Detours: Some like it hot
A group of Japanese tourists huddled together in a corner of the bath are giggling among themselves. Having travelled to the Unesco World Heritage city of Bath to visit Thermae Bath Spa, they're surprised to learn that swimming costumes are required to enter the thermally warmed spring waters.
'In Japan we don't wear clothes to bathe,' says Hiro Matsuzaki, a tour operator from Tokyo. 'But this experience is so special I'll still recommend it.'
He has a point. Where else can you combine heritage, health and relaxation with such little effort and minimal cost? Part of the spa's phenomenal success after a GBP45 million (HK$696 million) renovation is the delicate blend of modern spa facilities and treatments within an ancient setting.
One of the spa's most popular attractions is its rooftop hot water bath (right), with panoramic views of elegant Georgian architecture and the wooded hills surrounding the city. By night, Bath Abbey and other buildings are expertly lit, creating a visual feast for bathers.
The curative waters bubbling up at the centre of Bath have attracted visitors for more than 2,000 years. The spa is in the heart of the city and contains three baths and a suite of spa treatment rooms. Glass steam rooms are located around a central waterfall shower with fibre optic lighting, misting and a series of foot baths to massage weary soles. The steam is gently infused with essential oils such as mountain pine, eucalyptus and mint.
The cafe offers a healthy, tasty menu of locally sourced produce, including delicious cheeses. Pay with an electronic bracelet that acts as a key for your locker so you can move about unencumbered by personal belongings.
Prices for entry and the spa treatments are kept low to ensure that the facility is within the reach of locals and tourists alike. There are no membership or joining fees, or any need to book ahead unless you intend to use spa treatments. Because the water temperature is about 35 degrees Celsius, children under 12 are admitted only with a medical referral.
Trains to Bath leave from London's Paddington Station and the journey takes about 90 minutes. Go to www.thermaebathspa.com for details.