UK Spas Guide: History & Famous Spa Towns

Part of the Spa Guides

UK spa towns

While the UK has a thriving spa industry today, with a wide variety of destinations peppered across both country and city, there are some towns who owe their entire legacy to the historic spa tradition. Across the UK, spa towns are built around the naturally occurring wellbeing properties of the surrounding area. Amongst the most famous are Malvern in Worcestershire, Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, Harrogate in North Yorkshire and Bath in Somerset.

Bronze Age bathing in Malvern

For example, Malvern has been a settlement since the Bronze Age but was formally founded in the 11th century. It was when Benedictine monks established a priory at the foot of the highest peak of Malvern Hills. Malvern became known as a spa town in the mid 19th century owing to its popularity as a hydrotherapy spa based on its spring waters.

Since then, it has understandably expanded, but it remains surrounded by verdant scenery. Close by the eponymous spa, The Malvern, continues to keep the spa tradition alive. Embracing its heritage, the contemporary spa offers a beautiful thermal suite and delectable treatments using the REN skincare line. The pool is also a total treat – like something out of an art gallery.

Roman history in Bath

Perhaps the most famous of spa towns in the UK is Bath. It’s the chocolate box perfect city where no corner is anything less than beautiful. Here, the water that fell as rain 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, percolated 3km into the earth to an underground reservoir and through its own artesian pressure has come up in three springs. One of those springs feeds Thermae Bath Spa, channelled into the four baths within the thermae – naturally warm and mineral rich.

It is a World Heritage site, drenched in myth and legend. Throughout history there have been tales of the waters curing all sorts of things. King James I and his wife credited it with bringing them children, while the person who first discovered the waters was a prince who had contracted leprosy. He found this big muddy pool of water and in it both he and his pigs were cured, so he built a temple around the source of the waters.

Today, Thermae Bath Spa is amongst the city’s key attractions, although there are also other beautiful spas in the city, such as the Royal Crescent, known for its iconic facade and five star romance. Or The Bath Priory, where The Garden Spa by L’Occitane transports you to beautiful Provence, with the first and only spa by L'Occitane in the UK. Here, everything is drawn from the L’Occitane grand herbarium, a resource of hundreds of essential oils and natural ingredients making it unique and luxuriously relaxing.

_Georgian wellbeing in Harrogate _

Harrogate on the other hand has been consistently named the happiest place to live in Britain, which is a wonderful attribute for a historic spa town. The picturesque location in the Yorkshire Dales made its name in the Georgian era for the health giving properties of the waters, which contain iron, sulphur and salt.

Close by, Rudding Park keeps the wellbeing name alive and kicking, surrounded by 300 acres of parkland and offering a five star service. In recent years, the luxury hotel turned its spa into one to rival the best anywhere in the world. A purpose-built haven of wellbeing with its own restaurant, huge windows letting in abundant natural light, and the piece de resistance being the rooftop spa garden.

Here you will find a feast of spa experiences from saunas and steam rooms to an oxygen pod, sun therapy room and an outdoor infinity pool overlooking the grounds. Impeccable service means that indulgence and wellbeing combine and with the rooftop spa’s dedicated bar area, you can lounge in the pool and have Champagne brought to you at the same time.

Travel around Yorkshire and you will find more destinations that draw on Harrogate’s historic spa tradition as well. The county makes full use of its natural beauty and intrinsic hospitality, making it a joy to visit and relax in.

Regency spa traditions in Cheltenham

Cheltenham is probably the best known town in Gloucestershire. The Regency spa town has been a health and holiday spa town resort since the discovery of mineral springs in 1716. Although, it’s also pretty well known for its eminent horse racing.

Two miles from the town itself, Ellenborough Park is one of the beautiful spa locations that continues the wellbeing tradition. A luxurious hotel spa in a 90-acre estate, it’s wellbeing for adults only, combining tranquility and indulgence in glorious surroundings. While the hotel offers grand and historic style, the spa is a cocoon of its own, with a blissfully beautiful outdoor pool and indulgent thermal facilities and spa treatments - it’s perfect for romantic breaks or for sophisticated gatherings with friends.

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