The Gainsborough, Bath
Room type: Junior Suite
Duration: 30th September > 1st October
Booked with: AMEX FHR
I have eyed up The Gainsborough for a while. Not in some weird, perverted way, I swear. Having reached the top of my hotel hit list (yes, I really do have one) and seeing it heavily featured in the travel media over the last 12 months, the allure was growing. A 4 hour journey from Cambridge lures the mind into really contemplating just how keen I am on the idea; after all, I could go to the South of France via Stansted in less time. Then there’s the fact that to get to Bath takes me right past my natural habitat: Whatley Manor; that makes it risky that I’ll just jump ship at the last moment and go there instead. This time I was able to make an exception, as for reasons I cannot fathom, especially as they had an occupancy of 96%, they have a last-minute offer, whereby the room rate was only £184 (for the US travellers and now post-Brexit: about $10) for the night. Add in AMEX FHR benefits and suddenly with free dinner, free breakfast, an upgrade to a junior suite and 4pm checkout and the hotel probably lost money at me being here. High five! Unfortunately they were sold out on the Saturday night, so this would be a short trip. Low five.
Bath is a simple 90 minute train journey London; a highly affordable journey providing you get an off-peak train, or book months in advance. If you decide that you can only arrive in style and must book a First Class train ticket at the last minute, you could have probably just built your own hotel instead and still come out better off. Once at Bath station, the website says “5-10 minutes” walk and Apple Maps says 7 minutes. Lo and behold, it genuinely was only 7 minutes and seeing that there were over 20 people in the taxi queue and only 1 taxi, it seemed more prudent to just walk. The hotel can provide pick-up directly from the train platform, if required.
If you have ever visited Bath before, you will have a well established view of how this will look, as some so-called World Heritage organisation is pretty darn adamant of things staying as they are. The Gainsbourgh has taken two Grade II Listed buildings – both dormant for nearly 10 years – from the Victoria and Georgian era and combined them into an impressive building. There is no grand entrance to the hotel, but everything inside, from the reception to the hallways to the epic spa, all ooze in class. It is a great combination of modern design within the untouchable and remarkable building of the past.
87 rooms, 12 suites and one supremely small bathroom. I assumed The Goring was looking to get into the Guinness Book of Records for having the smallest bathroom in a 5 star hotel within England, but apparently not. No shower and just enough about Asprey toiletries to wash your hands the once with, The Gainsborough has rushed into the lead and may just win that coveted award after all. I cannot remember the last hotel I stayed in that had a shower within a bath, but I can remember the last time that I, 6ft 2″ tall, used one: never.
I would not wish upon my worst enemies the claustrophobia of staying in anything less than a junior suite, as that must be some human rights violation. Surely even prison cells are bigger? I was on the receiving end of a bargain for our stay, so cannot complain too much, but upon the few times I checked about coming to stay, it was not unusual to see rates upwards of £300/n for a base room. For a non-London hotel, that does not feel fair value to me. Bath, a city with a population not far north of 100,000, already has its fair share of luxury properties, such as the Royal Crescent and Bath Priory hotels, so I would have expected slightly more impressive entry level rooms.
Our junior suite, room #111, did not exactly inspire the senses with its design, but it came with everything you could ask for: comfortable bed, desk, wardrobes, impressive and almost over-the-top blackout blinds (we came back to the room at 10am after breakfast and couldn’t see a thing without turning the lights on), free mini bar with soft drinks, beer, and chocolates; light snacks of delicious strawberry flavour popcorn, TV with all the standard Freeview channels and Sky Sports and a Roberts radio. Apparently the bathrooms are underfloor heated, but this was just not to be for our room. Wifi is available for free throughout the entire hotel, including the spa. I was particularly happy with the LHW pre-arrival questionnaire, which allowed me to choose a pillow that mostly worked for me.
What cheapens the room is the need to put a card into a slot by the door for the electricity to work. This feels all too 1990s, which is a shame as I’m talking about a hotel that is a year old. It was made worse by the heating also being powered by the same system, so after a few hours outside of the room the temperature had dropped dramatically. Where The Gainsborough loses some points is that it is missing what so many other new hotels have incorporated as part of their in-room technology, where this is as simple an idea as USB charging points, proper lighting master switches or Apple TVs. They want to maintain the style, which is fine, but it is easy to blend the two.
You cannot really criticise a city hotel with 99 rooms that it does not offer much. You can hardly expect them to offer a casino and nightly performance of Phantom of the Opera. Whilst The Gainsborough has all the feeling of a boutique around it, it did offer enough to give me absolutely no reason to go elsewhere. During the evening, the lounge area was turned into a cocktail event, where a series of questions would lead to the answer of the drink of your dreams. The bar was lively; the restaurant had a good feel, even if it was not full and the hotel felt alive.
- The Gainsborough bar
- Canvas Room, a lounge area for drinks and afternoon tea.
Now it seems my obsession with writing these reviews has risen to a new level. With wanting to photograph the “Spa Village”, as they call it, and also never wanting to disturb people who are trying to relax, I decided to come early to take all the photos. Really early. 6:45am, to be precise. Setting my alarm for 6:45 on the weekend of a spa trip was not something I plan on repeating, but there is little more offputting than a man walking around the spa with a full camera kit snapping photos of the area, whilst you’re there in your undies. The point of any hotel focused around the spa is for relaxation, but obsession kicked in and put that to one side.
The Gainsborough Bath Spa offers the only natural thermal spa within a hotel in the United Kingdom. That’s what the website says, anyway. I’ve no idea what that actually means or if I’m meant to be impressed, but I’ll take it and rub it in the face of everyone I meet, as some superior experience that I can now shout about. Apparently it means they own the nearby natural water supply, so I can only conclude that they are the worlds first anti-water charity, who takes all the water for themselves and mock you when you dehydrate elsewhere. I imagine they have some slick social media campaign manager who has identified areas with drought that he must regularly mock inhabitants.
The area, whilst not large, offers basically my dream list of what a spa should: warm water and lots of it.
- 35C main pool, which contains massage jets
- 35C private pool area
- 40C private pool area
- Sauna, steam room, ice room, infra-red sauna (yeah, me neither)
I was here for the spa; I was impressed by the spa, but for reasons I’m struggling to articulate, I did not love the spa. I think the main point comes down to privacy, as it was too crowded on arrival, although that did change. On the Friday evening there were upwards of 20 people there and it felt rather busy, but come the Saturday and it was a different story and almost empty. Maybe they had all found eternal youth and moved on? Even if there were few people there, the main pool is almost a spectacle, with the loungers and bar above over looking it and even hotel rooms and hallways within the hotel being able to see into it. Whilst they offer 2 private pools, they are enclosed within a small area with no views or massage jets to keep you occupied, so it can quickly become boring.
It did not have the same relaxation feeling as the nearby Whatley Manor or Lucknam Park, although it clearly offers something special. The architecture and design is beautiful, but it is not somewhere I felt I could spend the day, more like somewhere that I was able to waste away for a few hours. Compare it Whatley Manor, whereby you can lounge around and walk about 5 yards to get some food, all whilst in your rob; to The Gainsborough, where you would need to go get dressed and walk to the restaurant on the other side of the hotel. They of course would have been heavily restricted in changing the building, but it still feels a shame that the loungers are up a level, away from the pool, and rather uncomfortable too. It’s not somewhere I would want to spend anytime.
Then there’s the fact that the main pool had 50% of its main massage jets not working, which is a shame for any hotel, but especially a new one. Each of the 2 small, more private, pools have a shower beside them, but they are not enclosed, so if someone is using them then you’re going to get rudely awaken by it.
The Gainsborough is an excellent city hotel spa; it offers all the facilities of a luxury resort, but does not offer the same feeling as one.
Seeing that the hotel even has the word “spa” in its name, you may summarise, as I did, that no one did anything but go to the spa. Yet on the Saturday it was more like a ghost town, than a spa village, as there must have been no more than 5 people there in a 3 hour period. So too the restaurant found itself looking a little sparse. To repeat, they were 96% occupied on the Friday night and fully booked on the Saturday, so Bath must have something incredible within it that convinced everyone to go out during the rain and avoid the hotel. They could have been handing out free iPhones and you wouldn’t have got me away from the spa.
Whilst booking we were asked immediately if there were any allergies, along with desired time of eating, which meant the kitchen could prepare everything in advance for our dinner. FHR includes a free meal, which actually results in the restaurant providing you a set menu. Sometimes this feels cheap and translates into whatever chef’s dog wouldn’t even eat, but not here. If you were to compare the prices of each dish to what it is on the a la carte offering, it would be around £55/pp and that would have certainly been very reasonable to pay for food of this quality.
Breakfast too was a delight, yet I was grateful that the £25 English breakfast that was perhaps 3 mouthfuls came included in AMEX. The breakfast is by definition free Continental, but we were not charged for our English breakfast or our vast pillaging of the buffet.
The only disappointment was that lunch was almost a replica of dinner, yet with chicken instead of lamb and only 3 choices per starter/main/dessert.
After dinner, breakfast and lunch, I would not go away dancing in the streets over how good it was, but I was certainly happy with everything they offered and would make no arrangements to eat anywhere else if we stayed again in future. It was very good, especially for English hotel standards. My list of connections also continued to grow, as we spotted the ex-manager of Alimentum, a Cambridge Michelin star restaurant that we frequent, was the restaurant manager.
It is hard to fault somewhere when you are only there for 24 hours, but that has not stopped me before.
Whilst having to stretch for some ideas of what was wrong, the only improvements I could offer would be to remove the requirement to sign for everything, especially when FHR makes so many things free. Why sign for a free breakfast? I will complain about this until the end of my days. Drinks would also sometimes go empty for slightly too long, with that extra detail of noticing an empty glass not acted upon. I found myself waiting for almost an hour to receive a drink in their lounge in the morning, but it was clear that this was not setup for breakfast and if I really wanted something I could have just walked somewhere and asked. I did not however want breakfast, so wanted to find somewhere to be whilst waiting for my partner to wake up. But I’m really scrapping the barrel here to find something negative to say.
- Our clothes were hung up in the wardrobes during turndown service.
- Turndown note/gift was provided, including the rather useful weather indicator for the next day.
- House keeping delivered the dental kits and conditioner within just a few minutes of calling.
- Very friendly spa attendants, providing full tours and information on the facilities
- The GM, Brian Benson, was an absolute delight. He greeted me by name on arrival, spoke to me extensively about the hotel, was very keen on feedback and could not have been more helpful, even to the point of insisting he carries our bags for us on departure. I even got some free Gainsborough mints to take with me. I’m feeling this strange sense of over importance when staying in hotels now; it might just be time to become a cult leader with my new found ego.
For such a young workforce, they have managed to find those that take this seriously and want to offer a great guest experience.
Go here with a deal and you will not leave disappointed. Either book with AMEX or look out for their many deals they advertise on the website. The last minute deal was just by looking at their website 2 days before our arrival date.
- A real vision of architecture to create this hotel
- The room size is not adequate, so a suite would be the minimum room type you should look into.
- 10 minutes after departure I immediately had a headache – I cannot handle this non-oraganic non-magic liquid life anymore.
- I already look 20 years younger from all the thermal water. Yes, I was able to buy a childs ticket on the train for the journey home.
- Service that punches above their weight.
What’s not to like? A great hard product; great food; great spa; great GM and great location. In conclusion: I definitely need a thesaurus. It does not have the same feel as one of the many excellent nearby countryside resorts, but as a city hotel it does an excellent and impressive job. The hype was indeed right: The Gainsborough was worth the journey. I would return, but I would rather try some of the other English spa resorts on my hotel list first. Here’s hoping the magic pixie water blesses me and continues to make me look 35 years younger.