Top three spa resorts in Italy

Thu, 08/07/2008 - 10:40
Bliss is rolling in mud, inhaling smelly vapours and bathing in whey. Well, it is when it takes place in a marble-strewn spa by the beach or deep in the Italian countryside. Because the great draw of going to a spa in Italy is that—beyond the pampering and that hazy, lazy sense of abandonment that comes from a day of warm spring waters and massage—you get the views over vineyards and olive trees, the turquoise sea, and the wine. You are spoiled for choice across the length and breadth of Italy, but here are three of the best places to visit:

Hotel Terme di Saturnia, Saturnia, Tuscany

Off-white against the dull green of the sun-beaten countryside near Scansano, the walls of Saturnia stand like a fortress sheltering a precious treasure. And they do, except that the treasure here is a pool of olive-green water that smells of sulphur. It looks like an evil witch’s cauldron—but when you step out of it, skin glistening with the unctuous drops, it feels like a fairy godmother waved her wand and made you lighter and younger. Swimming in the warm pool is like moving in a sea of molasses, so laziness—slow gentle movements, or simply sitting against the walls—is perfectly justified. And if taking the waters is not enough, the hotel offers candle ritual massage, stone therapy, kesa hair massage and every other conceivable treatment to soothe the body, while the restaurants serve up Tuscan and other fresh Italian produce (the breakfast jams, all from local farms, are especially good). You could stay there for weeks and never leave the confines of the hotel—but you’d miss out on exhilarating walks among the olive groves and vineyards of Maremma, and the village trattorias with their hearty pasta with ragu, sausages and ruby red glasses of Morellino di Scansano.
The Hotel Terme di Saturnia (+39 0574 600 111, offers a choice of accommodation and individual treatments, or tailored weekend and weeklong packages.

Albergo della Regina Isabella, Ischia, Campania

Ischia is a place of sun-kissed shores, velvety ice creams—and mud. It lines the caves that pepper the island, and, once collected, is steeped for six months in the miraculous waters that spout out of the local mineral springs at a toasty 80C. In the unabashedly luxurious spa of the Albergo della Regina Isabella, a Dolce Vita beachside haven for Hollywood celebrities such as Clark Gable and Liz Taylor, your skin can then soak up the mineral nutrients the mud absorbed from the thermal waters, and emerge silky, toned and invigorated. That’s before you take the plunge in whichever of the resort’s four swimming pools takes your fancy—the hypothermal one, the thalassotherapy one, the one with purified sea water and the grandly named Sensual Revival, which brings together music, colour and aroma therapy. Your body can get manipulated, massaged, kneaded in dozens of ways—water shiatsu, cryotheraphy wraps, hydromassage among others—before you strut your newly lissom limbs along the hotel’s private beach. You can test your stamina with canoeing, aqua biking, circuit training. Or you can simply drag yourself to the poolside bar and undo all the good spa work with a martini, olives and the savoury morsels of the evening aperitivo overlooking the indigo sea.
L’Albergo della Regina Isabella (+39 081 994 322, offers holiday and wellbeing specials encompassing accommodation and treatments. Deep pockets may want to stay in the Royal suites, which have showers with sea or fresh water, and a private pool with spa bath. There is also an Imperial suite whose rate is, rather worryingly, on application.

Terme di Merano, Merano, Trentino Alto Adige

The sleek lines of a contemporary glass and steel cube. The perfume of roses. Waterlilies floating in a pond. And a health trail that takes in a thermal pool, hot and cold pools, a kneipp pool, an underground Turkish bath, waterfalls and power showers. Welcome to the Terme of Merano, set in a green bowl at the foot of the Alps, where Italy becomes Austria. A crisp climate and thermal waters turned the village of Merano into an elegant spa town back in the 19th century, when it attracted the European beau monde of the time—Richard Strauss, Franz Kafka and the Empress Sissi of Austria among others. The new Terme, designed by architect and Hall of Fame fellow Matteo Thun, bring together this tradition with a modern edge both in look—minimalist, glassy and yet respectful of the luxuriant landscape around it—and treatments. Imperial baths in whey remind of Empress Sissi’s favourites. Milk and honey baths in the style of ancient Romans leave your skin soft and moisturised. Or you can go local and plunge into South Tyrolean mountain hay (for fragrant relaxation), sand or sheep’s wool. You can even take naturally mildly radioactive waters—subject to a prior medical checkup—to cure allergies and respiratory conditions. But perhaps best of all are the bathe and drink combinations—herbal baths with herbal tea, grapeseed oil bath with grape juice and the most decadent one, where you soak up the wine inside and out by taking a wine bath while drinking a velvety glass of rich Italian red.
The Terme di Merano (+39 0473 252 000, are open daily from 9am to 10pm. Treatments are available from 9am to 7pm and need to be booked in advance. There is a hotel in the Terme complex and plenty of others in town, which offer massage and beauty treatments in addition to the many available at the Terme.

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