you’re not flush enough to spend your money on a five-star hotel as your finances recover from Christmas, the New Royal Bath by Thermae Bath Spa is a great yet affordable alternative with prices starting from £36 for two hours (plus 15 minutes’ changing time).

After heading out of the swimming-pool-style changing rooms, it’s best to start at the top and work your way down. Don’t let the chilly outdoor temperature put you off taking a dip in the rooftop pool. Once in, you won’t feel the cold and you’ll find it difficult to tear yourself away. They keep a close eye on numbers too, so it never feels too overcrowded. Come up on a Sunday and you’ll find your soak accompanied by the ringing of the Cathedral bells – it doesn’t get more relaxing.

As you make your way down, you can try out the Roman steam room and Georgian steam room to give you a slightly manufactured yet fun insight into what each period had to offer our ancestors. There’s also an infrared room, celestial relaxation room (read: a row of beds in a dark room with lights on the ceiling and ambient music) and experience showers. Don’t shy away from the ice chamber either. It’s a lot more refreshing than it sounds.

The setting of the rooftop pool is rather spectacular Credit: PHILIP EDWARDS

Spa treatments are on offer here too, including a Vichy Rainforest Shower experience. On the lower floor in the Minerva Bath, which is, in essence, a large thermal swimming pool complete with grand columns, massage jet, whirlpool and lazy river.

What makes the experience so special is that all of the water comes from the thermal spring, meaning that you can experience the water in much the same way as the Romans did (only with slightly cleaner water that’s been given a chlorine boost).

While the main spa is much less intimate than some of the hotel spas, Thermae does offer sessions in the Cross Baths. This can be found across the road and, as the spot where the Celts revered their goddess Sul, is now recognised as an official sacred site. A one-and-a-half-hour session here starts at £18 per person.

If you’ve given up walking for New Year, you could opt to stay at The Gainsborough Bath Spa which is just a stone’s throw away and started life as a hospital. The real coup here is that this is the only hotel in the UK that has access to the natural thermal waters. Its substantial Romanesque Spa Village includes two natural thermal pools of varying temperatures, traditional and infrared saunas, a steam room, an ice alcove and treatment rooms.

The festival

Feel-Good Bath is a ten-day festival that takes place across the city February 1-10. Events include yoga by candlelight and a talk on the power of sleep at The Gainsborough Bath Spa and rooftop Aquasana at The Thermae Bath Spa. The Royal Crescent Hotel will be offering a 20 per cent discount off all treatments for multi-night stays booked during Feel-Good February and The Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel will be offering “Get Real” retreats.

‘Why Museums Matter’ also opens February 7. For all events and details, visit visitbath.co.uk/feel-good.