“They arrived in Bath. Catherine was all eager delight; her eyes were here, there, and everywhere.”
– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
I might start by alienating some readers by saying I’m not a huge Jane Austen lover.
Yes, gasp. Everyone assumes I am because I’m an English major. But honestly I had a lot of other books I found more compelling than the tales of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
However, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate Jane Austen, which is why I admit that I was excited by the prospect of visiting Bath, partly because it conjured glamourous images of high society and tea and dresses.
Okay well not only that. I also knew it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Regardless I caught a bus from Oxford over to Bath, about two hours in the bus.
I checked into my hostel. Funnily enough I’d decided to stay at a YMCA. It was the best rated place in Bath, hostelwise, so it made sense to me. However, it still seemed funny after having worked at the YMCA in my hometown for a year.
Definitely my least favorite hostel. It was crowded and didn’t really have a lot of good atmosphere. However, it was very centrally located, decently priced, and had nice privacy curtains, chargers, and lights on all the beds. So all in all I can’t complain too much.
After leaving my bags I headed off to explore Bath. I started, of course, in the most obvious place to visit. The baths themselves.
The Roman baths are quite remarkable. And I can say that easily as someone who has visited Rome alongside several Roman settlements in France and Spain (Arles, Nimes, Merida, Orange, etc). My parents dragged me to Roman archaeological sites throughout a good part of my childhood. And while I did enjoy them, I soon grew tired of seeing old Roman baths.
That was not the case here.
Because Bath is built on a natural hot springs, the Romans built a large bathing and temple complex in the city. Amazingly, much of it is still preserved, amazingly intact after centuries have gone by. So yes, if you have to see Roman baths… well this is the place.
These are simply incredible to see, and give great explanations on the Romans as a whole. The museum is really well done and the sight itself is incredible as well. If you’re able to see it, I think it’s well worth it. You can’t bathe anymore, but you do get a chance to try the waters that were so reputed for their healing powers. If you’re a little more wealthy you can also have lunch or tea in the Pump Room next door, but it was a little out of my budget.
After I was finished I decided to stop by Bath Abbey. It’s an absolutely beautiful church. It’s donations only, so you don’t have to spend a lot to visit. However, if you want to climb the tower you can pay a little more. It was a beautiful day and I do sort of wish I had done so, but I was exhausted and at that point feeling sort of ill, so I decided to skip.
I stopped by a pharmacy for some cold medicine and took a break back at my hostel for a bit. After that I decided to go walk around a little more.
I stopped by the Circus, which is a round square of Georgian homes. It’s very pretty, though nothing you need to spend much time on.
After that I was off to a very special booking I’d made.
I was due at the spa.
So, for any looking for budget travel tips, this is definitely not your post. I was in a huge “treat yourself” mode on this particular trip, and I decided that while in Bath I’d do like Bath Romans used to do…. Aka I’d visit a spa and lounge in the healing thermal waters.
Thermae Spa uses the same waters that the Roman baths did, although from the smell I think they are treated with chlorine (could be mistaken of course). Regardless, it looked like a fun place to visit, which even if it’s not historic in itself. So I booked a twilight package for myself, essentially a 3 hour window at the spa including a meal and drink at the restaurant.
I arrived around five in order to have enough time to get prepared for my time. I really didn’t need to get there quite so early, but it was fine and gave me plenty of time to adjust.
This last year I did a visit to the Szechenyi Spa in Budapest, and that was absolutely life changing. However, one drawback there is that there is very little signage, and not everyone speaks English so you do sort of just have to learn as you go. So it was nice to be in a more modern place that was very friendly and welcoming and had good clear directions on where to go.
I changed into my suit and then wandered a bit to get a sense of the layout before heading to the restaurant for dining.
Sadly they don’t allow mobile phones or cameras in the spa, so I don’t really have photos. But I’ll link to their website here so you can see it if you’d like.
I ate a dish of rigatoni with mushrooms and a creamy sherry sauce which was quite good alongside a glass of white wine. I could have ordered other things for additional food if I wanted to, but I had no desire to add to the cost. And besides, I was about to go enjoy the spa and didn’t need to be overly filled up.
After a delicious meal I headed down to the Minerva Pool to start my time. It’s basically just a large warm pool of thermal waters with jets that come on at certain times and floaty noodles. Not really too different from a swimming pool.
I paddled around a bit before deciding I was a bit bored and wanted to check out what else there was.
Unfortunately some of the other pools are only accessible through a treatment. I had to admit I missed Szechenyi which had all kinds of different pools for you to dip in and out of.
So I headed up to the Wellness Suite, which had a variety of different rooms to enjoy.
I started in the Georgian Steam Room, a large sauna billowing with steam and with soft classical music and birdsong playing inside. I settled on a bench and did my best to bear the heat, finding my body relaxing as I did so.
I didn’t last long before I was out to take a cold shower and then head to the ice room to cool down even further. It’s not quite so exciting as it sounds. It really only has a big heap of ice in the center that you can rub along your body to help close your pores.
After the ice bath I headed to the Infrared Sauna. Basically infrared lights heat up and get you warm, causing you to sweat and relax.
After that it was back for more cold showers before I tried the Celestial Relaxation Room. Probably my favorite since I’d never run across anything like it. You like back in the dark, admiring twinkling lights overhead and look at a screen that displays images of the cosmos alongside soothing music. Quite pleasant.
Then to the Roman Steam Room where there was harp music and steam that smelled like flowers. Again it was relaxing and refreshing and I showered off afterwards before heading up to the Rooftop pool.
I arrived in time for sunset. And if you do check out Thermae’s website, I’ll say they aren’t exaggerating on their sunset pictures. It was absolutely stunning. I only wish I could have taken some of my own photographs, but I will include a video below for any curious to see what it looks like.
I went and did a few of the other things a second time, as I had more than enough to just enjoy to the max. Twilight Package is indeed more pricey, but the three hours was nice to feel like I didn’t have to rush.
After showering and changing and putting my robe and towels in the hampers (and taking my free flipflops with me!) I headed back towards my hostel feeling utterly relaxed and ready to take on the rest of my trip.
They say the waters are healing. I won’t lie, within the next day the cold that had started was almost gone. Just a light sneeze left over, but the stuffiness and lethargy and aches… gone. Magic of Bath or a coincidence? Who am I to say. All I’ll write is that I thoroughly enjoyed my time, and if you have the time and the opportunity, it isn’t a bad idea to take a day to relax and enjoy what people have known was amazing for thousands of years.