Dipping a toe in a steaming pool …

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Thermae Bath Spa. Pic supplied

YOU will need to adhere to a particular dress code if you want to enjoy the best view in Bath.

No, you won’t need a jacket and tie or cocktail dress to get into this venue, with the apparel of a more practical style that requires guests to wear a different kind of suit.

To enjoy the elevated view across the pretty Bath skyline, over the elegant Georgian houses and sharp spires of the abbey to the terraced cottages that climb the slopes of the surrounding hills, you will have to change out of your clothes and into a pair of togs.

The best view in Bath is the one presented to those soaking in the open-air rooftop pool at Thermae Bath Spa, and it’s an experience that can be enjoyed by anyone visiting the historic English settlement that’s a two-hour drive from London.

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Thermae Bath Spa’s rooftop pool. Pic supplied

As you soak in the heated mineral water the rich geothermal liquid, containing 24 minerals and trace elements, comes out of the ground at 45C but is cooled to a therapeutic 33.5C before being pumped into the scenic pond you can let your eyes rest on the peaceful vista while your muscles and mind relax.

The Thermae Bath Spa has an indoor pool on the ground floor, as well as a collection of hot baths that prominent Georgians and Victorians such as Jane Austen and Arthur Phillip used, but it’s the rooftop pool that attracts most visitors regardless of the time of year or outside temperature.

 

Locals say the best time to visit the rooftop pool is twilight, when the setting sun paints the smart Bath-stone buildings that line the city’s streets an opulent golden shade and the colour drains from the sky washing it with pastel hues of pink and purple before darkness falls and stars pierce the black dome.

I visited Bath during the English winter, when a blue sky would settle over Somerset most days and the weak sun would do its best to haul the temperature into positive numbers, and it was a novelty to sit in the outside bath at dusk with the steam rising off the azure water.

Thermae Bath Spa opened in 2006, on the site of the Beau Street swimming baths that were popular early last century, with the extensive building project involving the restoration of five heritage structures as well as building the new five-storey tower that houses the indoor and outdoor thermal mineral pools.

Visitors can indulge in one of 50 thermal treatments or spa therapies, everything from an aromatherapy massage or hot-stone makeover to facial or body scrub, and before my alfresco soak I enjoyed a watsu which is Thermae’s signature treatment a sort of in-water massage.

After wading into the Hot Bath it’s one of the site’s original pools, built in 1777 and a favourite with Jane Austen who often mentioned her visits in letters to her brother my therapist Shay stretched my muscles, using the warm water as resistance, and applied pressure to tight joints in my back and neck.

Bath is unique because it’s the site of England’s only geothermal mineral spring and the water that fills Thermae’s pools fell to Earth 10,000 years ago as rain, sat 2km underground being heated by subterranean rocks, and then bubbled to the surface via one of three fountains beside the Avon River.

Taking the water isn’t a new idea in Bath and when the Romans arrived in AD43 they found the King’s Spring and, believing it was sacred and home to a collection of gods and goddesses, constructed the Aquae Sulis complex with a temple and collection of pools and steam rooms.

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Bath’s Roman spa is now a tourist attraction. Pic Sarah Nicholson

When the Romans left in AD410 Aquae Sulis was neglected, started to fall apart, and was eventually swallowed by the Avon and new building projects until the 1800s when an engineer trying to work out why a particular building’s basement kept flooding discovered the vast underground compound.

The site was excavated and used by the Victorians, who had embraced the idea of the water’s healing power, before being closed again in the 1970s and turned into a living museum where visitors can now use an audio device to do a self-guided tour that passes through 2000 years of history from the Romans to Victorians.

While the tour took me through several subterranean levels, where I could see the spaces the Romans used to pray and bathe as well as some of the artefacts they left behind, the highlight was visiting the King’s Bath with steaming and bubbling water the colour of a cloudy emerald.

I always knew Bath was special because of the Roman baths, but I didn’t realise I could soak in the same waters that attracted the Romans almost 2000 years ago, and in a beautiful new building that blends history and tradition with the comforts of a modern-day spa.

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The indoor pool on Thermae’s ground floor. Pic Sarah Nicholson

Getting there

While Bath is a two-hour drive from London, those relying on public transport can do the trip in less than 90 minutes with regular National Rail trains departing Paddington Station and arriving at Bath Spa Station, a 10-minute walk from Thermae Bath Spa.

National Express offers regular coach services from London Victoria Coach Station, London Heathrow and London Gatwick to Bath.

If you’d like a room with royal history then consider The Duchy, a self-catering townhouse recently owned by Prince Charles, or Queen Charlotte’s Orangery which is a B&B but was a private house when George III’s wife stayed in 1817.

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THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ESCAPE ON SUNDAY, JUNE 25, 2011

Click here to see the story online

 

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