Last weekend, I voyaged westward to Bath for a distinctly British wellness escape. For years, I’d sampled the Instagram candy that was geotagged from this beautiful Georgian city, once revered by the Romans as the only hot springs in the UK – but this was my first IRL trip. VisitBath asked me to pop down for a weekend to experience the wellbeing benefits of this UNESCO World Heritage site for myself, so I jumped at the chance! What I found was an intoxicating blend of fresh air, relaxing proportions, historic significance, aesthetically arresting architecture, and a pace of life so wholly different to London (yet just 1hr 20 mins away on the Paddington flyer) that it was hard not to cut loose the stresses of the working week! Click more to see the key highlights of what I unearthed!
This city is so rarely beautiful that it has been designated as one of the UK’s 30 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and over 3 million people visit every year. The moment you step off the train (a short 1 hour 20 minute hop from London Paddington) you’re immersed in a different era. It feels as though you are on an immaculate movie set; part London, but part countryside. It’s both rural and urban, a seemingly paradoxical city! The architecture is at once familiar in its aesthetic (Georgian symmetry, Palladian flourishes, Regency grandeur – all very W1), but at the same time unfamiliar in its creamy golden colour; almost everything is built from Bath stone, which glows a gorgeous shade of honey in the warmth of the sun… Watching that transformation of colour from shade to shine is a real boost to the mood!
Back in c. 40 A.D. the all-conquering Romans named this city Aquae Sulis , after founding their Roman Baths on the site of the UK’s only hot springs. Their sprawling temple complex was an early progenitor to modern day spa suites, and demonstrated an incredibly advanced ethos of wellbeing, exercise, and relaxation from the Roman Empire’s civilization – whereas I’d always simply considered them to be brutally obsessed with violent conquest. Spring water was believed to be a healing goddess, and at the time water was recognized by our Roman progenitors for its cleansing powers, both inside and out. That may sound obvious to you and I, but read a little about the Georgians and you’ll soon discover they were not as clean as you may have thought. We’ll come on to that later… In the meantime, this was a transportative experience, a real mental escape, and invariably the most ancient structure I’ve been able to wander through. It really fires up the imagination as to how life was many millennia ago, and unearths some charming similarities to today.
After a long period of being forgotten, the Georgians then revived the city’s heritage as a spa break destination, building beautiful holiday homes to which they could withdraw when in need of some restorative (and social ‘scene’) time. Even today this grand city fills the visitor with a relaxing tranquil sensation which yesterday’s Lord and Lady might have felt. Whilst compact relative to London’s urban sprawl, still caters to the wellness crowd, and I found to be a sterling a place for socializing and eating – plenty of café’s, restaurants bars and of course spas to choose from!
Often I struggle to unwind not even realizing how wound up I am living in a buzzing 24/7 city, but the following elements made it feel like a trip to another land, and another time!
HOW TO RELAX IN BATH?
The Thermae Spa is the only day spa to be totally serviced by the thermal waters of Bath, and can claim a spectacular view from the open-air roof-top pool. There are treatment rooms, and in around a month, there will be brand new steam rooms and saunas, inspired by the Romans and Georgians! Photos aren’t permitted inside the complex, but the below images from their website should give you an impression of the proposition!
The Roman Baths, whilst not functional for practicalpurposess of bathing, and which trigger you into tourist mode, I think are a must! The original thermal waters, and remains of the Roman temple still flowing with natural hot water are a curiosity for the relaxation of the mind!
HOW TO STAY ACTIVE?
As with any new city the best way to experience it is by foot and Bath is, at worst, a wonderfully picturesque walk! I easily notched up a good 20,000+ steps a day, recorded on my Apple watch. However, for more of a countryside walk I would recommend;
… hiking along the Bath Skyline. Here you’ll look down upon the beautiful city below whilst enjoying the greenery, hidden valleys, rich limestone, and beach woodlands famous for all the wild flowers. Stop for some green tea and a healthy picnic.
‘Shopping is my cardio‘ ? In which case you’re in luck as there are so many cute independent shops to explore! My favorites were Topping, an independent little book store in which I got lost for a few hours, as well as Rossiters (for quirky, Georgian inspired home decorations). I was quite taken by ‘Jolly’s’, which is Englands oldest department store! And indeed the Farmers Market on a Saturday morning had plenty of healthy fresh fare and authentic Bath trinkets to commemorate the trip! It all adds to the step-count as you pound your way around this beautiful city.
WHERE TO STAY?
For a truly immersive and relaxing stay that captures the essence of this special city, there can only be one destination; the iconic Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa, located at the very center of a dramatic, sweeping semicircular Grade-1 listed terrace of 30 uniform Georgian townhouses, all steeped in masses of important history. Bath can claim more crescents than anywhere else in the UK, and this hotel is mere minutes walk away from the famous Bath Circus. It’s also right in the thick of the city, so it’s super easy to travel anywhere on foot from this base of operations, yet at the end of a day’s exploring, it feels sufficiently remote and quiet a retreat to instill a sense of gentle tranquility. At least for me, I felt as though I was tucked away in the countryside, nestled in my slice of hidden peacefulness.
The rooms, as can be seen in my photos below (the Duke of York suite), invoke the purest essence of Georgian splendor, boasting all original features and intensely intricate ceilings; but they’re also appointed with the key modern luxuries you’d want for a relaxing escape, including a vast and indulgent bed, in which I sought 8+ hours of restorative sleep each night. The volume of the rooms, and height of the ceilings help to promote a sense of ease and comfort, and the menu in their excellent Dower House restaurant was perfectly in keeping with my healthy designs (e.g. the beetroot-boiled quinoa superfood salad!). A recently renovated pool, sauna and steam room provided me with all I needed to undertake the sweat-and-rehydrate ritual. From every angle, this was the right way to enjoy my wellbeing weekend.
SOME OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:
The Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen is a delicious and cosy vegetarian bistro where I chose to enjoy a healthy spot of dinner on the Saturday evening. These images below are the warm, totally delectable dishes we sampled!
One I didn’t get a chance to sample was The Priory – the only Michelin starred restaurant in Bath. That I’ll save for my return visit in Summer!
I hope that was a helpful visual guide to some of this city’s wellness treasures. The trip left me relaxed, revived and just less stressed! If you plan to go, I wish you an enjoyable and rejuvenating trip!