This is a story about magic—or medieval medicine, which is basically the same thing.
Bath, England—an hour outside of London by train—is home to the only natural hot springs in Britain. The Romans invaded these parts some 2,000 years ago and declared it a Holy place. How else to explain the steaming mineral water bubbling up from the ground? The waters were said to have medicinal, restorative powers and Bath was declared a Holy place.
It still feels that way today. Nowhere more so than at the newly-opened Gainsborough Bath Spa—the only hotel in town boasting access to the mineral-rich waters percolating below, which are pumped up through an artesian well directly from the aquifer into the spa’s three plunge pools.
The Gainsborough opened in 2015 after a five-year renovation beset by fantastical delays. While excavating the pool, workers uncovered more than 17,000 gold coins dating back to Roman times. Later the crew uncovered mosaic tile dating back to the 4th century. A respect for Bath’s history has been worked into the hotel’s DNA. The spa’s bespoke aromatherapy bar takes its cue from the village’s reputation as a wellness retreat. Chamber music from the 18th century is piped into the treatment rooms. (While the Gainsborough enjoys access to the mineral-rich waters, make sure to visit the Thermae Bath Spa across the road for a dip in its modern rooftop pool, where the sun sets over the town’s gorgeous Georgian architecture.)
If Bath has an air of romance, well, this is Jane Austen country after all. The iconic writer spent five years living in Bath (where she accepted a marriage proposal only to change her mind the next morning), and Austen mentions the place frequently in books like Persuasion, even citing specific streets where characters met for sparkling conversation. Charles Dickenspresented a very different picture of Bath in his novel, The Pickwick Papers. Decide for yourself who got it right by visiting Mr. B’s, a picturesque local bookshop, and picking up works by both writers.
Rejuvenated by Bath’s hot springs, you’ll leave Jane Austin territory for Harry Pottersville and a perfect wintertime escape in the Cotswolds. From the great lawn at Ellenborough Park in Cheltenham, a countryside manor built in 1485, you can see clear to Gloucester Castle, which famously stood in for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter films.
Ellenborough Park is located on the edge of the Cheltenham racetrack, home to March’s Gold Cup, one of the most famous horse races in the world. Lucky hotel guests are able to bypass hours of traffic, with chauffeurs ferrying them clear across the property in a fleet of Bentleys.
The Gold Cup offers a whirlwind of champagne and betting. But just as welcome is a quiet afternoon of High Tea by the fire, relaxing on period-perfect furnishings from designer Nina Campbell. The best views are from the hotel’s Tower Room. If you prefer not to hike the stairs, ask for room number 1, which has a canopy bed, a white roll-top bathtub and basically feels like a Downton Abbey fantasy suite.
The hotel offers old-school activities including duck herding and skeet shooting. If you’re feeling more adventurous, Stonehenge is only a 20-minute ride by helicopter. In the warmer months, the hotel’s chef grows his own herbs on-site, and his bonafides are solid—he’s cooked for the Royal Family. But Lumiere in town is worth a visit. The beige decor is understated and the palette is classic, but chef Jon Howe isn’t afraid of whimsy. Make sure to order his take on the tequila shot—which consists of a salt tuile and a tequila sorbet chased by a lime sphere that bursts in your mouth.
While rumors abound that the town of Cheltenham is haunted—and the local St. Mary’s Church had to be exorcised not long ago—a staff member at Ellenborough Park stresses that the hotel is a safe space. “The only people who’ve seen ghosts were nighttime employees in need of sleep.” Boo.
Beau Street, Bath, BA1 1QY
Room from around $300 dollars a night
Southam Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL52 3NJ
Rooms from $400 dollars a night