Georgian England. Those words conjure up a scene from Jane Austen, with elegantly-dressed ladies taking tea or promenading along sweeping Regency terraces, hoping to catch the eye of a ‘single man in possession of a good fortune’. It was the era of spa towns and pleasure gardens, powdered wigs and smelling salts, all presided over by a strict code of morality and etiquette.
Bath might be the best known of the Georgian spa towns today, but when King George III was on the throne, Buxton Spa in the beautiful, rolling hills of Derbyshire was the favoured retreat of well-to-do pleasure-seekers. And, from 1789, they had the perfect place to stay.
In that year, Buxton Crescent – one of the most architecturally significant buildings in the country – was completed. It was built by the fifth Duke of Devonshire (husband of the celebrated Georgiana) as a centrepiece to establish Buxton as a fashionable Georgian spa town, edging out its rival Bath. Designed by John Carr of York, it originally housed two of the earliest grand hotels in England: the St Ann’s Hotel and the Great Hotel, as well as a number of lodging houses. The Crescent was soon established as the premier resting place for stylish spa seekers who came from all over the country to bathe in the thermal waters of Buxton.
After various different uses during the 20th century – including a hospital, library, council offices and a hotel – parts of the Crescent fell into disrepair and the building closed to the public in 1992.
But, thanks to a multi-million pound renovation programme, the Crescent and its baths have been lovingly restored to their former Georgian glory and now form a stunning 21st century spa hotel. This features many historical features, notably the Duke of Devonshire’s original sweeping grand staircase and a jaw-droppingly beautiful ballroom, complete with sculpted, painted ceiling and chandeliers.
The Ensana Spa is just as faithful to its Georgian origins and offers a wide range of traditional treatments, including a salt cave and, of course, several thermal pools filled with those all-important healing waters. A feeling of calm overcomes you as soon as you enter its cavernous depths. For the more energetic, there is a fitness studio and gym, and an ice fountain to enervate your tired muscles.
Neither is the stomach neglected. A tastefully decorated restaurant provides ‘classic British cuisine with an international flair’. We feasted on Severn and Wye Valley smoked salmon with lemons, capers and pickled shallots and Oxtail Roulade to start, followed by seared cod fillet with cauliflower arancini, samphire and fennel, and cannon of English lamb with baby root vegetables for mains. We just about found room to share a crème brûlée for dessert (it would have been rude not to) before retiring to the gorgeously-appointed bar area for a nightcap.
There was a well-stocked breakfast buffet the following morning, with freshly-made smoothies, fruits, yoghurts and cereals, and a delectable selection of cooked dishes made to order.
After feasting so heartily, you might be worried about falling prey to that scourge of Georgian England: gout. But fear not. With the stunning Peak District on the doorstep, there are bracing walks a-plenty – at the end of which you can return to soak those aching feet in the thermal baths.
By the end of our stay, we felt rested, energised…and ready for the carriage ride back to London.
For further details of the Ensana Buxton Crescent Hotel & Spa, and to book, visit: