Taking the waters was once a cure-all for whatever ailed you, and while medical science has come a long way since then, a long soak in a warm pool is still a bloody nice way to pass the time. And where better to do so than in Bath?
People have been tapping into the thermal waters here since pre-Roman times, but until this summer no hotel has made use of them. Enter The Gainsborough. This Grade II-listed property, which soft-launched in July and has its official opening later this month, comprises two old hospitals – one Georgian and one Victorian. The grand façade is all buttery stone and Neo-classical columns, while beyond awaits traditional luxury with a modern feel – marble floors, muted tones and yet more columns.
But the spa's the thing. The owners, Malaysia-based YTL Hotels, had a borehole drilled down to those waters, which now flow up into the hot and cold pools of the "Spa Village". On arrival, you're given a customised pouch of smelling salts to take into the sauna. And if you're booked in for a treatment, a member of staff hovers in the pool area while you splash around – attentive, sure, but a little intense if it's deserted, as it was on my visit.
There are quirky little touches such as a stone lion's head that spits ice through its mouth (for rubbing on your body), a dispenser doling out thick, spiced drinking chocolate (a Georgian treat), and a pre-massage ritual that involves writing a wish on a wax tablet while you stare at a fountain (obviously).
Feeling relaxed? Indulge even further at Johann Lafer at The Gainsborough. Headed up by the eponymous Austrian-born chef, a television personality in Germany, the restaurant serves much more delicate dishes than its Teutonic connections might suggest. Velvety lobster bisque, sea bass with macadamia gnocchi and a West Country cheeseboard were my highlights.
You can't get a much better location in the city. A five-minute walk from the train station, the hotel is just across the street from Thermae Bath Spa (0844 888 0844; thermaebathspa.com), previously the only place in town where you could soak in the thermal water. If the weather's fine, head up to the rooftop pool – just be prepared to share with lots of canoodling couples and hen parties. And if you want to learn about the history of bathing, the Roman Baths are also nearby (01225 477785; romanbaths.co.uk).
Other attractions include the perfect curve of the Royal Crescent, the manicured Royal Victoria Park, and the Jane Austen Centre (01225 443000; janeausten.co.uk), whose Regency Tea Rooms serve a cracking afternoon tea.
There are nine categories of room, from the entry-level Deluxe and Classic up to the top-end Gainsborough Suite. If you can't get enough of that thermal water, check in to a Spa Suite, where it's available on tap in the roll-top bath.
I stayed in a light and spacious Junior Suite. It has some lovely period features but it's no chintzy throwback; simple soft furnishings are set off by a soft blue and brown colour scheme, Art Deco-inspired tables and an oversized headboard decorated with a quirky Victorian-style print. The king size bed was one of the most comfortable I've ever slept in, and the heavy, floor-length curtains did a great job at blocking out the light. The minibar comes stocked with complimentary beer and soft drinks, plus several hefty bars of high-end chocolate.
Wi-fi is free and speedy. The only tiny let down was the bathroom. Although spacious, with twin sinks and generous quantities of fancy toiletries, the small bath and basic decor seem a bit of an afterthought. But with the Spa Village downstairs, it doesn't matter much.
The Gainsborough Bath Spa, Beau Street, Bath BA1 1QY (01225 358 888; thegainsboroughbathspa.co.uk).
Doubles start at £285 and Junior Suites at £348, both room only.
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