By Sophie Ibbotson
Friends, Romans, countrymen! Welcome to Bath. The Romans knew a thing or two about how to build a city, and 2,000 years ago they founded Aquae Sulis — “The Waters of Sul” — on the banks of the River Avon in Somerset. Even then, they knew that there was something special about the geothermal springs which burst forth from these hills, and the bathhouses they built here were as ornate and celebrated as the temples.
Bath has always been a fashionable retreat. Jane Austen and the society figures who inspired her novels would retreat here from London, living in houses in the Royal Crescent and the Circus, attending balls and concerts in the Assembly Rooms and taking afternoon tea in the Grand Pump Rooms. Like the Romans, the Georgians recognized the curative properties of Bath’s natural spring water, advocating that it be drunk for good health as well as bathed in.
The Gainsborough Bath Spa is my home for the weekend, and it is the epitome of Georgian sophistication. The architects have joined together two Grade II listed houses in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage listed city, and created a magnificent YTL Hotel, complete with its own thermal spa.
The hotel interiors at The Gainsborough have been created by the award-winning Champalimaud Design, complete with custom furniture, five star amenities, and views across the rooftops of Bath. The styling is classic and elegant, and many of the guest rooms have two poster beds and roll-top beds. If Mr. Darcy had the chance to stay here, he’d be impressed.
I have to tell you more about the spa because I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time here: I hardly wanted to go out and explore! Set beneath a four-story-high glass atrium with elegant white columns beside the pool, the scalding natural spring water has to be cooled for comfort. I flit back and forth between the three thermal pools, the infrared sauna, the ice alcove, and the relaxation terrace, then dissolve into a jello-like state with the Ginger Renewal exfoliation and massage treatment. After this, I can barely walk.
Head Chef Dan Moon has opened his namesake restaurant at The Gainsborough, adding to Bath’s already formidable gastronomic scene. Born and raised in England’s West Country, Dan has won three AA rosettes for his food, and it is a delight from breakfast through lunch to afternoon tea, and on to his mouth-watering evening tasting menu. The seven-course menu is a competitively priced £80 and includes carefully crafted flavors which pop on the tongue. Springtime favorites include the cured fillet of beef with fennel and dill; and perfect sauteed scallops with a citrusy kick of yuzu and creamy seafood risotto.
Tempting as it is to remain within the walls of The Gainsborough, the cultural and historic highlights of Bath are right on the hotel’s doorstep, and it would be shameful to ignore them. I want to listen to the live pianist performing in the Grand Pump Rooms, and to learn more about the characters, plot, and inspiration for Pride and Prejudice at The Jane Austen Centre.
The immaculately restored Roman Baths, including the Sacred Spring and Roman Temple, are open to the public every day. And in the summer months, you can tour them after dark by torchlight. Is that the ghost of a Roman in his toga that I see floating in the shadows? It almost could be in the heightened atmosphere of dusk.
Anyway, I must bid you adieu. Another revitalizing dip in the water awaits.