As the nights cool and the evenings are noticeably darker it’s worth planning a city break (or two) to help make the transition into winter a little more bearable. Boutique hotels, possibly with cosy fireplaces, are a must. If you enjoy a spot of relaxation and pampering a spa is always worth considering and you always should have some cultural and/or architectural diversions to fill the time between meals. If you want all these in one place, you should consider the birthplace of the spa, namely Bath.
Bath, in the region of Avon, must qualify as the UK’s most widely recognised spa town. The architecture alone makes it worthy of a visit. The rich colour of the Bath sandstone is a prominent factor and it’s a key building block from the original Roman baths to the latest superstore in the town centre. The honeyed stones reflect light and give the whole of the city centre a wonderful opulence. It’s not at all surprising that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The naturally warm, mineral rich waters have bubbled to the surface here for millennia but it was arguably the Romans who took ‘spa breaks’ to the next level, building an imposing baths to make the most of this abundant natural resource. In their heyday they would have been an awe inspiring site.
People have drunk and/or bathed in the waters ever since and their supposed health benefits are many and varied. If you like your water warm and sulphurous then this was the place to come for a tipple.
Sadly the original baths fell into disrepair and were no longer safe for the public to use, but happily this was not the end of the story for this geothermal natural wonder. The local council, with some additional funding from the Millennium Commission, committed to resurrect the baths. Many years and some £40 million later, a state of the art complex that provides a very modern spa experience was finally opened in 2006. It still uses the naturally heated waters from the same springs.
The headline grabber is the large rooftop pool offering far reaching views over the city and even the countryside beyond. You can watch the sun go down from this pool and, dependent on the ambient temperature, you can enjoy the feeling of lounging around in chest deep warm water as people below are hurrying along, wrapped up against the cold. Getting in and out in winter requires a deep breath and a quick dash back inside – but that’s all part of the fun.
One floor down and you find four clear walled steam rooms, each with a different scent, arranged around a central waterfall shower. Although when we say waterfall, we actually mean Niagara Falls! The torrent is really that intense. Not so much a shower as a full on deluge.
Dropping down another floor takes you to the restaurant serving healthy, nutritious and very tasty meals. Always amusing to sit and eat in a restaurant full of people in bathrobes! On the ground floor there in another, more conventional pool albeit it with ‘lazy rivers’, open Jacuzzi areas and swan neck jets that is a lovely place to get really warm, before heading back up to the roof and repeating the whole process.
However, city breaks are not just about getting wrinkly skin. There is nightlife to consider. When you’ve finished at the spa the first port of call, just a short walk away, should be The Canary Gin and Wine Bar, an intimate little place that stocks over 120 different gins from all over the world.
For anyone with even a passing interest in gin it really is a wondrous place and the bar staff are very knowledgeable about helping you explore the outer possibilities of the humble gin and tonic. If you have always stuck with ‘Gordons, Schweppes, ice and a slice’ you are in for a real eye opener and my firm favourite was Bath Gin with Silver Spring 1870 tonic water (the number relates to the altitude that the quinine is grown, not the year of manufacture). Not only are there a multitude of gins, there’s also an array of tonics to consider. Bear in mind that the bar is not huge so go early if you want a seat! There’s no doubt you’ll have a great evening but how much you explore could directly affect how much you remember!
One of the key factors in enjoying a weekend away is the hotel you stay in and Bath has a great many to choose from, catering for all budgets. We went for Dukes Hotel, a period Georgian town house, built from Bath Stone and highly rated on Tripadvisor. The accolades are well deserved too as the personal service, attention to details and general welcome are on a par with a 5 star hotel. The rooms are all different, with some unusual shapes that follow the contours of the upper parts of the building. It’s full of character, period features, quiet and offers an excellent array of breakfasts. Parking is limited so if you are travelling by car it’s worth getting there early to secure one of their prized resident’s parking permits. It’s also a relatively short, level stroll to the city centre, crossing the famous Pulteney Bridge on the way, with wonderful Georgian architecture all around you as you stroll.
If you walk from Dukes Hotel away from the city centre, you will very shortly find yourself at the fascinating Holbourne Museum. It is essentially a private collection and has such a diverse set of displays and collections that you can easily lose several hours in there, especially on a wet winter’s day. It’s free to get in and an absolutely fascinating place across a wide range of ages.
Before leaving and to fortify yourself against the cold outside we suggest a visit to the excellent café restaurant for some food and a pot of tea, loose leaf of course (with plenty to choose from). The café restaurant is not in the original building but in a very modern addition at the rear of the building. Architecturally it may not be to everybody’s taste, but the full height glass windows all round give the café restaurant a lovely airy ambience, perfect if there is some weak winter sun about.
Short breaks, by their very definition, mean you can’t cover everything. We managed a wander around the city centre and a quick look at the famous Royal Crescent but had to miss out The Pump Rooms in favour of a little light gift shopping (Bath is excellent for this). Obviously, this means we’ll have to factor in a return visit, although I would happily do all the same things again as they really were that enjoyable!
Dukes Hotel www.dukesbath.co.uk
Thermae spa www.thermaebathspa.com
Holbourne Museum www.holburne.org
The Canary Gin bar doesn’t have a website but they do have an active Facebook page.