When a city is known for its soaking cred, I know I have to go there. I’m a bit of a bathing enthusiast having waded my way through Japanese onsens, Moroccan hamams, and of course our very own Canadian hot springs but I think that the one wearing the actual Bath name may be the most mesmerizing. Thermae Bath Spa, the piece de la resistance of modern bath (IMO) is steeped in history as well as modern luxury. I was in a tizzy of relaxation and bliss – maybe it was nutritious waters laced touting over 40 different minerals and trace elements. Or perhaps it was the stunning views of Georgian limestone buildings that hover over you as you bathe. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it may just be how happy everyone surrounding you seems to be, allowing you to take in good energy along with the fresh, crisp air.
A Spa With A History
As a Canadian, I am always impressed by how old things are in Europe. Call me new world but its hard to find a building in my home town that’s over a hundred years old. Activity around Bath dates back to at least 8000 BC and it’s said that the ninth King of Briton cured his leprosy from the city’s hot, then middy, waters around 863 BC. He was supposed to be the father of King Lear….this is how old we’re talking (!). But it was the Romans who build a series of sophisticated baths that were dedicated to Minerva. You know the Romans loved a good soak, you can’t get through five pages of Ulysses without someone taking a bath and anointing their bods with olive oil. But it may have been Mary of Modena, wife to King James the second that made it infamous for health and healing for women. Battling infertility and the inability to produce an heir, her royal physician prescribed a visit to Cross Bath (seen below), still found today at Thermae Bath Spa as therapy. After she gave birth to a son soon afterwards, Bath became incredibly sought out and fashionable for British elite. Today, I’m happy to report that the waters are still for the people and are run by the people. The Spa is actually publicly owned and run by a council, not a private organization. This is something that is rare and comforting and I smiled when told by one local that the waters could never be owned by anyone as they have always been for the public to enjoy.
Still I think Bath’s reputation will always conjure up images of luxury and indugence. When I told a group of my gal pals I was heading to Bath, one exclaimed “oh! where everyone is Jane Austen books goes for a bit of escapism.” Exactly. And that where I was going to escape to too – after I was done for the day, gone would be the tension in my shoulders and I wouldn’t be thinking about checking my phone at all…or at least a lot less.
The Stomping Grounds…Er, Soaking Grounds
I think one of the most impressive things about Thermae is how big it is. It houses six buildings, four pools, four steam rooms and a spa treatment centre. Even the change rooms are huge and complex, outfitted with high-tech electronic wristband keys for its maze of lockers. I imagine people have gotten lost and confused because these provided bands are programmed to remind you which locker you are with a quick swipe of any of the available floor scanners.
There are four steam rooms. I repeat four steam rooms. Each infused with its own essential oil of jasmine, sandalwood, ginger or eucalyptus. I spent a good deal of time just running around to each one trying to decide which one I liked best. I was also booked in at the spa centre for a bamboo massage treatment. Because I love deep pressure, this service was recommended as they pair a relaxing massage with light whacks of bamboo reeds all over your body. It may not sound relaxing but my back is so tight, I was egging my practitioner on to whack harder! The staff at the spa were incredibly professional and detail-oriented. If you read this blog, you know that I am exceptionally picky, so this is saying a lot.
Of course the best part of my whole experience was the bathing pools themselves. I went with my sister in-law, mother in-law and Ben and we all agreed that the rooftop bath with the view of the city was our favorite. I was lucky enough to have enjoyed a beautiful sunny afternoon up there as well as the beginning of sundown after my treatment. They actually offer a Twilight Package for couples, where you can enjoy an evening soak along with a meal and drink. What a wonderful way to spend an intimate night! I actually really appreciated the fact that Thermae is a mixed Bath because one draw back to the fabulous onsens Ben and I visited in Japan was that they separated men and women unless you prebooked a small private pool. I was also delighted to discover that you can still have a lazy splash about the ancient Cross Bath too. Thermae even books private parties there and for those living in England, I imagine it’s the perfect place for bridal shower or bachelorette (ahem, known there as a “hens night”, which always makes me chuckle).
I think I probably spent six hours there, which is more time than I ever spend at a spa that’s not my own. Especially a bathing spa, where I usually get antsy as soon as I start pruning up. But with such vast facilities, romantic views and local folklore, its easy to turn off and blissfully float away in Bath. A place worthy of its name.