Though long-famed for its exquisite Georgian architecture, historic sites, and Jane Austen connection, the English city of Bath (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) for a long time lacked the very thing that made it famous back in its Roman days. Access to the city's naturally occurring (and purportedly healing) hot springs had to be curtailed in 1978 when the waters at the ancient Roman Baths were found to be a severe health risk. Though the Roman Baths remain preserved as a museum, the city's healing waters are flowing again -- this time, at the new Thermae Bath Spa public bathing complex and the Gainsborough Bath Spa luxury hotel. Whether you are keen to spend or are looking for a more wallet-friendly option, here are two ways to experience Bath.
Under the orchestration of British dandy and so-called Master of Ceremonies Beau Nash, Bath was a fashionable destination for the great and the good of 18th-century society; imagine it as the Las Vegas of its day with a touch more sophistication. That said, the city has always lacked luxury accommodations befitting its glamorous history.
Last year, Gainsborough Bath Spa opened in three interlinking stone buildings in the center of town, claiming the title of the only U.K. hotel to tap into naturally occurring thermal waters. The hotel’s elegant bi-level Spa Village is open only to its members and guests of the hotel, and offers a luxurious spa experience the city has long been missing. Guests are invited to follow the spa's traditional Roman bath circuit, moving from thermal pools of differing temperatures to traditional and infrared saunas; a steam room; and an invigorating ice alcove. You can then indulge in a massage at one of the spa's 11 treatment rooms. Access to the spa facilities is free for hotel guests at designated hours in the morning and evening, or all-day when you book a treatment.
Rates begin at $310 per night and special day spa and stay rates that include accommodations and a treatment are available from $694 per couple.
The 2006 opening of Thermae Bath Spa put an end to Bath's long thermal bathing drought. With the arrival of this incongruous modern-looking complex nestled among the city's Georgian architecture, locals and visitors alike could once again enjoy taking the waters. In marked contrast to the Gainsborough Bath Spa, Thermae is often busy, but the open-air rooftop pool offers an invigorating contrast between warm bath waters and brisk English climate, as well as breathtaking views across the city. From Monday through Friday it costs $49 for a two-hour session, and $54 on the weekend. The spa's package deals offer good value, starting at $104 for the Thermae Treat, which includes a back massage, a facial, and three hours' use of the facilities.
Where to stay: There are plenty of options for stylish but affordable accommodations in Bath. Rates at Brooks Guesthouse begin at $120, and the hotel also offers packages that include spa sessions at Thermae Bath Spa.