Water is the ultimate life, pure as crystal, the divine influx.” – Ted Hughes.
Thanks to it’s thermal springs, which are the only hot springs in the UK, delivering over one million litres of naturally hot, mineral-rich waters every day, Bath has long been associated with health and restoration. The seemingly miraculous emergence of the hot water steaming amongst the marshes was worshipped by first the Celts, then the Romans, who built baths and a temple to Minerva – goddess of healing and wisdom – on the site, founding one of their only settlements used purely for recreation instead of as a garrison. You can’t argue with history, so what better way to experience the beauty of Bath than at Thermae Bath Spa, the only spa which uses the natural water of the thermal springs?
While the waters emerge from the three springs in Bath at a steaming 45°C, they are cooled down during the filtration process to the optimum bathing temperature, a relaxing 34°C which feels exactly like a warm bath. The waters used at the Thermae Spa originate in the Cross Spring, where a restored Georgian building houses the Cross Bath, a private pool which can be hired out by parties of up to twelve people; my idea of heaven. All the pools in the spa use this natural resource, allowing guests to bathe just as visitors to Bath have for centuries, benefiting from the mineral rich waters and their potential healing properties.
Thermae blends some important listed Georgian buildings, particularly the oval shaped Cross Bath and the Hot Bath, with the sleek contemporary structure of the New Royal Bath, designed by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners, to create an intriguing building which celebrates the history of Bath whilst simultaneously bringing the spa into the 21st century. The centrepiece of the New Royal Bath is a huge cube of Bath stone, supported by curved pillars, which is itself encased in the glass cube forming the exterior of the building. You’d think a huge glass structure would look out of place amongst the Georgian buildings and creamy yellow stone of Bath, but thanks to the reflections of the Bath colours, it fits in fantastically and looks beautiful.
The design cleverly mixes circles and curves with sharp lines, creating a brilliant, modern space which is the perfect setting for a spa. Inside, Bath stone, steel, glass and Kashmir granite create a sleek, clean interior, lit by fibre optic lighting used to create different moods and enhance the atmosphere. Even the changing rooms have surprisingly modern touches, like the lockers, which are opened and closed using an electronic plastic wrist band rather than cash. These wrist bands are also used to ‘pay’ for food in the restaurant, meaning you can leave everything behind in the locker and worry about cash at the end of the day. It’s a small but really clever touch which takes any potential stress from the visit, leaving you free to relax.
The New Royal Bath houses most of the spa’s facilities; the changing rooms and showers, the restaurant, the Minerva Bath on the ground floor,the steam rooms and treatment rooms, and the incredible outdoor rooftop pool on the fourth floor. The Georgian Hot Bath next door houses treatment rooms and a hot bath used for Thermae’s signature hydrotherapy treatment, the Watsu. With so much more than a pool, jacuzzi and sauna, this is the ultimate spa experience, and it would be easy to spend a whole day inside.
Deciding to save the best for last, we started at the bottom in the Minerva pool, intending to work our way up to the rooftop pool. This is a brilliantly designed pool in a curved shape, broken by the four pillars which support the stone cube overhead. The naturally warm waters have a silky texture, and while I’m not sure about the healing powers, the experience is definitely psychologically beneficial. I always find a long, hot bath is the best cure for stress or a bad day at work, and the Minerva pool offers the extreme version of that experience; a few hours whiled away at Thermae Bath Spa really will melt away stress and leave you feeling vitally improved, at least internally.
With it’s massage jets, contained in a submerged jacuzzi within the pool itself, and the slow current of the lazy river which wraps around that, the Minerva pool is the perfect space for relaxation. Holding foam poles, we simply floated in the water, letting the current slowly move us around the pool, our minds drifting. The atmosphere is quiet enough to feel intimate in spite of the number of other bathers in the pool, and the whole experience is totally uplifting.
Suitably chilled out, we headed upstairs next to the Aroma Steam Rooms. The sleek design, with four glass pods housing the steam rooms arranged around a central waterfall shower, looked like something out of a sci fi movie, but created a surprisingly relaxing atmosphere. I loved the central waterfall shower, where coloured lighting and changing water pressures gave various experiences – best was the shoulder massage from the thundering jets of the ‘tropical’ shower. The steam rooms themselves used different aromatic essences to provide a variety of experiences: the soothing lotus flower sent me into a dreamy relaxation, while Sam’s favourite, the eucalyptus and mint, cleared out our sinuses while the steam cleansed our pores.
Our skin feeling pure and fresh, we headed into the Springs Café Restaurant for lunch. The menu was a tempting list of indulgent treats that were fitting with a day of pampering, as well as plenty of healthy treats and lighter snacks, and it was all delicious. Rich pork belly with potatoes and a sweet bacon sauce, crispy sea bass with almost sea-through angle hair noodles and stir fried vegetables, followed by white chocolate and strawberry cheesecake and a melt-in-the-mouth chocolate and ginger tart. The meal surprised me, with artistically presented dishes and clever flavour combinations that seemed more at home in a fancy restaurant than this friendly, brightly lit café where we were surrounded by diners in white robes and slippers.
That kind of strange contrast between luxury and informality is apparent throughout Thermae. Most spas tend to seem a little bit too formal, too exclusive, making me feel out of place, but at Thermae the atmosphere is welcoming and friendly, almost casual. The idea is that this is a spa for everyone, just as the baths have always been historically. But the sleek design of the architecture, the crisp, modern décor, and all the facilities still look like a high-end luxury spa. It’s the perfect setting for relaxing.
After lazing in the Minerva pool again for another half hour or so, we headed to the Hot Bath, which is still contained in the Grade II listed building dating from 1777, where we indulged in some fantastic treatments to seal off our state of complete relaxation. Mine, the Serenity Candle Massage, was a really creative treatment using hot shea butter and almond oil, released by burning a special candle. The heat aids muscle relaxation, while the smooth massage melted away not only physical tension but also my internal stress as well. My therapist noticed the tightness in my shoulders, caused by crouching over my laptop in concentration, and eased the knots out expertly, and I loved the thick, buttery oil that left my skin feeling richly moisturised. Sam’s treatment was even more intense, the Thermae Oriental Massage which blends the best techniques from around the world, including Lomi Lomi, Swedish, Thai, and Malay massage, as well as a bamboo massage with warm bamboo sticks used to work out the deeper muscle problems. After the massages, we laid back on loungers in the recovery area, wrapped in blankets and sipping herbal teas, sunk into a deep state of relaxation that had me struggling to stay awake.
Feeling serene and silky-soft, we headed up to the top floor to finally experience Thermae’s top selling point, the rooftop pool. We stepped out into dazzling bright, but crisp Autumn sunshine and sank into the rich, warm water of the pool, a gorgeous contrast against the cold air. The views from the pool are incredible. Across the rooftops and honey-coloured stone of Bath, broken by a church spire and the tower of the Abbey, we had a fantastic view of Bathwick Hill, owned and preserved by the National Trust to stop new buildings spoiling the view which makes Bath one of the prettiest towns in the UK.
I could have spent the rest of the day in that pool, just enjoying the views and the wonderful feeling of warm water against the cold air. And I can see that it would be even better by night, with the sunset over the city, and later the Abbey lit up against the night sky. Eventually, we had to make a move, but on the way to the showers on the ground floor, the Minerva pool looked much too tempting and we found ourselves back in there for one last “quick” dip – which ended up lasting another forty five minutes or so – before finally heading out after almost six hours in the spa.
Time just slips away at Thermae. The slow pace, the atmosphere of pure relaxation, the indulgence of the warm waters and the incredible treatments, it all left us feeling dreamily relaxed and just a little bit dozy. This is the perfect way to unwind, just drifting in the slow currents of the Minerva pool, floating in the silky waters of the rooftop pool, and resting in the soothing, scented steam of the steam rooms. The whole experience was just sublime.
Thermae Bath Spa – 0844 888 0844
Spa sessions start at £27 for two hours – Opening Times.
My Tip: Weekends are very busy, so the best time to visit the spa is during the week. The rooftop spa is fantastic in the evening so consider the Twilight Package.
FYI – the images were provided by Thermae’s press team as photography is not permitted inside the spa.