When it comes to luxury hotels in Bath, UK, the Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel has something no other hotel can match: thermal water piped right into the pools in their Roman-inspired Spa Village. Add to that fine cuisine, sleek design and a location in the centre of Bath, and you’ve got a great way to vacation in Bath and connect with the culture. Here’s my experience.
Connecting with spa culture
It’s almost a shame there is so much to see in Bath, UK, because all I want to do is loll around in the water. After all, isn’t travel all about connecting with a place, the history and the culture? If you ask me (and I’m aware you didn’t), connecting with steamy thermal water is the best kind of connection of all, especially in Bath, the only place in England with hot springs.
‘Connecting’ is how I justify lingering in the spa pools at the Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel when I should probably be out sightseeing. Lingering is how the Romans enjoyed Bath, how the Georgians did it and even the Celts and the Elizabethans.
Also, as the Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel is the newest addition to the luxury hotel scene in Bath, I’m not only exploring the culture I’m keeping up with the latest trends in spa travel. This, my friends, is what I call research.
It’s old, it’s new, it’s also central
It’s astonishing to me that a new hotel could be opened in the heritage-rich city centre of Bath, where the entire city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and any old shovel stuck into the earth is bound to bring up some ancient treasure.
The Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel was no different. Set in three heritage buildings just off the major shopping street of Bath, with an elegant Victorian and Georgian exterior, the hotel sits on a gold mine – almost literally.
A rich Roman heritage under a 5-star hotel
Dozens of ancient Roman coins were found during the construction of the hotel’s Spa Village. (You can see some of the coins displayed in the lobby.) The biggest treasure of all, however, is the colourful Roman floor mosaic. It was discovered back in Victorian times when a hospital was being built on the site and promptly forgotten, only to be rediscovered as the hotel was taking shape.
Preserving the past at the Gainsborough Bath Spa
To preserve the mosaic, the company behind the Gainsborough, YTL Hotels, had the mosaic sealed and an exact replica built over it. As I sit in the dimly-lit waiting room of the spa, waiting to have my healing Magnesium Wrap and drinking tea with the mosaic at my feet, I’m once again convinced that to spa in Bath is to connect with the city’s long history of wellness.
5 star luxury: More about the Gainsborough
I emerge from the Spa Village eventually to explore the hotel. Hidden behind its heritage exterior of warm Bath stone, the Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel is sleek and handsome. So handsome, in fact, it could be a romantic hero in a Jane Austen novel, à la Mr Darcy. (Just FYI: Two of Jane Austen’s novels were set in Bath.)
I walk around wanting to run my hands over everything (à la Mr Darcy). Neutral tones of black, white and taupe are highlighted by gleaming white columns, art deco-ish accents and hints of gold and rust, while a wide central staircase seems to be just waiting for a flock of modern-day romantic heroines to descend.
Dining at the Gainsborough Spa hotel
There are plenty of public rooms to lounge in. You can have tea in the very British Canvas Room (named in homage to the work of Sir Thomas Gainsborough, a celebrated artist who painted Bath’s visiting elite) or sip a craft cocktail in the intimate Gainsborough Bar.
The star of the culinary show, however, is its upscale restaurant, Johann Lafer at The Gainsborough. The hotel has partnered with German-based celebrity chef Johann Lafer to create an innovative menu that combines locally-sourced English ingredients with Asian flavours.
Telling myself that another way to connect with a culture is through the food, I opt for the five-course tasting menu. This includes an unforgettably savoury Wild Mushroom Risotto with Roast Garlic, Parsley Puree and Samphire; a main of Roast Breast of Creedy Carver Duck, and a dessert of Dark Chocolate Ganache with Banana Ice Cream, Salted Caramel Pop Corn and Vanilla.
Spa Village Bath House
After dinner I’m so full I’m practically rolling like a beach ball back to the spa, but I feel the need for a last soak before bed. Under the light-filled atrium, surrounded by white Romanesque-styled pillars and the light sound of falling water, I do a shortened version of the water ritual (since I’ve done it about a zillion times already today).
The water ritual at the Gainsborough Spa hotel
The water ritual involves doing a circuit of the three thermal pools and various saunas (steam, infrared and cedar) interspersed with cool showers and a brisk – very brisk – rub down with crushed ice that spurts out of a lion’s head.
Later that night, as I’m tucked away in my room with its black and white tapestry headboard, my fingers slightly pruned, I look out the window at the rooftop pool of the Thermae Bath Spa across the street, the public bath and spa complex constructed in glass and bath stone. How perfect, I think. I’ll go over there and connect with more history tomorrow.
Travel guide for luxury hotels in Bath and the Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel
Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel
A member of the Leading Hotels of the World, and listed on Condé Nast’s Best New Hotels Hot List for 2016, the Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel offers an elegant way to experience Bath. Prices start at around £240 depending on day and season.
Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel address: Beau Street, Bath, England BA1 1QY. Visit the hotel website for more info and to make reservations.
Spa Village Bath
The centrepiece of the Gainsborough is its Spa Village Bath, a two-story spa under a four-story glass atrium. Spa treatments include a wide range of therapies, from Ginger Renewal body treatments and Malay Massages to Lavender Hydrating Facials and Full Wellness Days. In keeping with the mineral-rich water theme of Bath, I opted for a Magnesium Wrap, which consists of a body scrub, massage and wrap. Highly recommended.
The water circuit using the thermal pools and saunas generally takes about an hour.
Hotel guests have free use of the hotel’s expansive Spa Village Bath House between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and again between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Guests who book a spa treatment are welcome to use the Bath House facilities at any time from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. No children under 16 allowed.
What to bring: Nothing more than a bathing suit. Robe, slippers, private locker and some toiletries are provided.
How to spa at the Gainsborough Spa Village: To make full use of the water circuit, you should arrive an hour before your treatment. It’s best to do the water circuit before your spa treatment, so that you don’t soak away all that divine product from your treatment.
Is the Spa Village Bath at the Gainsborough hotel open to non-hotel guests? Sorry, but no. Currently, the spa is only open to hotel guests and members of their private health club. The good news is that this means the spa is never crowded.
Other luxury hotels in Bath
While the Gainsborough is the newest addition to the luxury hotel market in Bath, UK, it’s not the only fabulous hotel in the region. I’ve stayed at a couple worth mentioning.
The Royal Crescent Hotel: A historical favourite has always been The Royal Crescent Hotel at 16 Royal Crescent, Bath’s most fashionably elegant street. With period art, landscaped gardens, a luxury spa, restaurant and plenty of old world charm, it’s an atmospheric way to tap into Bath’s Georgian past.
Lucknam Park Hotel: Outside Bath is Lucknam Park Hotel. An 18th-century Palladian mansion sitting on 500 acres of land, this 5-star country house hotel is 9 miles from Bath. With a large spa, an equestrian centre and fine dining onsite, it’s perfect for a romantic getaway.
For travel ideas read Places to Visit in England.
For more information on travelling in Britain go to VisitBritain.