Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Dipping Underground at a Tuscan Spa

This article also appears on our Italian Journal page.

Spaaaah. Just saying the word makes your shoulders relax, doesn't it? Now try Itaaaalian spaaah. Say it with me. Say it soft and it's almost like praying. So I went to the temple of my choice, Grotta Giusti Terme in the little town of Montesummano Terme, Tuscany.

In a country brimming with unique experiences, this one stands out. Its story begins over a century ago, when the Giusti family was getting rich in the mining industry. One day, digging workers discovered a cavity in the earth complete with stalactites and natural lakes. After realizing the water was thermal, the Giusti family said 'Addio' to mining and 'Ciao, Bella' to a hotel and spa. And I'm glad they did.

The underground cavity creates increasingly warmer temperatures and humidity as you progress along its different levels. The temperature at each level, however, remains constant. The levels are identified in a journey-through-the-afterlife fashion: Paradiso, Purgatorio and naturalmente, Inferno. Even Limbo is represented by a lake that keeps a constant, pleasant temperature. The cavities are well lit and there are pathways rimmed with railings for easy walking. Chairs and chaise lounges are set up at certain points along the way, inviting you to settle in where the temperature suits you best.

As I walked through the cavities, I was wearing the white terry robe and disposable slippers issued by the spa to all of their guests. I could have also wrapped my hair in a towel, but I decided to brave the elements. And of course, I had my bottle of water. The first level was Paradiso, with Limbo off to the right. It was only slightly warmer than the spa hallway. As I walked down the pathway into Purgatorio, I could feel the heat & humidity mildly increasing. Some people stop here, but I had to see what Inferno was like. I can tell you it has very little to do with Dante's version. Here, although it was very hot with very high humidity, the breathing was easy. Somehow, the air is circulating down there.

Anyway, that's where I got comfortable in a lounge chair and closed my eyes. It was quiet and other-worldly. There was a sense of being closer to the core of the Earth than ever before. I considered becoming a Hobbit. After a while though, the heat got a little heavy. I slowly got up and made my way to Purgatorio, where I transitioned to cooler air in another lounge chair. After that it was on to Paradiso, but not without a stop beside Limbo's natural reflecting pool. Oddly, it did make me feel suspended in time.

Once I slowly emerged from Paradiso to the hallway of the spa, it was time for a full body massage followed by an aromatherapy facial. Although I've had such treatments before at other spas, having them after a sojourn to the underworld left me more relaxed and receptive to the benefits of the treatments. I was also very hungry. I had a leisurely lunch outside at the spa cafe. Because the spa is located in the middle of a park, it's quiet, relaxing and full of trees, grass, birds and sky.

In addition to being a distinctive day spa, you can spend days of pampering at the Grotta Giusti hotel. Enjoy the swirling thermal waters of the pool or play 18 holes of golf. You may never want to leave. A luxury hotel is attached to the spa for those who wish to prolong the ecstasy. Rumor has it that Michael Douglas has been among their guests. The treatment menu and programs are extensive and varied, from traditional Italian approaches to Ayurveda.

All in all you'll love it, whichever ring of Dante's Inferno you happen to be on.

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