The Romans knew a thing or two about civilisation – straight roads, underfloor heating, and some monumental buildings that are still upright 20 centuries later. But as I float dreamily in the therapeutic warm waters of Thermae Bath Spa, I can’t help thinking that one of their best ideas was communal bathing.
Throughout the Roman Empire, public baths were the equivalent of today’s High Street coffee shops – a place to while away the time with friends, conduct business meetings, and generally catch up on the gossip. All of which seems to be going on here in Bath.
Much has been written about Thermae Bath Spa which opened to the public in August 2006 after a few well-publicised teething problems. Today, the blend of heritage buildings and new-build, warm spring water and cosy treatment rooms is as much a tourist attraction as the city’s original Roman baths and elegant Georgian architecture.
So would it live up to anticipation?
First impressions were promising. The discreet entrance is tucked behind the main shopping area, close to the abbey and historic Pump Rooms. Visitors buy a basic two-hour spa session which includes slippers, robe and towel. You then wear a ‘smart’ wristband which clocks you in and out as well as recording any cafe purchases.
The Hot Bath in the basement is for pre-booked water-based treatments only so first stop for most visitors is the Minerva Pool on the ground floor beneath the changing suite. Before you sink blissfully into the warm water, take a moment to take in the building, an ingenious mix of cubes, curves and circles. The New Royal Bath which houses the main spa complex is a free-standing cube resting on four huge pillars, linked to surrounding heritage buildings by glass walls and bridges, and it’s impressive stuff.
Forget any thoughts you may have had about swimming. There is certainly space for a few strokes, but the here in the Minerva Bath, I can imagine the Romans coffee-housing around their public pools as I watch 21st century visitors doing the same as the mineral-rich water washes over them. Come here alone and you’ll feel a bit like Billy-no-Mates. This is a place to enjoy with friends and nowhere more so than the open-air rooftop pool where my companion and I enjoy sharing the view over the rooftops to the green hills that surround the city.
Scudding clouds threatened intermittent rain and from time to time a keen breeze ruffled the surface of the water, but with my shoulders under the water, I am warm as toast, relaxed by the water and exhilarated by the wind. Bath is the only place in Britain where the thermal springs are hot, rising to the surface at 45º and then cooled to a comfortable 34º, so cold just isn’t an option – no Roman Frigidarium here.
Downstairs from the rooftop pool, the aromas in the four steam rooms are changed regularly, the day’s perfumes posted up at the entrance and on the door to each steamy chamber. I’m personally not keen on lotus flower which makes my nose twitch, but am very comfortable enveloped in lemongrass & ginger. Eucomenthol does wonders for my hay fever, but my ultimate favourite is sandalwood which just hits the spot.
On the floor below, we take time out from the therapeutic waters to relax over a snack in Springs Cafe Restaurant, a bright spacious room overlooking mellow stone buildings. You can get everything here from a soft drink and a cake to a bottle of champagne and a cooked meal, time at the table being added on to your spa session.
Opposite the cafe are the treatment rooms, my last port of call. I’m booked in for an 85-minute Inner Strength treatment, which promises to deliver a sense of peace through inhalation, massage and hot stones. As my heart rate slows and my breathing grows shallow, I feel in serious danger of morphing into a dormouse and falling asleep in the Mad Hatter’s teapot.
But I stay sufficiently with it to float back to my overnight accommodation in a scented haze of well-being. All is right with my world and the feeling carries on at The Roseate Villa, a boutique B&B just 10 minutes’ walk from Thermae Bath Spa.
In a city where parking is at a premium, The Roseate Villa’s private car park and on-street spaces are a huge asset, but there are many more reasons to book into this gem of a guest house which takes B&B hospitality to a higher plane. Arriving early afternoon before our spa session, we were checked in over complimentary coffee and muffins by smiling staff who are only too willing to help.
The bedrooms are classified as good, better, and best but all, I’m sure, are wonderful. The Roseate Villa charges hotel prices but offers far better value than many hotels I’ve stayed in, with beautifully appointed rooms, a well-stocked welcome tray, quality toiletries and the fluffiest of fluffy white towels.
Staff are happy to advise on local restaurants, many of which offer a discount to guests on production of the Bath Card attached to their room key. The Roseate Villa’s breakfast next morning set us up until our evening meal – Bucks’ Fizz, compote of rhubarb from the garden, a choice of 12 cooked options, and all the usual pastries and cereals, and then some. And all included in the room price if you book direct.
We found Thermae Bath Spa and The Roseate Villa to be a winning combination for a relaxing night away and definitely an experience to be repeated.
Thermae Bath Spa
The Hetling Pump Room
Hot Bath Street
The Roseate Villa
+44 (0)1225 466329