Peter We’re specialist travel writers and we’ve spent half a lifetime exploring every corner of the world.
Felice So we want to share with you some of our extraordinary experiences and the amazing people we’ve met along the way.
Peter This week we’re back in Bath in the southwest of England. The city’s famous in particular for its Roman baths. In its Regency heyday, the supposedly curative waters attracted the cream of British society…and of course, Jane Austen, who wrote so vividly about it in the early 1800s.
Felice The Romans built the first bathhouse here in the first century AD, and a million gallons of the warm waters still bubble up each day. But for health reasons, the public can no longer swim in them. To find out more, you can listen to our episode called Everything You Want to Know about the Roman City of Bath, where we tell you a lot more about the city and the baths.
Peter So some 2,000 years later, the fabled waters were re-harnessed in the magnificent Thermae Spa located just a soapbar’s throw away from the original. We caught up there with marketing executive, Alison Stubbs.
Felice This is an ingenious piece of architecture, a fusion of old and new that gives the impression of being almost timeless. Is it modelled on the old Roman baths?
Alison No, it’s a very modern building. As part of the construction of the building, we were actually commissioned by the Millennium Commission to create a building that looked not only to the past, but also to the future. So we respect the Roman history but it wasn’t based on Roman Baths.
Peter But it’s nevertheless a lovely looking building. There’s a mixture of the spirit of Bath and modern architecture as well.
Alison Yes, it’s a mix between the two, and that’s what we’ve always tried to aim to be.
Peter A mixture of glass and colonnades and just about everything.
Felice The Roman Baths – people used to swim there. Was this a replacement?
Alison I wouldn’t say it was a replacement. There was a building here that was called the Beau Street Baths – it was actually here before. And Bath has several other baths. We have the Cross Bath that has been around for…we don’t even know how many years. But this building was particularly for the people of Bath and being able to experience the natural thermal waters because they couldn’t experience the Roman baths and it was more to replace the Beau Street baths really, which is where we’re standing pretty much. It opened in 2006.
Peter There were a lot of delays, I seem to remember.
Alison Oh, there were a few, yes.
Felice And who comes here?
Alison Anybody can come here. Bath Thermae is for anybody and everybody to come to it.
Peter Do you come by the hour, by the day?
Alison Yes. So we offer two-hour spa sessions so guests can come for two hours and enjoy the facilities. They can also add treatments on or they can have a treatment package.
Felice You don’t have to be a member?
Alison No, you don’t.
Peter So you have every nationality? And how much does it cost?
Alison It costs £38 per person Monday to Friday, £43 per person Saturday and Sunday.
Felice That’s very reasonable.
Peter Yes, it sounds good. So what do I get for my money, just run us through the experience?
Alison So for a two-hour spa session, you would get access to all of our facilities. So that includes the Minerva Bath on the bottom floor, the wellness suite that we’re standing in, and the rooftop pool on the top floor. You get all of that for two hours.
Peter It sounds pretty good. And then you can buy extra treatments?
Alison Yes, you can.
Peter And you offer something special for Bath residents, don’t you?
Alison Yes, we do. We offer a discount for Bath residents, as there was a decree by Queen Elizabeth I many, many years ago that the Bath waters should be for Bath people. So we now have a discount in place for Bath residents.
Peter Is that a big discount?
Alison It’s 25% off.
Peter It’s pretty good.
Felice Well, let’s go and explore then.
Peter Let’s have a walk around.
Alison This first room here is the infrared room. So on the back panel, there are infrared panels. So if you sit in front of those panels, they will warm you up from the inside out. So there isn’t actually any steam in this room; it was designed to give you the same benefits as being in a steam room but you don’t have the warm, clingy heat. It’s more of a dry heat in that space. So if you don’t like a steam room, infrared is the way to go.
Felice Infrared is good for muscles.
Alison It is. So it’s very nice if you’ve got any aches and pains.
Felice Well, we’ll definitely be in there later, that’s for sure.
Alison This next space over here is the Roman steam room. So on the back wall, we have a mosaic of the head of the Sulis Minerva, which is in the Roman baths. And the room was designed to echo Roman architecture, and the room is scented with herbs and lavender that were prized by the Romans. So we thought it’d be a nice thing to include, also and other scents.
Felice A real Roman experience; you can imagine what it would have been like for them.
Alison Absolutely. And here we have the Georgian steam room. So this room has got images of a Georgian garden at Bowood House on the back wall. And this also echoes Georgian architecture, so slightly more classical and this one is centred with tea rose to be a little bit more indulgent.
Felice Is it a steam room?
Alison Yes, this is a steam room. So both of our steam rooms get to about 43 degrees. Around here we have the ice chamber. So this is the only experience in Thermae that’s cold, everything else we do is quite warm. So it’s quite a nice difference between all of the warm experiences. You can actually hear the ice falling into the tray.
Felice Do people get into it?
Alison Oh, no, no, you can’t get into this. But you can take a handful of the ice and you can rub it over your skin and it’s great for exfoliation, but it’s also great for cooling down after being so warm in the steam rooms. So it’s kind of like the Romans, even though they had cold plunge pools before, we didn’t really have the space for it here at Thermae, so this was our tribute to that.
Felice It’s a real Roman experience.
Alison It certainly is.
Felice I’m looking forward to trying it.
Alison This is the final room in Wellness Suite, and this one is my personal favourite. It’s the lesser known fact that the planet Uranus was discovered in Bath by Caroline and William Herschel. And so this room is dedicated to them.
Felice Little stars all over it, stars in the ceiling, lights representing stars.
Peter Night time.
Felice It must be very relaxing lying in here. You lie on mosaic beds and all around you the walls are black with white lights in them, tiny little sparkling stars.
Alison And there’s a television that plays an audio visual of stars of the universe.
Felice Oh, very relaxing. Just have a nice sleep in here.
Peter I’m going up the stairs, I think towards the roof. Quite a long way up. Well, now we’re out on the roof. The most glorious warm pool surrounded by the magnificence of Georgian architecture. It’s really quite a special site. But with azure waters, glass balcony and views across Bath on, what I have to say is the most glorious blue sky day. Very cold, but a perfect blue sky.
Felice The best view is from the far corner where you can see the abbey in the background. How warm is the pool?
Alison So the waters are actually natural thermal waters. They come out of the ground in our Cross Bath at 45 degrees centigrade and we cool them down to between 33.5 and 35.5 degrees. So throughout the year, our waters are nice and warm.
Peter It’s a bit of a dash to get back inside, presumably, when you get out.
Felice Yes. Especially in cold British weather.
Peter A day like today when it’s very near freezing temperature. But it is a lovely blue sky.
Alison Yes, it is a beautiful day, and you can see all of the steam coming off the pools as well.
Felice And how many people at a time, how many guests can you cater for?
Alison So we normally take in about 700 to 800 guests a day.
Peter That’s quite a lot. And they come in on a set two-hour trip.
Alison Yes they do. So we welcome guests in every 15 minutes.
Felice It doesn’t get crowded, presumably because there’s so many different places to go.
Alison We try our best to make sure that Thermae isn’t crowded and everyone has the best experience possible.
Felice What time do you open? What are your opening hours?
Alison So we open from 9am and we close at 9.30pm. The pools of the wellness suite will close at 9pm, so you have half an hour to get dressed and ready to head off.
Peter Is there a restaurant?
Alison We do have a cafe on the first floor and that offers light snacks and drinks.
Peter That’s good. Let’s head back inside again, I think. Nice to look, but it’s a bit cold out here. Felice, just put your hand in and see how warm it is.
Felice It’s lovely, bath water temperature.
Peter So we’re going down the stairs. It’s a bit like being in a modern medieval castle, if that’s such a thing. With the steep staircases, steep spiral staircases, going down. So is Bath the only thermal spa, or are there others in Britain?
Alison There aren’t. We are the only day spa that has natural thermally hot waters in the whole of the UK – we’re the only site of thermal springs.
Felice Does your company own other properties?
Alison Yes, we do. So we have our sister properties including the Gainsborough Bath Spa in Bath, the Glasshouse in Edinburgh, Threadneedles in the Academy in London and Monkey Island in Bray on Thames.
So this is the Minerva Bath. This is on the lower ground floor and this contains the same waters as upstairs, so it’s still the same natural thermally hot water as upstairs. Something I hadn’t mentioned before, upstairs was that these naturally thermally hot springs also contain over 42 minerals. So they’re also very, very good for your skin.
Felice Curative waters.
Alison They used to be curative waters and a lot of people over the years have suggested they’d cure things like gout and dropsy and infertility. But these days we can’t say that scientifically. So we just say that there are minerals.
Peter And this is the same water that’s in the Roman Baths?
Alison Yes, we have in Bath three Springs, there’s the King’s Spring that feeds the Roman Baths. There’s the Cross Spring, which is in our Cross Bath. And then there’s the Hetling Spring that feeds the Gainsborough Baths.
Felice Are they all about the same temperature?
Alison Yes, I think there are marginally higher temperatures. I think the Roman Baths, the King’s Spring, is slightly hotter than ours but that’s about it. When we were creating Thermae, they actually found remains of a Roman road under here – that led to the guests to the room above.
Peter The Bath complex that was here before, it’s quite old isn’t it?
Alison It was. So the Roman Baths was part of a massive complex that the Romans created in Bath.
Felice This was the Beau Street baths until when?
Alison Around the 1980s, when it closed its doors.
Peter As it says on the wall here, the bath waters fell as rain over 10,000 years ago and sank to a depth of three kilometres within the earth before naturally rising again, as they do all over Bath now.
Felice We’re going to look at the original baths that influenced this, I think. How many treatment rooms do you have here?
Alison 26 treatment rooms.
Peter Going outside now, going across the road to the Cross Bath, which is what the modern baths were founded upon. What do we have here then, Alison?
Alison This is the Cross Bath. This contains the source of our thermal waters here. So you can actually touch the thermal waters. This is also the closest that we can possibly get to seeing the source of the waters, as the source in the source of our thermal waters is unknown. We did try and find it when we were building Thermae, but it was way, way too deep for us to find.
Peter When the waters bubble up, are they treated before they are fit for human consumption, so to speak?
Alison Yes, they are. So we do heavily treat the waters. They have a sand filtration process, we use a UV filtration process and there is a tiny bit of chlorine in it, but that is to fit with the UK Health and Safety Guidelines.
Peter The actual water is a sort of murky colour, isn’t it?
Alison It can be. You can see from the source that our waters can be quite clear. If you’ve seen the water in the Roman baths, it’s mostly because the bath itself is not very clean. They clean it, I think, maybe a couple of times a year.
Peter As much as they can.
Alison Yes, and they get a lot of unwanted animals. But here at Thermae we do treat the waters as much as we can.
Felice It’s lovely. It could be in a little corner of Italy; it’s very Roman. And all you can see are the beautiful old buildings all around you.
Alison And in the centre there’s this circular bath and the water…you can see the waters actually bubbling up as they are when they come out of the earth – before they’re treated.
Alison This space is a very ancient space, it’s actually noted as a sacred worship site. So when we were renovating the Cross Bath, we actually dug underneath and we found not only Roman remains, but also Celtic remains, and we found some Celtic ill wishes that are now in the Roman Baths. So we don’t actually know how long these waters have been used for, but we do believe that they could be linked to the legend of Prince Bladud and the discovery of Bath. So these waters are very, very special to the city. So we do offer this for an hour-and-a-half swim session every day. And we also do exclusive hire of this space for an hour and a half.
Peter You could have a party here.
Alison Yes, you can have you can have a celebration of up to ten people in this space. I was told by the architect a few months ago, that when they were doing renovations to the Cross Bath, that the waters are so strong underneath here that when they cut the water off to the bath to explore further, the building actually started moving. So they had to drill extra boreholes to try and divert the water, because the whole building started to shift.
And this building was built in the 1800s by Thomas Baldwin. He actually built this building before he built the colonnade that’s just out front there. And so he actually built the facade on the north-facing side. He decided to pick it up and shift it so that it fit with the rest of the look and feel of Bath.
Peter When you came to build Thermae, you actually chose this particular spot because of the Cross Bath, as the water comes up there?
Alison Yes, it was always this part of Bath that was very central to the plans of Thermae, and lots of Bath residents actually learnt how to swim here.
Peter So what a wonderful way to learn to swim in such warm water.
Peter So Meg, you’re the spa manager? You’re in charge of all the treatments?
Meg All of the treatments.
Peter Tell us about what treatments you have on offer?
Meg Ok, so we do mainly all holistic treatments, we specialise more in massage – I would say body treatments are definitely most popular here, so we do lots of massages but we also have body scrubs, some mud wraps and longer treatments. We do 85-minute treatments, but we also do hot stones.
Peter And what’s the most unusual treatment you have?
Meg I would say lots of people come for the bamboo massage because some people haven’t tried it anywhere else. So bamboo is definitely a popular one here.
Peter What does that involve?
Meg It’s a deeper pressured massage – they use warm bamboo sticks to get deeper into the tissue, into the muscles, so helps break down the tension and things like that.
Felice Do you have a signature treatment?
Meg For the signature treatments we do here: there’s our Roman Trilogy. We also do one called Back to Nature, which is an 85-minute treatment as well. So they’re slightly longer. The Roman Trilogy is a body scrub, followed by a massage, followed by a facial. So it’s a really top-to-toe, three-in-one ultimate indulgent treatment.
Felice It sounds lovely. If you want a treatment, do you need to book the two-hour spa session as well?
Meg Yes, you do. So you have to book a two-hour spa session and then you can choose a treatment. You can do a spa package, which is slightly more reasonable in pricing. That also includes a two-hour spa session. But with those, you have two massages that you have to choose from.
Felice For people who want to book, where can they find out more about the spa?
Alison So you can find out more on our website, which is Thermae Bath Spa.com – If you would like to book, you can contact our reservations team on (+44) 01225 33 1234.
Felice We’re now in the Spa’s Cafe and the view out of the window is of cobblestone streets.
Peter And you expect to see Jane Austen walking by.
Felice What we’ve been doing is the Regency or Victorian equivalent of ‘taking the waters.’
Peter The same waters that are in the Roman baths. But they are being a bit more hygienically cleansed.
Felice …and cooled actually because they would be too hot to get into comfortably.
Peter I think the water has come in at about 45 degrees and they chill it down to about 33 degrees, which is warm enough – I’d like it 35, but warm enough.
Felice This is the only hot thermal water in Britain and it has 42 different minerals in it, which is meant to be very good for your skin and well, they would have said in the past: very good for all sorts of ailments as well.
Peter Above all else. It’s a it’s a relaxing experience and a great way to spend, uh, a morning or an afternoon or evening. It’s open anything until 9am at night. So it’s quite possible to come here at the end of the day.
Felice After work or after a day of sightseeing.
Peter So what do you think of the overall experience, Felice?
Felice Well, I think the reason most people come here is for the rooftop pool, and that is really amazing, the views from it of Bath and the fields beyond are just spectacular. And I can imagine…it was quite cold today, so getting in was fine because it’s lovely and warm like a bath, but getting out is quite cold. It’s April, so maybe a bit later in the year it will be much nicer getting out, but lovely when you’re in. You just relax in the water, looking at the view.My other favourite was the infrared sauna, which is great for muscle aches and pains like a normal sauna, but instead of hot coals, it’s infrared lights all over the place that you can almost lean up against.
Peter Yes, I enjoyed the steam baths I thought that was great and I really like the indoor pool as well, which has got the same water bubbling up. But I haven’t got the outside air temperature, which doesn’t kind of kind of help. Personally, I like everything just about a couple of degrees warmer than it is, but it’s pretty good. It’s pretty good warm bath temperature.
Felice The indoor pool, Minerva pool has a hot tub in the middle of it and has a little waterfall, all nice and warm, and chairs to relax in round it – so you can bring a book and or a magazine or whatever…and read.
Peter Yes, all in all, another wonderful Bath experience.
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