The English City of Bath couldn't be more aptly named if it tried. With its thermal hot spring waters as its lifeblood for millennia and its instantly rejuvenating vibe, Bath's reputation as a place of healing and relaxation has long been established.
The only natural hot springs to be found in the UK, these special waters containing 42 different minerals bubble their way to the Earth's surface from depths of 2kms to the tune of 1 million litres every day!
The hot springs in Bath are said to have been discovered by Bladud, the father of Shakespeare’s King Lear, around 500 BC and the then locally living Celts began to worship there, dedicating the springs to their God, Sul.
It was from 43 AD, however, that the Romans came and really started the development of Bath. Rather than a garrison city, they developed Bath into a centre of health and relaxation, drawing pilgrims from great distances seeking relief and cure for all manner of ailments, and to give offerings to the Roman Goddess of Wisdom, Minerva, to whom the temple around the great Roman Baths was dedicated.
Much of the city as we know it today is 18th century Georgian-style, while its Gothic Abbey and ancient Roman ruins, give us a taste of earlier times, what's more an appreciation of all the treasures that still lie beneath. The City of Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That's right, the entire city!
Its spa culture, delectable food and unique boutique shopping, easily make it the perfect romantic getaway. Austenophiles will also appreciate the city as the setting for Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and the place the famous novelist called home from 1801-1806.
So if you're not already here with your own Mr. Darcy, be on the look-out; this city is overflowing with wonderful discoveries at every turn.
Here's where we ventured.
The incredible 2,000-year-old Roman Baths and the ruins of its temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva form the heart of the World Heritage City, just as it did the city of Aquae Sulis during Roman times.
There’s no need for a vivid imagination here, you’ll be drawn so deep into its mystical past that you can easily place people in this once active place of healing and worship; chatting, socializing and even conducting business. With an entire museum complex to explore, you’ll discover so much more than the main baths themselves. Expect to spend a few hours here.
As you return your free audio guide, be sure to taste the healing waters for yourself from the dedicated water fountain.
“If they can’t be cured by drinking and bathing here, they will never be cured anywhere.”
~ A Practical Dissertation on The Bath Waters, Dr. William Oliver, 1707
Thermae Bath Spa
Those Celts and Romans were on to something! And while you may not be able to take a dip in the Roman Baths today, you can enjoy the very same waters at the Thermae Bath Spa. With the restoration of five historic buildings and construction of a striking contemporary one, the opening of Thermae Bath Spa in 2006 gave the healing waters of the city back to its people.
The complex contains several baths including an open-air rooftop pool and terrace that boasts incredible city skyline views. When not in the water, you can sweat it out in the steam pods, each one scented with a different fragrance, or indulge in one of the more than 40 treatments on offer.
Thermae Bath Spa doesn’t offer beauty packages that change your appearance like waxing or nail painting, rather focusing on massage and other treatments designed to stimulate health and well-being from the inside out. Their signature ‘watsu’ is a private one-on-one in-pool treatment where floats are attached to the body creating a sense of weightlessness. A specially trained therapist then guides you through the water, performing shiatsu massage, acupressure and stretching.
Fact: Bath has a long association with its healing waters. Did you know the word ‘SPA’ is derived from the Latin phrase ‘Salus Per Aquam’ or ‘health through water’?
Right by the Roman Baths stands one of the city’s most iconic buildings, the Bath Abbey. Once an Anglo-Saxon abbey, then a Norman cathedral, the present building dates from 1499. That makes it the last great Gothic church of Medieval England!
The 50-minute Tower Tour that runs on the hour is well worth the £6. You’ll get to experience sitting inside the clock face, standing over the famous fan-vaulted ceiling, climbing the 212 steps to magnificent views over the city, and even ringing the Abbey bells that can be heard 3kms away!
Fashion Museum & Assembly Rooms
Housed in the basement of the Assembly Rooms, this museum displaying changing fashion styles from the late 16th century to the present day was an unexpected highlight. With all original displays and even one of Queen Victoria’s signature black dresses, you don’t need to be a fashionista to appreciate the history here.
While the free audio guide gives a wonderful tour of the museum, try to time your visit for one of the excellent free 20-minute introductory tours (11:00 and 15:00 at certain times of the year). It will give you even greater appreciation for the details and stories behind some of the key pieces, and context for which to continue on with your audio guide.
Should you wish to test your ability as a lady in times gone by, try your luck at squeezing into one of the dress-up corsets provided. No wonder they always had those fans on hand! Can't. breathe.
Combine your visit with a wander around the Assembly Rooms themselves, the place to see and be seen during Jane Austen's days and where you’d be exhibiting one of those fancy frocks now found in the Fashion Museum.
Sally Lunn’s Buns
Circa 1482, Sally Lunn’s is the oldest house in Bath. Sally Lunn is the Anglicized version of the name of a French refugee who found employment with a baker in the town in 1680. She introduced the baker to the French brioche type of breads.
The buns that Sally Lunn made were light and tasty, and served at the public breakfasts and afternoon teas that were part of the city’s tradition. They became so renowned that they would forever be associated with her name, the building in which they were baked and the City of Bath itself.
Her recipe was rediscovered in the 1930’s in a secret cupboard over the downstairs fireplace. The recipe is now passed on with the deeds to the house and the buns are still made in a modern bakery on the second floor in what was previously a bedroom. You too can go there to sample your own Sally Lunn Bun.
I have to admit, the bread is plain as can be, but for £1.50 for a whole, huge takeaway bun and an excellent story, I’ll have a bite of that. More fanciful half buns with toppings can be ordered in-restaurant.
Where did we stay in Bath?
The Queensberry Hotel
We know it’s a big call and we don’t say it lightly, but our stay at the Queensberry Hotel was honestly the best hotel experience we have ever had…anywhere.
Classic and elegant yet relaxed and fun, this quirky establishment has a character all of its own. Originally commissioned as a residential home for the 8th Marquess of Queensberry in 1771, the hotel is housed in four Georgian terrace buildings now combined into one. With its maze of stairways and corridors, you’d be forgiven for getting lost on the way to your room but the hotel claims, “this is all part of the game”.
Continuing the Queensberry's interesting history, the following 9th Marquess of Queensberry goes down in history as the man who invented the code that governs modern boxing, known as the ‘Queensberry rules', and for outing Oscar Wilde in a public letter about his relationship with the Marquess' son, which later led to Wilde's conviction for “immoral conduct”.
In the hotel today, one can find rooms that are spacious and elegantly furnished, each with their own Queensberry twist. I barely have the words to describe the bed: like sleeping on a cloud? And what would a stay in Bath be without a luxurious bathtub!
As lovely as the room was, we have to say that the best part of our stay was the staff. We seriously cannot fault them. All the look and professionalism of any fine establishment, but with a relaxed and friendly demeanour that makes you feel so at home.
The hotel is also home to one of the most celebrated restaurants in the city, The Olive Tree. Here you’ll find the best of locally-sourced ingredients all carefully crafted into a world-standard culinary experience by renowned head chef Chris Cleghorn.
Do yourself a favour and don't skip dessert! How does the hot chocolate fondant with candied pistachios and pistachio icecream sound?
Have you been to Bath? What are your favourite Bath haunts?