Sunday at the Spa
Sometimes iconic places can be a bit of a let down but in the case of the Thermae Bath Spa, for once, the hype turns out to be true. I tried out their new three-hour Sunday Soother package last week – after a heavy night on the Saturday, it was the perfect set up for the week ahead – and if they’d let me stay, I’d still be there.
Located in Bath’s cobbled ‘Spa Quarter’, the Thermae Bath Spa is not just one but five historic buildings and one contemporary, with six floors, 26 treatment rooms, a multi-sensory Wellness Suite and four thermal baths – including the standalone Cross Bath, an 18th century open air bathing pool, which you can hire out for private use (yes please).
As soon as we slipped out of our clothes and into our swimmers, waffle dressing gown and flip flops, put our stuff and fluffy white towels in our lockers – using slim blue wristband like little faceless watches to lock up (no keys to lose here) – we were straight up to the iconic…
OPEN AIR ROOF TOP POOL
…which really is as good as it looks in this pic. You get a bird’s eye view of the Abbey, the city roof tops and the hills beyond while floating around in the luxuriously warm thermal waters.
It’s incredible to think that the water you’re bathing in once fell as rain about 10,000 years ago, sank deep below the earth’s surface, was heated by high temperature rocks before rising up to the surface through one of three springs in the centre of Bath and up into these baths. The water, rich in minerals (over 42 of them), comes out of the ground at 45 degrees C and then cools down to around 34 degrees – about the same as a warm bath.
We had a lazy swim, bobbed around on some noodles, found ourselves an air seat near a bubbling jet and relaaaaaaxed. From the boardwalk around the edge you can peer down into the cobbled street below, across to the Hetling Pump Room, down through a glass roof into the Hot Bath, to the Gainsborough Hotel next door and get a teensy glimpse of bathers sipping prosecco in the Cross Bath (not at all jealous).
Next floor down (or maybe the next one? It’s a warren of rooms) is the multi-sensory Wellness Suite, the spa equivalent of being a kid in a candy store. You move through each of the different rooms as you wish, with steam, sauna, ice and more; with nods back to Roman times, to Georgian days, forward into the future and out into space. Ooh, so where to start?
Jets of water – beautifully hot or tinglingly cold (you choose) – spray down from the ceiling and out from the walls in the Experience Shower.
Not the control centre of an alien starship or an installation artwork but an infra-red sauna, where heaters around the walls emit infra-red light waves which gently warm the body from within. It seemed a more bearable heat than a conventional sauna.
The Roman Steam Room is infused with the scent of fragrant herbs and flowers. It was back in AD43, that the Romans started establishing ‘Aquae Sulis’ (the town that became modern Bath) as a centre of rest and relaxation rather than the usual Roman garrison town. Coming here is a continuation of that tradition – impressive.
The ice women cometh. In true Scandinavian style, after the heat comes the cold. In the futuristic Ice Chamber, a room filled with menthol-infused steam, you can scoop up handfuls of chipped ice and pour them over your arms, legs, face – and down your back (eek) – to refresh, close the pores and exfoliate.
Water trickles from the garden fountain and there’s a hint of roses in the air in the Georgian steam bath. Though we were hard pushed to see the ‘gardens’ through all the steam.
And finally, we lay back on our heated mosaic loungers in the star-studded Celestial Relaxation Room, inspired by local boy William Herschel who discovered the planet Uranus, and watched the universe unfold. Surreal.
Next up, a massage in one of 26 treatment rooms. There are over 40 complementary therapies on offer – from body wraps, hot stones, facials to watsu (a form of water therapy). You won’t find beauty treatments like manicures, waxing or eyebrow shaping here – this spa is purely dedicated to health and well-being. I was booked in for a Reviver Back, Foot and Head/Scalp Massage. It was one of those really thorough massages, with the therapist working away at all the different muscle groups, using fab Aromatherapy Associate products. All hand blended, and using raw ingredients from around the wold, they’re pure and natural – and don’t contain any nasties like parabens or sodium lauryl sulphate.
Work your way down to the Minerva Bath at the bottom of the main building. Named after the Roman Goddess of Health and Wisdom (but of course you knew that), you can wallow in the thermal waters around the modern columns echoing the classical design, with whirlpool, massage jet and a lazy river.
TIME FOR LUNCH
Sandwiches and light lunches, smoothies, soft drinks, tea, coffee, hot choc and wine (phew) on the menu in the airy Springs Restaurant. No need for money – just pass your little blue wristband over a sensor.
Our seared salmon on a bed of quinoa and tzatzkiki and hake with cubed roasties and salad were generously portioned (amazing how doing nothing but relax can work up quite an appetite) – and delicious.
The spa is very inclusive: there were women, men, old, young, singles, couples, groups, people of all shapes and sizes. It’s accessible, too, with lifts between all six floors, chair seats into the pools and disabled parking spaces nearby.
Little shops on the ground floor of the main building and opposite at 2 Hot Bath Street sell all sorts of spa lotions and products, including Aromatherapy Associates stuff. The Hetling Pump room houses a tiny visitor centre if you want to know more about the place
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
The Thermae Bath Spa is open every day of the year except for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. The main Well Royal Bath is open from 9am to 9.30pm; The Cross Bath from 10am to 8pm.