The Gainsborough Bath Spa: Enhanced Classic Swedish Massage

Stephanie Cavagnaro soaks in Britain's only hot-spring-fed spa

By Stephanie Cavagnaro
Published 2 Dec 2015, 11:45 GMT

Hedonists have soaked in Bath's healing waters for 2,000 years, but it wasn't until last July that a hotel finally took advantage of this thermal hotspot. With direct access to the Hetling Spring, five-star The Gainsborough Bath Spa is Britain's only hotel to offer a hot-spring-fed spa.

It's no wonder then that its Spa Village Bath is so well thought out. It's decorated with contemporary artwork by students at Bath Spa University, has a vat brewing with cardamom, cinnamon and chilli hot chocolate — an exalted beverage in Georgian times — and an Aroma Bar. The apothecary-like counter is cluttered with glass bottles, which staff member Loren uses to concoct my bespoke Neal's Yard lavender and bergamot essential oil-scented salts. Handing over the pouch of salts, he says, “It's your own personal memory of the bath house.”

I breathe in the calming oils as I begin the one-hour Bath House Circuit – available to guests who book a treatment, which means the spa seems blissfully quiet compared to most. Buttery light pours through a glass atrium onto Roman columns and original 18th-century limestone walls.

The spa comprises 11 treatment rooms, an infrared and traditional sauna, steam room, ice alcove, and three thermal pools varying between 35-40C. The water in these pools fell as rain some 10,000 years ago, then sank 2km down to become steeped in 42 minerals, including iron, sulphate and chloride (known to aid muscular relief), before rising through the springs at a steamy 45C. I saunter between the pools, feeling my body relax in the naturally warm waters.

Once a staff member collects me for my treatment – no need to keep an eye on time – I'm led past a replica of a 4th-century Roman mosaic (the original is preserved), and into the Fountain Room. The area is dark but for the dimly lit candles dotted about, and my therapist, Kabir, asks me to write my ‘spa intention' on a Romanesque wax tablet, while natural spring water trickles from a fountain mounted on the wall.

I'm told the hotel is hoping to gain future rights to drink the fountain's water, which comes directly from the hot spring.
My 90-minute Enhanced Classic Swedish Massage begins with aromatherapy mists of neroli and rosewater to relax me, before a rosemary and pine essence foot massage. Kabir then spends some much-needed time kneading the kinks in my back with a Kerstin Florian ginger body oil, and uses lavender-infused hot towels to soothe my tired muscles – needless to say, it's one of the best massages I've ever had.

After feeling suitably stress-free, I head to the hotel's restaurant to fuel up. Chef Johann Lafer's ‘dining without borders' philosophy blends locally sourced ingredients with Asian flavours – this is a nod to YTL Hotels, the Malaysian owners.

The formal dining room is sleek with tanned leather chairs, a black-marble fireplace and coffered ceilings, while a full-to-the-brim wine wall dominates the room's centre. From the excellent vegetarian menu, I try a colourful coconut gazpacho with quinoa and a tomato ginger mousse, followed by a macadamia nut gnocchi with couscous, pickled cauliflower and potato curry fond. Each course is paired with a wine ranging from a tasty Trebbiano to a Spanish Verdejo.

My modern room, meanwhile, is awash with pale blues and greys, dramatic draperies and pink orchids. An old 1926 Punch comic is framed on the lofty living room wall, while my window provides a view of the city's honey-coloured facades and the Thermae Day Spa's steamy rooftop pool. Two large flatscreen TVs, plus a generously sized marble bathroom complete the package.

It was about time Bath honoured its heritage with a spa hotel – and The Gainsborough has certainly done the job well.

The Gainsborough Bath Spa is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World


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