I’ve been to a few lovely spas in recent years, but there’s one that stands out head and shoulders above the rest, and that is Thermae Bath Spa in the beautiful city of Bath. I first went by myself on a busy Saturday in April when Lee was in Austria flying our new plane back, and I loved it so much that I just had to come back to review it for my blog (this time with Lee in tow!). We went on a quiet midweek day this week and had the most wonderfully relaxing morning.
The spa is a bit of a ‘hidden gem’; its entrance can be found by going along Beau Street or Bath Street, very near to the Abbey, Roman Baths and Pump Room. Behind the elegant Georgian facade, you can see the New Royal Bath building, which is described as a “fusion of glass, stone, light and water”.
NB: Because you can’t take photos when it’s open (to respect the privacy of bathers!), the spa very kindly invited us down before opening time so that we could look round and take photos, which is why there’s nobody in the photos!
Thermae Bath Spa was opened in 2006. The thing that makes this spa so special is its sense of history. Even though this wonderful new building has a very modern feel to it (it’s designed by Grimshaw Architects, the same people responsible for the Eden Project), it’s merely the most recent chapter in a long history of bathing in and generally revering the remarkable geothermic waters of Bath, which stretches right back to the Romans and Celts. Some of its fascinating history has been neatly incorporated into the design of the new building, and bathing here, one feels the presence of thousands of years of history.
There are four bathing pools at Thermae Bath Spa, all filled with the mineral-rich geothermal water, which naturally comes out of the ground at a pleasantly warm and comforting temperature. It’s easy to see why the waters have been held in such awe for so long, and of course the water’s famed healing properties are what have drawn people to Bath century after century. The spa is laid out over several floors, so we started with the basement and worked our way up. This is the Minerva Bath, built on the site of the 1920s Beau Street Baths – which were themselves adapted from a spa building constructed even earlier, in 1831.
As well as the jacuzzi that you can see here, this pool has gentle rapids in it, which create currents that carry you around the pool as you float around supported by a float shaped like a noodle (like these). There are plenty of these floats provided, which I found fantastic because I’m not very confident in the water, and having a float enabled me to relax and not worry about my head going under the water. The pool is just the right depth, as you can stand up in it at all times. It’s not really designed for swimming beyond a gentle breast stroke to propel oneself around the water; it’s just really relaxing to bob about, or be carried around by the currents.
There are also sun loungers so that you can lie by the pool if you want to.
This is the Hot Bath, which is a Grade II* listed building dating from 1777, now incorporated into the New Royal Bath building. This is only available for spa treatments, including the spa’s signature ‘Watsu’ massage, which I definitely have to try sometime – you can read more about here.
On the first floor is the spa’s massage suite, where you can have a range of relaxing treatments. We didn’t have treatments this time, but when I went before I had the Aromatherapy Massage, which was incredibly soothing and just what I needed to take my mind off the stress I was going through at the time!
Also on the first floor is the Springs Cafe Restaurant, which is a lovely airy space where you can have coffees and teas, lunch or dinner depending on what time of day you visit. We had a mid-morning Ecuadorian hot chocolate, which was rather exotic both in its name and in the way it was served (sadly I don’t have a photo of it, as my phone was safely stowed away in my locker by that point!). You were given a glass of hot milk and a little jug of melted chocolate to pour into it, and there was a small piece of sticky toffee pudding to enjoy with it. Lee had the chilli version, which was also infused with vanilla and cinnamon. So good! Later on we also had lunch there; I had a delicious mushroom and garlic rigatoni with a French Sauvignan wine and Lee had sliced steak with ham, pearl barley and leek, washed down with a glass of Peroni. The food was superb and certainly hit the spot after a morning floating in the pools!
Continuing up to the next level of the building, you come to the steam rooms. These are rather ingeniously designed in four pods around a central waterfall shower, and each pod is scented with different essential oils. We went into the Lotus Flower one first, followed by Lemongrass, then Sandalwood and finally Eucalyptus. Because our spa session started first thing, we pretty much had the place to ourselves, so we lay down on the warm stone seats in each pod and really soaked up the gorgeous aroma of the essential oils.
Between each pod we went under the waterfall shower, which wasn’t freezing but it was a lot cooler than the steam rooms. This cycle of hot-cold-hot-cold helps cleanse the pores – just like the Romans did 2,000 years ago!
As you can see, each of the pods is illuminated with colour-changing lights, which makes the room visually impressive as well as relaxing.
To continue the hot/cold theme, there is also a terrace just outside the steam rooms where you can feel the fresh air of the bracing British climate to help you cool off.
The terrace has lovely views of the surrounding Georgian buildings, including the Hetling Pump Room over the road, which now houses a visitor centre for the spa. I loved the old sign writing, which was another reminder of the history of the baths; like the main Pump Room next to the Roman Baths, it was another place where visitors could go to drink the water, which they believed held medicinal properties.
Now on to the piece de resistance of Thermae Bath Spa…
It’s fair to say that the rooftop pool is what the spa is best known for, and it’s not hard to see why. This stunning pool offers year-round bathing in the beautifully warm waters, surrounded by views of the gorgeous Bath skyline – notably the Abbey, as you can see here.
As with the Minerva Bath, the noodle-type floats are provided so that you can enjoy floating around in this one-of-a-kind pool.
The rooftop pool was the highlight for me, especially when the weather cleared up later in the morning. Lee was so lovely and held me gently in the water and slowly carried me around the pool so that I could just float there with my eyes closed, enjoying the warm water and the feeling of the sun beating down on my face. A memory I shall treasure forever!
Opposite the entrance to the New Royal Bath building is the Cross Bath, which sits alongside the Hospital of St John the Baptist, founded in 1174 partly to exploit the healing properties of the water.
Just look at those Corinthian columns! This building is Grade I listed and stands on the site of the Cross Spring, where the Celts once worshipped the goddess Sul, from whom the Roman name ‘Aquae Sulis’ comes. The Cross Spring is still recognised as a sacred site, and it’s one of the three hot springs on which Bath is built (the others being the Hetling Spring and the King’s Spring, the latter of which supplies the Roman Baths over the road. All three springs supply Thermae Bath Spa).
This was once the most fashionable place to bathe in Bath, because of the level of privacy it allows. The present pool could be lifted out to reveal the Georgian one below. These days, you can bathe here as an individual or you can hire it out exclusively for a party of up to 12 people, complete with bubbly and nibbles, of course! I would really love to do that one day.
This fountain sculpture is an intriguing modern feature of the pool. It allows the hot water to rise naturally, directly from the source, bubbling out over the top. We touched the water and it seemed a lot warmer than the water in the other pools.
So there we have it! Thermae Bath Spa is a fantastic continuation of Bath’s bathing tradition and I reckon it more than does justice to Bath’s unique history. We had such a lovely morning there that we’ve vowed to go back a few times a year!
If you would like to ‘take the waters’ at Thermae Bath Spa, a two-hour session costs £32 (Mon-Fri) or £35 (Sat or Sun) and includes the use of the facilities in the New Royal Bath building, as well as a towel, robe and slippers. Alternatively, you can bathe at the Cross Bath for £18/£20. Spa treatments such as massages and facials are booked separately and more information can be found here. Our plan for our next visit is to go in the evening and enjoy the baths – and views – lit up at night. I can already hardly wait!
I’ll leave you with this ‘Day in the Life’ video, which shows you more about this amazing spa…