Why Bath is the UK’s new wellness capital

A new wellness festival is just the tip of an entire city embracing inner peace and prosperity, says Natalie Paris

Saturday 25 February 2023 08:00 GMT
<p>Pulteney Bridge above the River Avon in Bath, England</p>

Pulteney Bridge above the River Avon in Bath, England

“Pick up your smile” said Bruni, our laughter yoga teacher, holding hers delicately between thumb and forefinger, “and pull it behind your ears”. We applied our plastic grins and the silliness of it left us genuinely beaming.

“I’m not a stand-up comedian,” she explained, “I’m bad at jokes, I’m German.” Cue more chuckles from our group, who had gathered in the early morning beside a steaming pool at the Roman Baths.

The session formed part of Bath’s inaugural wellness festival, called Re:Balance, bringing therapists and practitioners together for “three weeks of feel-good fun”. The programme features everything from posture classes, led by a local Olympian, to bath bomb-making, life-drawing and stress busting sessions.

<p>The Roman Baths in Bath, England</p>

The Roman Baths in Bath, England

At laughter yoga, we’re told that 15 minutes of belly laughs is the equivalent of 300 sit-ups. Over the next 45 minutes, our faked guffaws became more spontaneous and the vigorous pumping of our diaphragms sent endorphins flooding through our bodies.

Bath has long been a wellness destination, thanks to the vein of thermal water running beneath the city and Re:Balance is designed to let visitors and locals sample specially-devised spa packages and taster treatments. While the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa invites people in for a spa and gym session, Homewood, a country house hotel offering CBD treatments south of Bath, has CBD spa days on the menu. There is no pool at the hotel No. 15 by Guesthouse, on Great Pulteney Street, but after a two-hour body buff and full massage you can sit with a CBD-infused drink and make a start on a complimentary new journal, complete with an organic facial kit to take home.

With its open-air pool, the Thermae Bath Spa is an aquamarine gem among the city’s golden-stone rooftops, and a big draw any time of year. Its Aquasana sessions give festival-goers a chance to enjoy the pool before anyone else with an early-morning workout of gentle tai chi and yoga moves in the mineral waters. Outside of the festival, spa treatments include hot stone massages, massages for mums-to-be and twilight sessions where you can watch the sun set over the historic buildings while soaking in the rooftop pool.

<p>The Thermae Spa is the perfect place to relax in Bath</p>

The Thermae Spa is the perfect place to relax in Bath

For a transformative evaluation of health and wellbeing that draws on medical science, visit Combe Grove, a former country house hotel turned metabolic health centre. Visitors can sign up to a six-night holistic retreat involving nutrition consultations and medical tests which comes with a year’s worth of advice and support.

Accommodation overlooks a lush valley, one of many that surround Bath. Here, countryside is ripe for quiet ambles, skirting the River Avon or canal, or climbing up to the ruins of a folly, fort or castle. Set aside time for a walk and you can expect commanding views, as well as traditional pubs to stop in for a local Bath Ale or craft beer.

<p>Rowing boats at Bath Boating Station on the River Avon</p>

Rowing boats at Bath Boating Station on the River Avon

During the Re:Balance festival, there are opportunities to try Indonesian Satria yoga with WE.DNTPLAY, who teach intriguing, flowing sequences rooted in martial arts. In summer, visitors can join Park Yoga for regular sessions beneath mature trees in Bath’s Botanic Garden at Royal Victoria Park. And at other times of year, check out yoga classes at woodland cabin site Campwell Woods, a 15-minute drive east of Bath. Their yurt among the trees has its own log burner and becomes a particularly atmospheric place to stretch to the sound of rain falling on leaves outside. Campwell also runs rewilding retreats on various dates, including one called Ice Breakers, which takes groups of men cold-water swimming in nearby Warleigh Weir to bolster their mental health.

Bath’s new/old lido, Cleveland Pools, opens its two outdoor pools later this year which will be heated for the very first time, giving visitors a new way to clock up some lengths in the city. The lido sits on the river bank and dates back more than 200 years, its crescent of rejuvenated honey-stone changing rooms facing the Avon.

<p>Cleveland Pools lido</p>

Cleveland Pools lido

For a city break to qualify as being good for you, a healthy and inspiring place to dine is essential. Oak is the city’s most respected vegetarian restaurant, serving attractive plates of Jerusalem artichokes and brussels sprouts. For more informal plant-based options, try Rooted Cafe, where locals’ favourite is the full Indian breakfast. Cascara is a design-conscious vegan cafe and a lovely space for lunch or coffee, while Chai Walla’s street food hole-in-the-wall is a Bath institution. Finally, vegans can try something sweet at Swoon, where sorbets are whipped up alongside the creamiest gelato. Those who take their food seriously can book a course at Demuth’s, an acclaimed plant-based cookery school, which is running classes until July, before it closes after 22 years in the business.

Bath may have been recognised by Unesco as one of Europe’s great spa towns but it is not all about therapeutic soaks. Back in Georgian times, people simply thought that promenading and socialising here would enhance their wellbeing. Bath authorities say they want the city to become the UK’s premier destination for wellness and are engaging with architects to reimagine public spaces. With its first wellbeing festival looking like a success, the city promises visitors plenty to smile about.

Travel essentials

Staying there

The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa offers a spa and wellness centre in Bath’s most prestige address.

More information

Visit welcometobath.co.uk/rebalance-bath-wellbeing-festival to find out more about the festival.

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