Fancy a revitalising start to the New Year? Eleni Kyriacou takes the waters in this celebrated spa town
Why go? For an easy city break that mixes excellent restaurants, shopping and cultural sights with the chance to indulge your spa addiction and benefit from Bath’s mineral-rich waters.
Best for: girlie weekends where the goal is to shop, eat, drink and spa – then repeat. Couples will love it too – Bath is a World Heritage Site and its Roman, Georgian and Victorian buildings hewn from beautiful, honey-hued stone give the city a ridiculously romantic air.
Bath time: the Cathedral is just one of many historic sights to enjoy
The look: built in the 1800s, the 99-room Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel opened last September and occupies two Grade II-listed buildings that were originally a hospital (expect lots of long corridors), then a college. The décor is grand and formal yet warm and modern too, with inviting nooks and crannies like the Gainsborough Bar and the Canvas Room, which are less formal than the Johann Lafer at The Gainsborough restaurant where breakfast and dinner are served. The bedrooms are a beautifully elegant mix of duck-egg blue, muted greys and black lacquer furniture. Friends can share a Classic Twin Room which is spacious with two incredibly comfortable kingsize beds. Add in a heated bathroom floor, Nespresso machine, complimentary mini-bar, free Wi-Fi and Asprey bath products and it all shouts ‘five star’.
Grand designs: the Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel was once a hospital
Spa tips: The hotel’s rooms are centred around Spa Village Bath, a complex that has access to Bath’s original thermal springs where guests can take the waters. It sits under a large glass atrium and the effect – especially in the evening – is stunning. Here you can wander around the Bath House circuit of natural thermal pools, dip in and out of varying temperatures, use steam rooms and saunas and even rub rosemary-scented ice on yourself as the Romans did (way better than it sounds). If you’ve booked a treatment you can use the facilities in the Spa Village all day, otherwise complimentary access for hotel guests is limited to 7am-9am and 8pm-10pm. It's the little touches that make this place special, like the personalised aromatherapy consultation – describe how you’d like to feel and a consultant mixes a small pouch of scented bath salts for you to carry around the steam rooms, just like the Romans used to.
Roman ways: the Spa Village Bath features gorgeous mosaic tiling
Treatments: There's a wide variety at Spa Village Bath, for the full menu see here. We love the 90-minute magnesium wrap which starts with a thorough scrub and is followed by a heavenly massage before being cocooned in warm towels (£180 weekday/£225 weekends). For the same price you can opt for a 90-minute ginger renewal body therapy, which consists of exfoliation followed by a pampering back, neck and shoulder massage with ginger oil. If you’re feeling brave, try the 45-minute Spa Village aquasana which combines yoga, stretching and gentle tai chi within a warm 34.5°C thermal pool (minimum of two, £100 per person weekday/£130 weekends).
There's also facials, but even these aren’t standard – take your pick from rose, lavender or peppermint (60 minutes, £120 weekday/£150 weekends). And if you really want to push the boat out, go for a Wellness Day which starts with a morning consultation, private yoga session, an aquatic body therapy session and use of the Bath House. Then you get a facial, a 90-minute body treatment and a one-hour enhanced Swedish massage. The whole thing takes about six-and-a-half hours and forget doing anything else because you’ll be wiped out. It will also set you back a princessly £560 (£700 on a weekend).
Like ice with that? You can certainly chill out at Spa Village Bath
Staying calm: a bedroom at the Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel
I’m hungry: The locally-sourced breakfast at The Gainsborough Bath Spa is delicious and the weekend buffet arrangements mean you can have as little or as much as you like. For a smart dinner, the Johann Lafer at The Gainsborough restaurant promises beautifully-presented and generally sublime dishes although at times style wins over content (our crab dish was more a case of hunt-the-crab). A three-course meal costs around £60 per person, not including drinks and service.
Around town, you can’t go wrong with Circus (thecircuscafeandrestaurant.co.uk) which is consistently excellent. The restaurant specialises in locally-sourced food whilst keeping prices reasonable. A crisp winter endive salad, rump of Wiltshire lamb and a decadent three chocolate glory dessert will set you back around £30 per person before drinks and service. Book weeks ahead as it’s very popular. If you need a pit-stop whilst shopping try the Blue Quails Deli (bluequailsdeli.com) on Bridge Street, where you’ll find a gorgeous mix of cakes, salads, lunches and coffee.
While you’re there: a walk around Bath is a must. There are free, guided two-hour walks that start outside the Pump Rooms (visitbath.co.uk), or to see how the Georgians lived visit No 1 Royal Crescent (no1royalcrescent.org.uk). If you’re a diehard Jane Austen fan (she’s one of Bath’s most famous residents), visit the Jane Austen Centre (janeausten.co.uk) where you can have afternoon tea and dress up as though you’re about to call on the woman herself (yeah, you have to really like Jane Austen for this one).
Ancient and modern: Bath is a youthful city with a rich sense of history
Shopping: As well as the usual high-end fashion stores you’d expect in an affluent city (Karen Millen, Hobbs, Superdry, Coast, All Saints) there’s a healthy dose of independents, too. Check out the beautiful bags and shoes in Lux (9a Bartlett Street), the treasure trove that is interiors shop Found (foundbath.co.uk), and if you love books don’t miss Topping & Company (toppingbooks.co.uk) where you can browse the shelves or settle into a corner and read for ages. They’ll even offer you complimentary coffee.
Dress code: Smart rather than formal in the Johann Lafer at The Gainsborough restaurant, but elsewhere in Bath anything goes. It’s a buzzing, youthful city and if you’re going somewhere like Circus for a meal you’ll want to dress up a little.
Book now: The Gainsborough Bath Spa, Beau Street, Bath BA1 1QY (01225 358 888; thegainsboroughbathspa.co.uk). In January, double rooms start at £182, or £232 with breakfast. If you book direct with the hotel you'll receive 20% off spa treatments and a bottle of champagne on arrival, plus a 60-minute spa treatment if you stay on a Sunday-Thursday night. The hotel is less than a ten-minute walk from Bath Spa rail station and there are parking options nearby.