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The ultimate baths, in Bath
Using a WABAC to experience spa heaven: the Roman Baths in England
I think it would be pretty cool to witness Paul Revere’s famous Boston-area midnight ride during the Revolutionary War. But I do like my indoor plumbing, so I’d probably pass on visiting New England in the 1770s.
I’d be keen to hang out with the likes of other Southern belles on an antebellum plantation in Mississippi, just so I could promenade around the grounds in a frilly hoop dress while twirling a parasol. However, I don’t think I could stomach watching slaves toil in a cotton field, even for a day, so I likely wouldn’t select that 19th-century era in the Deep South either.
I dig the idea of transporting back to small-town Ohio in the 1950’s, just to hang out with my then-teenage mom. With her next to me in the passenger seat of a new 1958 Chevy, we’d drive along country roads, listening to Elvis on the tinny radio (no seatbelts!), and stop by the local soda fountain to flirt with boys. Doesn’t that sound carefree and fun?
Ultimately, given my propensity for spa and wellness travel these days, if I could spend just 24 hours going back in time (via Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine) I’d beam up (or beam back) to Bath, England, circa 70 A.D. By then, the Roman Empire had built an extraordinary bathing complex where rooms and soaking pools were heated by the natural, thermal springs found in this southwest corner of England. The Roman Baths were not only a place to indulge in a sauna, steam, and soak (what I affectionately call the ultimate “tri-bathlon”), but also a place to get a massage, exercise, and catch up on the town’s daily news while gossiping with friends. That’s my kind of spa!
Today, visitors to Bath, England, can tour the ancient Roman Baths and envision what it was like 2,000 years ago for those who actually took to the waters here. Costumed interpreters bring the ruins to life. But there’s no bathing to be had in the historic site; you can soak in the same mineral-rich waters at the nearby Thermae Bath Spa. I’d love to submerge in the complex’s imposing Great Bath, a pool 1.6 meters deep, fed by the steamy Sacred Spring and lined with 45 sheets of lead. (Okay, forget that the lead was probably toxic; if I go back for just a day, surely the spa surroundings wouldn’t poison me.)
Viewfinder Tip: The historic town of Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, makes a nice day trip from London, as it’s only a 90-minute train ride away.
Of course, the Ancient Romans took their bathing very seriously, and before soaking in a toasty pool in a giant caldarium (that’s a fancy word for a room with a hot plunge bath), they might work out in the gymnasium (where pumping up and oiling down took place); stop in the frigidarium for a quick dip in a cold plunge pool, and then recover in the tepidarium, or warm room.
Now, I’ve been to domestic spas that recreate this ancient bathing ritual; the Aqua Sanitas water sanctuary at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek‘s Allegria Spa comes to mind. But to actually bathe alongside the Romans at the mother of all soaking complexes in ancient times? I’m in.
After all, I’m pretty sure I could rock a linen stola (a.k.a. women’s toga) and intricate up-do, too.
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