showcasing the best of the south west

A Stress-Busting Spa

Pic Andy Short The Thermae Bath Spa is housed in famous historical buildings and fed by ancient hot springs which date back 2000 years yet it is very much a 21st century kind of place.

People used to take the waters in Bath to cure ailments as wide ranging as infertility and leprosy but the modern day disease is stress and this place is perfectly set up to help beat it. The four natural thermal baths - two in the original Georgian buildings, two in a stunning contemporary new build which includes the Roof Top pool - are fed by hot springs which contain more than 42 minerals and trace elements. The water rises from the earth at a constant temperature of 45 C but is cooled to a blissfully warm 33.5 C.  In the Minerva Bath there is a current which enables zoned-out floating - it may seem strange at first to see people wafting by with their heads resting on the 'woggles' children learn to swim with but you soon get used to it. The relaxation starts here. Minerva Bath pic Dave Saunders

The Roof Top pool is probably the most popular for its awesome view looking out over the stunning architecture and spires of Bath and, as a result, it tends to be quite crowded. It feels luxurious to be sitting there, though, especially on the slightly cold but sunny day when I visited. There are also four steam rooms which pump out aromatherapy oils to enhance the healing process. What I love about this place is its innate feeling of well-being - everyone is here to do something good for themselves. There's a kind of health farm vibe - people wandering about in white dressing gowns - but also the sense of ancient, ritualistic tradition. There are twenty treatment rooms offering everything from deluxe facials to hot stone massages.  I tried the signature Watsu Massage which combines massage and acu-pressure while you float in the water. I'll admit that in an uptight British kind of way I had slight reservations about being 'cradled in the water by a therapist.' The cradling bit sounded distinctly unrelaxing but I couldn't have been more wrong. The Watsu involves wearing leg floats and allowing the therapist to guide you through a series of flowing movements.  Your ears are completely submerged beneath the water and once you've closed your eyes, you immediately begin to switch off. It felt both surreal and incredible, wooshing from side to side, as my body went completely slack. Within minutes I could literally feel years of tension rolling out; I don't think I've been this relaxed since since I was in the womb. For a good half hour I was in a zombie-like trance and I felt the effect for days afterwards. Pic Rob Slade

There is a bright, light-filled restaurant in the Georgian part of the building which feels just like a cool urban cafe aside from the fact that all the diners are wearing dressing gowns. I tried hot mackerel fillets on a bed of lentils which arrived looking worryingly small and health-farm like but turned out to be incredibly filling and delicious. The restaurant revealed a complete mix of people  - couples, groups of women, mothers and daughters, business colleagues, old and young. In an age where stress has become one of the most common causes of illness the Thermae Bath Spa, with its mix of ancient healing and cutting edge treatments, has got it exactly right. More than anything a visit here is about doing something for yourself. I can't wait to go back.

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