For almost twenty years at the end of the last century, Britain’s most famous spa town had no thermal baths. The opening of the new Thermae Bath Spa in 2006, at the centre of this World Heritage City, was therefore a watershed in Bath’s history. Once the haunt of the Roman elite who founded the city 2000 years ago, and later frequented by British Royalty like Elizabeth I and Charles II, Britain’s only natural thermal spa boasts a uniquely soothing atmosphere with gentle lighting and curative vapours, the surrounding grandeur testament to the importance given to these therapeutic waters.
The spa’s centrepiece is its rooftop pool, where on cold winter evenings the Twilight bathing package allows you to enjoy majestic views of Bath’s Abbey and its genteel Georgian architecture through wisps of rising steam from the pool’s 33.5°C water. The Celts thought that the goddess Sul was the force behind the spring, but we now know that the waters probably fell as rain in the nearby Mendip Hills some 10,000 years ago, before being pushed 2km upwards through bedrock and limestone to arrive at the pools enriched with minerals and hot enough to treat respiratory, muscular and skin problems.
The new spa’s remarkable design contrasts existing listed Georgian buildings and colonnades with contemporary glass curves and fountains, employing local Bath stone to impressive effect. The covered Minerva Bath provides thermal water jets for shoulder massage, while you can indulge in an astonishing variety of massages and treatments like reiki, shiatsu, body wraps and flotation in the classical Hot Bath, built in 1778 and restored with twelve treatment rooms and a striking glass ceiling. Elsewhere, four steam rooms offer eucalyptus, mint and lavender scents, and there is a giant thermal shower to reinvigorate the soul. When you’ve had your fill of relaxation, the old Roman Baths nearby are well worth a visit, too – they offer one of the world’s best-preserved insights into Roman culture, complete with authentic Latin graffiti.
Prices start at £24 for a two-hour spa session in the New Royal Bath (including access to the rooftop pool, Minerva Bath, steam rooms and restaurant). The smaller, historic Cross Bath lies opposite the main complex with its own facilities; a one-and-a-half hour sesssion here costs £14. See www.thermaebathspa.com for more details.