Britain’s best spa hotels in heritage spa towns

For a relaxing mini break, where better to visit than one of Britain’s popular Georgian spa towns? You could even fit in a massage or two...

Dive into the Thyme outdoor swimming pool, fed by a natural subterranean stream.
1

The Gainsborough – Bath, Somerset

It was the Romans who first developed a penchant for bathing in Bath’s naturally warm thermal waters, expanding the city into a haven of relaxation that they called Aquae Sulis. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was the fashion-forward Georgians who popularised the healing qualities of the waters.

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The only hotel in Bath fed by the city’s natural springs, The Gainsborough has several thermal pools in which to unwind
The only hotel in Bath fed by the city’s natural springs, The Gainsborough has several thermal pools in which to unwind.

Nowadays, Bath is still fed by three natural springs, which pump over one million litres of mineral-rich water into the city every day. A haven of independent antiques shops and cutting-edge restaurants – not to mention the array of museums and heritage sites for a cultural hit – Bath is the ideal spot for a city break. And The Gainsborough Bath Spa is the only hotel spa with access to Bath’s natural thermal waters, which bubble up from the ground at a toasty 45 degrees. Rooms start from £290 per night and are decked out in a wonderfully swish contemporary style with nods to Georgian grandeur. Beneath the grand glass atrium is a labyrinth of indulgent spa spaces, including natural thermal pools, saunas, a steam room and a refreshing ice alcove. There’s also the option to book into one of 11 treatment rooms for a range of therapies such as a warming massage with organic ginger oil, or a brightening facial that’s fresh with peppermint. thegainsboroughbathspa.co.uk

A view through the houses to the sea in St Ives

2

Thyme – Nr Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Who’d have thought that one of Britain’s most famous spa towns had such humble beginnings? Rumour has it that an entrepreneurial landowner in the 1700s spotted a flock of pigeons pecking at salt deposits from a nearby spring and, having been alerted to the health benefits of natural waters, began cashing in on the action. Over the next 100 years, Cheltenham became a healing hotspot for the great and good, attracting historic trendsetters such as King George III, Queen Victoria, Jane Austen and Lord Byron. 

Dive into the Thyme outdoor swimming pool, fed by a natural subterranean stream.
Dive into the Thyme outdoor swimming pool, fed by a natural subterranean stream.

Today, it is still a popular haunt for a mini break and nestled in the nearby village of Southrop (around 45 minutes from Cheltenham itself) is Thyme – a charming retreat for those who
crave an escape devoted to beautiful countryside and design. Made up of a cluster of restored historic buildings, Thyme offers both stylish hotel rooms and self-catering properties, with prices starting from £300 per night.

The Divine Double Nepita bedroom at Thyme is painted in cool shades of sage.
The Divine Double Nepita bedroom at Thyme is painted in cool shades of sage.

The decor is cool and considered: think soothing hues, classic antiques and plenty of indulgent upholstery. The Meadow Spa is equally calming, offering both indoor and outdoor relaxation spaces so guests can engage with nature. There’s an outdoor pool and hot tub, shaded by  Cotswold stone walls and filled with pure spring water. Plus, you can choose from a menu of massages and facials created in collaboration with beauty experts Aurelia Probiotic Skincare. thyme.co.uk

3

Grantley Hall – Nr Harrogate, Yorkshire

Besides the tearooms, antiques-shopping galore, inspiring art galleries and quaint architecture, Harrogate’s rich history as an 18th-century spa town is still a key pull for modern-day visitors. And the Royal Pump Room Museum still offers the chance to see (and smell!) Europe’s strongest sulphur well. 

For an impressive stay with all the mod-cons of a luxury hotel, Grantley Hall (near Ripon, 30 mins from central Harrogate) is a Palladian gem swathed in rugged woodland and prim ornamental gardens. Rooms start from £350 per night – but this escape offers far more than a standard hotel. 

The Grantley Hall grand Palladian exterior has 17th-century roots.
The Grantley Hall grand Palladian exterior has 17th-century roots.

The vibe is classic luxury, with bedrooms clad in creamy neutrals, sash windows with traditional pelmets, plus decadent marble bathrooms and minibars filled with seasonal treats – damson gin, anyone? And, when it comes to dinner options, the hotel boasts five restaurants (including menus from the Michelin-starred Shaun Rankin), plus a late-night champagne and cocktail bar that’s prime for dancing the night away. 

Take a dip in the indoor-to-outdoor hydrotherapy pool at Grantley Hall.
Take a dip in the indoor-to-outdoor hydrotherapy pool at Grantley Hall.

The aptly named Three Graces Spa is blissful to its core. An underground swimming pool is encircled in marble and stone, looking more akin to an Ancient Roman bath than a contemporary spa. While outside, guests can unwind in nature, thanks to the cedar hot tub, sauna and snow room. The treatment menu is varied and unique – while the Inner Peace Immersion (including a body scrub, shower, massage and Ananda face therapy) promises a boost in positive energy, there’s also reiki, reflexology and crystal healing therapies to enjoy.  Prepare for pure relaxation in God’s own country… grantleyhall.co.uk

4

The Elms Hotel – Nr Malvern, Worcestershire

For a calming escape in the Worcestershire countryside, look no further than The Elms. Not far from the sweet, green village of Abberley (around 40 minutes from Malvern) The Elms is a prime spot to unwind in Queen Anne grandeur surrounded by rolling hills. Rooms start from £99 per night, and are as homely as you would hope from a country house hotel. Expect traditional furniture and plenty of cosy throws in brushed wool. Meanwhile a drink in the downstairs Badger Bar is pure gentleman’s study. 

The Elms Hotel’s Queen Anne façade is an Instagrammer’s dream.
The Elms Hotel’s Queen Anne façade is an Instagrammer’s dream.

The Greenhouse Spa is clean and verdant, tucked away behind the hotel in a glass-fronted building, which is ski chalet meets Victorian orangery. We recommend a brief meditation in the steam room, engulfed in eucalyptus-scented vapour, and a Deeper than Deep hot stone massage with soothing frangipani monoi oil, followed by tea and cake in the spa cafe. 

The Greenhouse Spa at The Elms Hotel is the perfect spot to unwind - did someone say tea and cake?
The Greenhouse Spa at The Elms Hotel is the perfect spot to unwind – did someone say tea and cake?

Just a short drive from the hotel, the spa town of Malvern is known for its excellent hiking routes and vibrant cultural scene. But, in Georgian and Victorian times, it was the perceived medicinal qualities of the natural springs that attracted visitors in their droves. Soon known as the ‘Water Cure Town’, an enterprising doctor duo introduced the Austrian art of hydrotherapy, opening a practice in 1845 that promised to relieve skin conditions with a quick dunk. The springs were also used by drinks giant Schweppes, which took to bottling Malvern Soda in 1850. theelmshotel.co.uk

5

Ockenden Manor – Nr Royal Tunbridge Wells

It’s quite something to step into a 19th-century walled garden,  surrounded by clipped lawns and sweet smelling foliage, and find oneself face to face with an ultra-modern spa. Clad in rust-coloured metal panels, the contemporary structure feels like something straight out of Grand Designs. But, somehow, situated alongside the former Elizabethan manor house that makes up the main hotel, it works. While the rooms and suites at Ockenden Manor adopt a classic countryside feel (a double starts at £189) the spa is pure modern luxe, with a choice of treatments designed to revitalise and restore. Submerge in the indoor-to-outdoor pool (the best way to admire the beautiful gardens) or enjoy a session in the Isopod: a salt-rich floatation tank that promises meditative calm. Of course, there are massages, facials, body therapies and manicures on offer too, plus spa packages, which include delicious afternoon teas, or supper in the award-winning hotel restaurant. 

Fancy a dip in the indoor spa bath? A session in the Isopod? Or a walk-through rainforest shower? The spa at Ockenden Manor has it all.
Fancy a dip in the indoor spa bath? A session in the Isopod? Or a walk-through rainforest shower? The spa at Ockenden Manor has it all.
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Ockendon Manor is  around 50 minutes from Royal Tunbridge Wells, the only spa town in the South East of England. Nowadays, there aren’t many spots to take a dip in the town itself, but those interested in history can visit the Chalybeate Spring to sample the iron-rich waters that our ancestors believed would cure even the worst hangover! hshotels.co.uk/ockenden-manor

Tradition meets luxury in the tranquil bedrooms at Ockenden Manor.
Tradition meets luxury in the tranquil bedrooms at Ockenden Manor.