Instead of lining Amazon’s pockets this year, why not let a spa take the sting out of Christmas shopping? There are some incredible spas in urban locations where the Christmas decorations will be twinkling, the mulled wine warm and the therapists’ hands just what the doctor ordered. You might even be able to take a spin on an ice rink or mooch around a festive market before heading for a present-hauling massage or a pavement-pounding foot rub. Don’t forget the spa lunch with a glass of something bubbly – it is Christmas…
The city: Bath
Credit: Visit Bath
Fewer cities lend themselves better to shopping and spa-ing than Bath, with its natural waters, honey-hued historic buildings (including both an Abbey and a Cathedral, greedy), and compact, cultural heart. Food and drink play just as big a part here as museums, galleries, festivals and parks; you won’t find streets dominated by chain stores either, with more independent shops than you can wiggle an original gift at. Don’t miss the Artisan Maker’s Market at Bath Abbey Quarter - selling everything from blankets and cheese to Christmas decorations and jewellery – or Bath on Ice, a festive ice rink in Royal Victoria Park.
Not only are the waters at Thermae Bath Spa the only natural springs in the UK that you can bathe in but the view from the rooftop pool is second to none – take an evening dip to see the Cathedral bathed in natural light; an absolute must for spa-going city lovers. The building itself is a story of two halves: Cross Bath, where the natural springs rise to the surface, and New Royal Bath, with its hydrotherapy pool, steam rooms, sauna, ice chamber and 24 treatment rooms. Head-to-toe pampering begins with a range of facials and ends with some well-thought-out signature treatments.
The city: London
The best piece of advice we can give you when shopping in London is to swerve Oxford Street (are you mad?) and pour you love into the smaller markets. Spitalfields, Broadway Market and Columbia Road Flower Market are all east of the centre, with fewer tourists to trip over and a host of things to buy. Foodie friends will be well catered for at Broadway Market (pictured above) with its daily stalls selling cheese, fish, truffles and wines; for something more unusual, head to London’s oldest market, Spitalfields, where 100 makers sell everything from dog clothes to chunky leather belts. Time your visit on a Wednesday and enjoy Christmas carols at Columbia Road Flower Market until 22 December.
The spa: Montcalm East
The new Montcalm East, a short walk from Columbia Road Flower Market, isn’t just striking in its diamond-shaped design but is a creative space where you can develop and print your own snaps. Cameras at the ready for city views from all 288 light-filled rooms, some with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing more of the capital. After a day pounding London’s streets, the crackling fire in the double-height lobby is as warm and welcoming as the hotel’s Moor + Mead bar and restaurant, the reading room and the spa with its lap pool, tech-savvy gym, steam room, and menu of facials, massages and scrubs.
The city: Manchester
Manchester has had its fair share of rotten luck over the years but nothing can stop this cosmopolitan city from shining. From the shimmer of the River Irwell at night to the reflective glass housing art galleries, grand hotels, gastronomic gems and designer shops, this Northern star rises time and time again. You can really go for broke in Manchester, too, with designer shops, department stores, indoor areas like The Trafford Centre (pictured above) and market stalls selling everything from the usual to the unusual. The city also celebrates Christmas with gusto; the market at Piccadilly Gardens is as central as it is festive.
Doormen in top hats and tails have opened the doors of The Midland to royalty, political leaders, sportsmen and rock stars in their time. A multi-million-pound refurbishment, two critically acclaimed restaurants, an award-winning Tea Room and a cosy basement spa await shoppers in need of some pampering. Swim in the nine-metre pool, pummel knotty shoulders away under a swan neck fountain, shun winter away in the steam room or crawl into a hanging tent in a relaxation room. After a day in the city, we recommend a pollution-busting Caudalie Facial or a Deep Tissues Massage.
The city: Gloucester
If you’ve only ever seen Gloucester on the big screen in the new Peter Rabbit movies, complete with James Corden as Peter, then you’re in for a treat… the streets really are that cobbled, the shops really that quaint and the Cathedral really that grand. Gloucester sits on the edge of the ever-so-pretty Cotswolds, too, giving it the full package. The old docklands area has grown in recent years to become a hub of industrial style living and working, with the much-loved Orchard Street Christmas Market bringing street food, artisan gifts and an open-air ice rink to the waterfront. You can even buy a real Christmas tree - so long as you can get it home.
Before you start flagging, flag down a cab and ask the driver to take you five minutes up the road to Hatherley Manor, a 17th century manor house set in 37 acres of Cotswold countryside. Cosy bedrooms, two restaurants – one with a woodburning stove - and a stylish, tranquil spa will soothe the soul. Clean lines, natural materials and large windows make The Spa at Hatherley Manor a nature-lover’s dream, with plenty to get round before enjoying a treatment. Swim laps in the pool with its garden views, relax in the vitality pool, warm up in the steam room (then cool down beside the ice fountain) and visit the Champagne bar before taking a snooze in the relaxation room.
The city: Harrogate
Surrounded by rolling Yorkshire countryside, the genteel cobbled streets of Harrogate – flanked by biscuit-coloured houses – are filled with independent outlets, tea shops (Bettys is a must), antiques emporiums and cosy pubs. Ripon Cathedral, Skipton Castle and The Royal Pump Room Museum – documenting the importance of mineral springs in the city - attract history-lovers; quirky gift-hunters should hunt out The Montpellier Quarter, an area of pedestrianised streets lined with 19th century buildings-turned art galleries, fashion outlets and restaurants. Got a vinyl-loving loved one? Put the needle on the record at Space Vintage and Retro, two floors of records and turntables.
Within pouring distance of Bettys tea house is the Majestic Hotel sitting – rather unusually for an urban spa - in eight acres of landscaped gardens. The Harrogate Spa has its own entrance making it ideal for day trippers. There’s a lot to experience so get here early - or plan an overnight stay. If time is tight, we recommend a swim in the 12.5 metre pool before warming up in the hot tub, steam room and sauna. More time on your hands? Get muddy in the Rasul, take a walk around the Zen Garden and order afternoon tea. Treatments come courtesy of spa powerhouses ESPA and Thalgo.