They say Rome wasn’t built in a day. They should also say Rome wasn’t just built in Rome. In fact, a superb example of Roman ingenuity was built almost 1,000 miles away from Rome in the lush countryside of England.
I went to Bath with one goal in mind—to spend my birthday walking the very same streets Jane Austen once walked; I would see the rest of Bath once the bookstore at the Jane Austen Museum closed. After I had gorged myself on books and Georgian architecture, I made plans to visit The Roman Baths late one afternoon. I thought I would be remiss to skip the very site that gave Bath its name, so with no research and very little expectation, I made my introduction to what would become my favorite part of the trip.
Built in the 1st century AD over Britain’s only natural hot springs, the waters were thought to have healing powers and to keep bathers looking young. Much like the La Mer counter at Barneys, Bath attracted the powerful, wealthy and social elite searching for a fountain of youth.
I don’t know about healing powers, but I do know that The Baths are a powerful site to behold: massive stone columns, stunning sculptures and a sauna room that puts my pricey gym to shame. The museum gives visitors the options of taking a self-guided tour with audio (my preference), or joining one of the hourly guided tours. Leaving my poor mother to fend for herself somewhere in the temple courtyard, I ventured on my own where I could linger on the displays that interested me (more than 12,000 Roman coins were thrown into the baths!) and pass over displays I found rather dull (engineers must drool over the models of the extensive drainage system). I wandered from level to level as though I were a Roman citizen exploring my local spa—how many museums evoke that feeling?
The Great Bath was by far the most impressive section of the museum. I stood in awe at the site of torches lit around the outdoor pool of phosphorescent water, visualizing the history of this place with ease. I could see Romans lounging on the steps, Queen Victoria taking in the baths with hopes of staying fit and my beloved Jane Austen watching Bath’s crème de la crème gossip and laugh by the water’s edge.
Adjacent was The Pump Room. With its high ceilings and massive windows, the hall is every bit as gorgeous and grand as described in Austen’s “Northanger Abbey.” I enjoyed a late lunch of soup and salad at The Pump Room Restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and tea daily, all set to the music of the Pump Room Trio. No time for a meal? At least check out the fountain of Spa water in the Pump Room. For a few pence, you too can drink the waters that people once claimed kept them young.
In case you’re wondering, the fountain of youth tastes a bit metallic.
INFO: In the summer season, the museum and gift shop stay open until 10pm with last admission at 9pm. Admission to the museum is £11 (about $17) for adults and £7.50 (about $11.50).