The Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel review | spa hotel, Somerset, UK
Bath’s only hotel with access to natural thermal waters
The quick read: The Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel is the only hotel in Bath to tap into the natural thermal healing waters the Romans and the Georgians raved so much about. A smart, marble-floored five-star city hotel set in a Grade 11 listed building just minutes from the original spa founded by Romans over 2000 years ago, it offers guests the chance to ‘take the waters’ in a calm, peaceful environment, rather than with the world and his wife (albeit at a fraction of the cost) in the Thermae Bath day spa opposite. Both spas are owned by the same Malaysian-bred company, YTL Hotels, and are England’s only spas with natural spring waters. After your spa journey, there’s shopping therapy, of course – though be warned, the boutique shops in Bath are supremely good and bringing your piggy bank here could be mighty dangerous.
Who it’s best for: Well-heeled travellers with a companion who want to stay or shop in the city and bathe in Bath’s natural thermal waters in a genteel, peaceful environment. The waters’ various mineral properties and comforting warmth are good for rebalancing stressed immune and nervous systems, for easing stiff joints and for exfoliating and softening the skin.
What you can do: Do as the Romans and Georgians did and bathe sociably with a companion in the hotel’s Bath House, where a spa ‘circuit’ includes three warm thermal pools, a choice of an infrared or dry sauna, a steam room and a lavender ice alcove centred around a large thermal pool in which you can simply float or use the various jets for massaging your body. All the pools are filled with Bath’s natural thermal spring waters, packed with rich natural minerals and safely filtered. The waters are 47º celsius at source, but the hotel reduces them to body temperature so it’s warm and relaxing rather than uncomfortable.
After, take time to relax before your treatment. Ideal therapies to have here are of an aquatic nature. Choose body therapies carried out in the warmth of the 34.5 degree thermal water pool, such as the Spa Village Bath Aquasana, a suspended stretching session incorporating elements of yoga, tai chi and karate, or the Freedom, which is the hotel’s take on a Watsu. Or go for a Magnesium Wrap – a scrub, massage and wrap which gives the skin a massive dose of the energy and sleep-improving mineral of which us busy humans are so commonly deficient. There are also organic facials with Kerstian Florian products and a good choice of massages from around the world, including Thai, Japanese Acupressure, Swedish and a range of Malay therapies.
Before each treatment, you’re treated to a session at an Aroma Bar, where you’ll get a salt sachet with your own blend of essential oils tailored to your moods and needs that day, and which you can then carry around and sniff according to your pleasure. Refreshingly for an upmarket spa, the hotel uses accessible, British brand Neal’s Yard for its essential oils, and also for its shampoos and conditioners in the spa changing rooms.
Where you stay: The spare and rather functional-feeling spa is softened by the natural light blasting through an impressive glass atrium, by the Romanesque columns flanking the main pool and by the lovely vanilla colour of the Bath stone walls. Treatments take place in 11 spacious treatment rooms, and there’s an indoor balcony area with loungers where you can relax after a treatment.
The hotel’s 99 bedrooms have tall windows and marble bathrooms with Asprey toiletries, and are decked out in classic colours such as deep blues, greys and browns – they’re smart, comfortable, rather masculine and slightly predictable. Spa aficionados should choose one of the three spa suites, whose baths (rather wondrously) can be filled with the thermal water.
The Grade II listed building is packed with history – it housed the United Hospital in the 19th Century and the Bath College of Art & Design until 2005, and the hotel’s name is inspired by one of the city’s most illustrious residents, the painter Thomas Gainsborough. You can see some roman coins unearthed during excavation here (the rest are in the British Museum) and in the spa there’s a replica of a Roman mosaic that was found underneath the floor. There’s a bar and restaurant and a sitting room for teas, but no outdoor spaces.
How was it for us: I came here with a friend for a night’s spa and shopping, and what stood out for me was my treatment with Moroccan therapist Kamir, a personably guy with magic hands. The massage he gave me during my Magnesium Wrap was so good (and painful in all the right ways) that I booked a second holistic massage with him the next day.
Before our treatments, we were taken into a pleasant little ante room, given a replica of a Roman wooden tablet, and asked to scratch an intention for our treatment into the wax. This felt a little contrived, but it was kind of nice to scratch out ‘harmony’ and draw a pretty flower on it nevertheless, and I liked the nod to history here all the way through my stay.
My favourite moment was sitting in the large thermal pool, allowing a jet to penetrate the sore bits in my lower back, letting my thoughts roam and admiring a white dungareed actor in the stain glass window high above the spa, left over from the building’s days as an art college. I also enjoyed my session at the Aroma Bar before my treatment, watching the light on the coloured glass apothecary bottles and having my own personal aromatherapy salt sachet blended for me by resident aromatherapist Alissa as I sipped my welcome probiotic juice.
What we took home: A divine smelling personal salt sachet infused with orange, lime and geranium essential oils and far too many bags from Bath’s boutique shops including Sweaty Betty, The White Company and Anthropologie. No comment.
Would we go back: For me, this isn’t a wildly exciting hotel in terms of design – my preference is for more colourful and more nurturing interiors – but the fact you can bathe in genuinely thermal waters in a calming, Bath-stone-coloured spa is irresistible, and the staff were supremely attentive, so I would indeed return for that any time.
People watch: All staff are cheery and helpful. Male therapist Kamir and female therapist Jovita both had excellent magic hands and a thorough knowledge of anatomy and health.
Food watch: At the spa, your treatments are preceded by a welcome drink of probiotic fermented fruit juice mixed with orange and olive oil, designed to cleanse the digestive system and punch a few anti oxidants into your system. After your treatment, you’ll be served a tasty, freshly made berry tea.
Other than that, refreshment is taken at the hotel’s restaurant, where the menu is devised by Michelin starred Austrian chef, Johann Lafer. His unfussy, tasty fusion dishes combine locally sourced English products with Asian flavours, and those we tried included a simple Mesclun Salad (green leaves, cherry tomatoes, pickled root vegetables), Salmon Two Ways (prepared teriyaki and tartare-style with rice wine marinated cucumber), Devonshire duck breast served with pak choi, grapefruit jelly and teriyaki jus and a pan fried sea bass with a fennel spring roll. Desert includes such things as ‘A Study in Apples’ – a sorbet, a meringue and a tasty broth.
For us, the restaurant was too brightly lit in the evening and lacked atmosphere, but it was a perfectly comfortable place to be and the service was excellent. Joelle is the mixologist in the bar, who put together an intriguingly tasty concoction of champagne with eucalyptus and bayleaf for us – and why not?
What’s queenly: The clever nods to history in the spa – Georgian music accompanies you while you bathe (albeit on an iPod rather than via live musicians), and as well as water, there’s an awesome little chocolate machine where you can help yourself to tastefully small paper cups of hot chocolate infused with cardamon and spices – just like the Georgians would apparently have done in their day.
What’s lowly: Light sleepers be warned, you will hear late night revellers moving from party to party outside on the street, for the hotel is in the city centre and it is a listed building with windows that aren’t allowed to have double glazing.
Insider tip: Spend at least an hour in The Bath House before a treatment, preferably more – hotel guests can use it from 7 to 9 am and from 8 to 10 pm – other than that, it is reserved for those booking treatments of 45 minutes or more and for members, so there is always a peaceful feel.
Price with a companion: Nightly rates at The Gainsborough Bath Spa in a Deluxe Double start from £ 295 on a room-only basis based on two sharing. Nightly rates in a Spa Suite start from £535 on a room-only basis.
Price going solo: The rooms cost the same whether you are here alone or with a companion.
Value for Money: As this is the only luxury hotel in England where you can access genuine thermal waters, the prices feel ok. A 60 minutes Swedish massage costs £120 on a weekday and £150 on a weekend, but this includes your one hour bathing circuit and time to relax after.
Reviewed by Caroline Sylger Jones
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