If you head down the hill from the famous Betty’s Tearoom, the tourist hub of Harrogate in north Yorkshire, you might be forgiven for walking straight past the sign for Harrogate’s Turkish baths. The unassuming exterior is at odds with Harrogate’s character, where well-kept, manicured public gardens flaunt some of the reasons why this was recently judged to be the UK’s happiest town; and whose elegant shop fronts lay out their upmarket wares in true blunt Yorkshire style.
To enter the baths, you have to walk down to the cellar of a 19th-Century building, and step through a modest door into a cool corridor. Once in the reception and cafe area, though, you get a sense of the place’s grandeur: the reception is set in a large, glass-ceilinged atrium furnished with brushed velvet chaise longues and artfully appliquéd cushions.
The Turkish baths were opened in 1897. The Moorish design of the rooms, with their Islamic arches, vibrant glazed brickwork and arabesque painted ceilings, would have been the pinnacle of the Victorian trend for exotic spas. The very best Italian experts were flown in to lay the terrazzo floors, and everything was finished to an exceedingly high standard. Harrogate’s Turkish baths are one of only three in the UK that date back to the 19th Century.
I visited the Turkish baths mid-week, on a Monday when the daytime sessions are women-only. It was the half-term school holidays, and the baths were uncharacteristically full: of pairs, and larger groups of women, talking about Christmas plans, their offspring, and work projects. I overheard a couple of writers discussing the Harrogate literary festival, which had just finished. The place had a relaxed, animated vibe, with the high vaulted ceilings enfolding the buzz of conversation, and the gasps of women as they braved the plunge pool.
As well as a separate steam room, the Turkish baths has rooms of four different temperatures, from the feet-blistering Laconium, to the Frigidarium relaxation room. The baths feel cosy and clean, from the immaculately glossy tiles to the dark, wood-panneled changing rooms and the elegant, old-school toilets with their ‘Thomas Crapper and Sons’ sign. If you prefer your Turkish baths to be scented, you won’t find it here; the only aroma I could decent through the nostril-scorching heat was a little tea tree oil, near the showers.
A three-hour session at the baths was enough to clear my head of the half-term fug; especially the cold plunge pool, which seemed to turn up the ‘sharpen’ dial inside my head. I can see why the Victorians swore by these baths as a cure for winter malaise. I left feeling fortified against the October chill, and the germy, bug-ridden children waiting for me back at home.
The health spa offers massages and other beauty treatments; you have to pre-book, then wait to be called through before, during or after your session in the baths. Prices vary for the spa sessions; two or three hours in the Turkish baths cost between £17.50 and £29.50, depending on the day. Opening hours are 9.30-21.00 during the week, and 9.00-20.30 at the weekend.
If you’d like to see more of Harrogate, I’ve posted 11 pictures here that will make you fall in love with the town. And here are our favourite things to do in and around Harrogate.
I was invited to try out Harrogate’s Turkish baths for the purpose of this post. All views are my own.
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