Unbelievably, The Gainsborough is Bath’s first five-star hotel to open in 30 years and it’s the only one in Britain to have access to natural thermal waters. Named after the artist Thomas Gainsborough who lived in the city, the hotel occupies a stunning Grade-II listed building which was once a hospital and then part of Bath’s art college. Located on a pretty little cobbled street, it feels secluded and residential whilst still only a short walk from all the main attractions.
The building was renovated by Malaysian-based hotel group, YTL Hotels who are well-known for their exceptional service and inclusive approach to luxury. Inclusive, in this case, means that if you can pay for the entry-level room then you get all the benefits, not just some of them. For example, at the Gainsborough, all rooms include complimentary mini-bars with juices, local brews and artisan chocolate. It might seem like a small thing, but it means you can properly settle in and relax without feeling slightly cheated whenever Suite guests saunter past you into the roped-off VIP area at breakfast.
Anyone who lives in a city or works a stressful job will know that it usually takes a good while to unwind when you go away — sometimes days, sometimes the whole holiday. At The Gainsborough, it’s different. As soon as you walk through the front doors, you can feel the calm spreading. It might be to do with the soothing fragrances or the smiles of the staff — whatever it is, it works magic. The look is contemporary with an emphasis on space and light, but Bath’s history and culture are still strongly reflected throughout. There are displays of ancient Roman artefacts unearthed in the excavation works when the hotel was being developed, a sedan chair in the lobby and artworks by college students hanging on the walls of the bar and restaurant. It feels clean and open, at the same time as cosy and homely.
Our room is on a corner, with two huge double beds and views across the city. The walls are teal, the linens crisp white and soft, and the bathroom’s stocked with Aromatherapy Associate amenities. It might not be the most innovative design, but to us, it’s perfect. The General Manager, Brian Benson, later tells us over cocktails at the bar that it’s the most popular room for friends who come to the city for Spa weekends. He says, that he loves to see guests arrive from London and to see how they’ve changed when they leave. ‘When they arrive, they’re physically tense,’ he says, ‘when they leave they’re laughing, shaking our hands, you can feel the gratitude.’
For most, the spa is, of course, the main draw and during the day, most guests wander around the hotel in their slippers and dressing gowns — it’s surprising how quickly that becomes the norm. The spa itself big enough to spend a good few hours in, featuring three bubbling thermal pools, a steam room, and a sauna. My sister heads in, whilst I check-in at the spa reception. I begin my treatment at the aroma bar with a welcome drink and a quick masterclass in making a salt pouch infused with essential oils. There’s a huge range of treatments to choose from including aquatic body therapies which are performed in a 34.5°C thermal water pool, but I opt for the 60 minute aromatherapy massage, specially recommended for reducing stress. Time slips away in a cloud of lavender as the therapist firmly applies pressure to alleviate the knots in my shoulders from where I’ve been hunched over my desk. When I leave, I’m in a dream state. My sister finds me sipping hibiscus tea and nibbling on a macaroon on the upstairs balcony. Meanwhile, she’s found the chilli hot chocolate by the sauna, which was apparently a common place drink in the Roman baths.
Aside from the Gainsborough’s spa village there’s Thermae Bath Spa directly across the road (also owned by YTL) with more heated pools, including a spectacular rooftop pool, but unless you have the desperate urge for more pampering, there’s no real need to venture outside of the hotel.
Meals are served in the Dan Moon at the Gainsborough Restaurant. The dining room is another soothing setting with dark-wood tables, soft armchair style seating and plenty of natural light. We choose the 6-course tasting menu, which begins with the most delicious breadboard and selection of flavoured butters and spreads. We have to stop ourselves from eating it all before the first course arrives. Each dish arrives beautifully presented, with lots of contrasting flavours and whilst the portion sizes are on the larger side for a tasting menu, it’s not overdone.
My favourites (as a pescetarian) are the Jerusalem artichoke velouté with quails egg, hazelnut purée, sherry vinegar gel and truffle, and the scallop with lobster and crab risotto my sister however, raves about the chicken liver parfait with a red orange sorbet. The paired wines are all superb and we enjoy trying to identify the various tasting notes as suggested by the enthusiastic sommelier. For breakfast, there’s a plentiful buffet spread of croissants, pastries, smoked salmon and a menu of cooked dishes.
When we check-out after just one night, we both agree that we actually do feel different — more settled and reconnected with ourselves and each other. In my opinion, two nights would be the ideal; my sister suggests several more. The valet brings our car round and inside, there’s a tin of mints and two bottles of water. Full points for guest service — we consider hugging the staff goodbye, we were so grateful.
For more information on The Gainsborough Bath Spa, see here.
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