Beloved for its wines, art, and pastoral beauty, Italy’s most celebrated region is also a refuge for those in search of a little spa harmony.
A cloudless sky stretches languidly into the late spring dusk, revealing a staggered line of terra-cotta roofs and elegant steeples fading into the distance, their outlines growing blurred in the tawny light. To one side, orderly rows of olive trees climb a sloping hillside, their branches drooping slightly, heavy with swelling fruit. This single view seems, somehow, to encapsulate all of Tuscany ripe, fragrant, and peacefully in balance.
Located in central Italy, Tuscany is rich in history and culture. Along the region’s western border, the deep blue Mediterranean forms a coastline dominated by the mountainous slopes of the Alpi Apuane and the Colline Metallifere (the “metal hills”). To the east lies the region of Umbria. In between, lay the illustrious cities of Florence, Siena, Pisa, San Gimignana, Chianti, and Cortona destinations for admirers of art, architecture, exceptional dining, and fine wines. For centuries, poets and lovers have whispered and sung Tuscany’s praises. Today, it’s a place for both dreamers and those in search of well-being.
Close to the museums and chapels of Chuisi on Tuscany’s eastern edge, the spa town of Chianciano Terme is home to Spa’Deus, a destination spa resort that’s earned a worldwide reputation as a luxurious getaway with an intense focus on health, fitness, and weight loss. Established in the late 1980s by European beauty and health icon Christina Newburgh, Spa’Deus embraces the best health practices of traditions and cultures from around the world, and the amount of space devoted to fitness and spa services is enormous.
Newburgh markets the property to European travelers as a “California-style” spa, meaning that instead of just featuring water spa therapies, guests can also take part in a variety of fitness options, including daily hikes, Nia, yoga, Tai Chi, Gyrotonics, and climbing. There’s also Brazilian Capoeira, which blends dance with moves from martial arts, as well as Pilates with genuine Reformers and underwater Spinning classes that take place on bikes affixed to the bottom of the spa’s Olympic-size pool. The Italian custom of riposo, a long afternoon break for napping or relaxing, is definitely not part of the schedule here.
Meals are low-calorie and highly nutritious, and guests are encouraged to snack throughout the day from scattered trays of fresh fruits and vegetables. In the evenings (after dinner), lectures on healthy living are offered, with days ending in the main lounge area with guests singing together, often in a variety of languages. Before heading off to bed, mugs of warm milk infused with cinnamon are served a treat believed by Newburgh to guarantee sweet dreams. The food was very satisfying, and during my three days here, I managed to successfully resist the siren call emanating from the legions of gelato stands that lie in wait outside the safety of the resort (the shoe shops were another matter, but I hesitate to reveal how easily I’m seduced by the angle of an arch).
Borgo la Bagnaia
Near Siena and a mere dozen or so miles west of Chianciano Terme, the sprawling estate of Borgo la Bagnaia complete with a magnificent manor house-turned hotel, ancient church, and entire medieval village has been fully converted into a private spa resort. Close to the renowned thermal center of Filetta, Borgo la Bagnaia has become something of a playground for Europe’s elite, with prestigious equestrian events held on the extensive grounds, and an exotic wellness center staffed with skilled therapists from throughout Eastern Europe.
The Buddha Spa, where Comfort Zone products are featured, is housed a short distance from the village in a separate complex. A tranquil pool is the centerpiece, while long corridors stretch discreetly from either end, each leading to a series of treatment rooms where therapies from India and Asia are administered. Outside the arched exit from the indoor pool is a relaxing outdoor soaking area with a splashing waterfall.
The estate’s main building, La Bagnaia, has been decorated and furnished with rare antiques from the owner’s private collection. Each room is different, but vaulted ceilings, extensive bathrooms, and plush sitting rooms are standard. Dining downstairs at La Voliera is a leisurely affair, with multiple courses and a stunning selection of local and regional wines. Fresh local produce, site-grown herbs, and seasonal fruits are mainstays, and the kitchen does some rather amazing things with very simple ingredients, such as the artisan cheeses and the fruits poached in wine offered as part of the dessert menu. It’s here at Borgo La Bagnaia that you’ll understand what the Italians mean when they speak of la dolce vita the sweet life.
Closer to the coast and near the rustic town of Scansano, the newly opened Antico Casale hotel and spa is becoming a popular destination for spa-goers looking for a more earthy, low-key vacation. Owned and lovingly run by a husband-and-wife team, the intimate property offers immersive themed vacations, including Sport & Well-being, Horses & Cooking, and Well-being & Cooking, all of which include sightseeing excursions into nearby towns.
As part of the equestrian vacation, each guest is assigned their own horse for the duration of their stay, leaving them free to enjoy the miles of trails and riding paths that lead into the nearby forests and hills. The cooking courses, taught by owner Laura Paoloni, focus on regional cuisine, with Paoloni teaching the secrets of preparing handmade tortelli and pappardelle pastas, and sweet favorites including pannacotta and tiramisu. Guests are also given an opportunity to learn about the subtleties of grappa, an Italian brandy that’s distilled from grapes leftover from the winemaking process.
While spa treatments are offered a la carte, structured programs built around the goals of detoxification, relaxation, and toning are also available on either a week-long or weekend basis. Daily schedules, tailored to each theme, include calidariums (saunas), laconicums (steam baths), scrubs, massages, and wraps.
The thermal springs that feed the village of Bagno Vignoni have been revered for their healing properties since the days of the Roman Empire, attracting both pilgrims and soldiers who traveled from as far away as Rome to drink the waters and soak in them.
Located adjacent to the village, about a half hour from Chuisi, the new Adler Thermae Spa & Wellness Resort is quickly becoming one of Europe’s hottest luxury destinations. Embracing the European tradition of “taking the waters,” Adler is built around a central, indoor thermal pool that extends outdoors, flowing beneath a footbridge. Both the indoor and outdoor perimeters of the pool are equipped with self-massage features. A tower in the center of the outdoor pool has an ever-changing selection of waterfalls that vary in water pressure, allowing guests to target the exact spot on their neck, shoulder, or back that needs attention. A medical doctor fully qualified in holistic therapies (including Bach Flower essences, homeopathy, and Ayurvedic medicine) is on staff and available daily for consultations.
Besides a comprehensive selection of massage and bodywork treatments, other healing elements include a thermal circuit of herbal steam baths, clay and mud baths, and saunas. A winding path of steppingstones leads over a stream through the spa, guiding guests from the thermal area to a multi-level wood and glass relaxation lounge, where you can rest on a water mattress or cushioned bed overlooking a separate pool. Beyond, a limestone cave has been converted to a salt-and-steam grotto, with a lounge area for resting beneath the stalactites. A second, underground grotto with a salt water float pool is reserved for couples in search of a little privacy.
Gourmet dining beneath a glass ceiling that opens to the sky is one of Adler’s signature features. Exquisitely prepared, five-course dinners are accompanied by some of Europe’s finest wines. The cheese selection alone is staggering, and sampling is encouraged. Eating well is a vital part of Adler’s approach to holistic well-being.
Terme di Saturnia Spa Resort
Near Tuscany’s southern border, the ancient village and pungent sulphur waters of Saturnia have long proven an irresistible lure to visitors. The centerpiece of the Terme di Saturnia Spa Resort is a 3,000-year-old thermal pool, where the waters remain at a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees. Guests congregate here and at the balneum (Roman bathhouse) to soak, with the understanding that socializing and taking the waters aren’t mutually exclusive activities.
The resort’s wellness program centers on a circuit of water treatments, including a sequence of progressively warmer soaks, steams and saunas interspersed with cold showers and a final, full-body application of crushed ice. Exposing the body to extremes of temperature challenges the nervous, circulatory, and cardiovascular systems, strengthening them in the process. A selection of massages and body treatments are offered to complement the water therapy.
Regional cuisine is featured in the resort’s restaurant, Villa Montepaldi. If you succumb to the variety of pasta dishes and Italian wines on the menu, there are tennis courts and a fully equipped gym located on site where you can burn off a few of the extra calories.
Grand Hotel & La Pace
Throughout Europe, the spa town of Montecatini Terme is recognized as one of the continent’s preeminent locales, and it is an easy drive from both Pisa and Florence. The Roman architecture bathhouses located within the central spa park are of splendid proportion, each offering a variety of thermal and mineral waters for sipping and bathing. A visit to the imposing Terme Excelsior, adorned with murals, frescos, columns, and pools, is highly recommended, if just to view the uniform-clad attendants who guard the long counters of faucets, ready to deliver a selection of healing waters.
Situated just on the edge of the park, within easy walking distance of both the spas and the downtown retail area, the historic Grand Hotel & La Pace is, in every sense of the word, marvelous. Elegant and refined, the hotel contains a private suite where the last king of Italy stayed on a regular basis. Other famous guests who have frequented the property include Rose Kennedy, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, and royalty from Arabia, Monaco, and Britain.
Grand Hotel & La Pace also has the distinction of being Italy’s very first center for health and wellness, which opened in 1975. Today, the Natural Health Centre offers a full range of spa treatments, with an emphasis on vinotherapy facials and massages dispensed to the accompaniment of Italian opera “only fitting, given that this is Tuscany. Yoga and Pilates, as well as classes in Broadway dance, salsa, and tribal dance are held regularly.
At the hotel’s signature restaurant, Michelangelo, dine on creatively prepared regional fare from a menu that takes great pride in game meats and locally produced fruits, vegetables, and cheeses. And don’t forget to look up between courses “the ceiling boasts a gloriously romantic Renaissance fresco.
Whether your goal is physical rejuvenation, sensory revitalization, mental relaxation, or simple capitulation to beauty, Tuscany remains unsurpassed as a destination. While you’re there, remember to embrace a lesson from the wise Italians and take the time to simply be present in each moment. You don’t want to miss the soft breezes and sweetly fragranced air, or the extraordinary way the sunlight seems to deepen to tones of gold by the end of the afternoon’s riposo.
And one last remark about those ubiquitous gelato stands: Consider yourself warned.
Tel. +39 0577 889 000
Antico Casale di Scansano
Tel. +39 0564 507 219
Grand Hotel & La Pace
Tel. +39 0572 9240
Terme di Saturnia Spa Resort
Tel. +39- 0564-600111