Here's How to Spa Like the Ancient Romans (With Added Luxury)

Here's How to Spa Like the Ancient Romans (With Added Luxury)

These modern upgrades to millennia-old pampering rituals in Bath are simply divine.

By Karen Gardiner

Ladies of London have been making the quick trip to Bath (less than two hours by train) for years. Almost 2,000 years ago, Romans built bathhouses that tapped into the area’s naturally occurring hot springs, which were largely forgotten about until Queen Elizabeth I became smitten by the city in the 16th century — leading to its transformation into a booming spa town, frequented by the great and good of Elizabethean and Georgian society.

Since the closure of the Roman baths in the late 1970s, visitors have still flocked to Bath, drawn to the Roman remains and pristine Georgian architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. But in recent years, it has regained its status as a spa town thanks to the opening of a new modern public bathhouse and a luxury spa hotel. Here's why Bath is the one place in the U.K spa fans should not miss.

1. Gainsborough Bath Spa

Despite Bath's rich history as a favored destination for the well-to-do, the city long lacked a grand spa hotel. With the opening of the Gainsborough Bath Spa late last year — the only hotel in the U.K to tap into naturally occurring thermal waters — visitors to Bath can now have a luxury spa experience in this ancient spa town.

Run by luxury company, YTL Hotels, and designed by the distinctive hand of New York-based design studio, Champalimaud, Gainsborough Bath Spa occupies three honey-colored stone interlinking classical buildings. The hotel’s handsome, Roman-esque, two-level “Spa Village” offers a traditional Roman bath circuit, with thermal pools of varying temperatures, a traditional and infrared sauna, steam room and an ice alcove, as well as 11 treatment rooms. Adding to the air of exclusivity, the Spa Village is open only to hotel guests and members. After you’ve worked up an appetite at the spa, retire upstairs to Johann Lafer, the namesake restaurant of the Michelin-starred German chef and TV star.

2. Thermae Bath Spa

Directly opposite Gainsborough Bath Spa, Thermae Bath Spa offers public bathing in the city’s thermal waters. Opened in 2006, the complex, made up of both historic and contemporary buildings, features a large curved pool complete with lazy river, known as the Minerva Bath. It also has a rooftop pool with spectacular views over the city rooftops and toward the Gothic spires of the magnificent Bath Abbey.

For a truly unique experience, book a private session in the Cross Bath. In a separate building but part of the Thermae Bath Spa complex, the Cross Bath is fed by waters from the Cross Spring, recognized for its restorative powers since the early 12th century and a designated sacred site.

3. The Roman Baths

Once feeling restored by the healing waters of Bath, you can learn more by visiting the spa complex built by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. While the baths are still filled with steamy water they are no longer used for bathing. Instead, you can explore the well-preserved bath house, the temple courtyard, and the museum housing various ancient artefacts, including Roman coins, masks and amusingly petty “curse tablets.” At the end of your visit, get a real taste of the mineral-rich waters by taking a sip from the fountain in the adjoining Pump Room. Tastier still, The Pump Room restaurant serves a yummy afternoon tea — triple-stacked plates of scones, macarons, cake and dainty sandwiches — accompanied by live music.

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