No sojourn in Italy is complete without spending a few decadent days at the country’s most pampering wellness locales. From a soak in the healing thermal waters and anti-aging muds of Veneto to luxurious treatments inside an erstwhile wine cellar in Tuscany, experience the spa world’s “dolce vita” at two of Italy’s most celebrated five-star hotels.
“I have always belonged to the mud,” Chiara Borile explains as we sip an aperitivo of local white wine. We sit at the property her parents built in Abano Terme surrounding the Euganean Hills, a top European wellness destination in northern Italy that has attracted hedonists since ancient Roman times.
I’ve come to the five-star Abano Grand Hotel, a garden-fringed oasis some 30 miles west of Venice’s famed canals, for two days of intense beauty and thermal therapy. Chiara is giving me an education on the healing appeal of this place, steeped in mineral-rich muds and thermal waters. It’s a spot she’s always called home.
It was her father Aldo Borile who pioneered a new generation of spa culture in Italy in the 1970s. He brought special pumps engineered in Germany to Abano Terme to harness the thermal spring waters and healing muds lauded for their beneficial health effects.
In the years since Borile established a modern way to tap into the area’s natural resources, hundreds of spa hotels have opened in Abano Terme. Abano Grand Hotel is the finest of them all, with its 26,000 square-foot world-class Anti-Aging Thermal Spa featuring thermal pools, a steam grotto, Finnish sauna and an aqua gym, in addition to the renowned medically sanctioned spa mud farm.
Abano Terme owes its place on the world’s wellness map to mineral-rich pluvial waters that flow here from far away, Chiara explains. Rainfall in the foothills of the Alps makes a subterranean journey across hundreds of miles and at extreme depths before emerging in the Euganean Hills at a scorching 188 degrees Fahrenheit. Along the way, the waters are enriched with silica and other minerals such as iodine and bromide.
The force with which the water rises to the earth’s surface heats it and enhances the healing effects, says Chiara. The thermal waters are cooled to a suitable swimming temperature before being pumped into the Abano Grand’s outdoor swimming pool and used in the various healing treatments offered on site, the most popular involving application of algae-rich mud infused with anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties.
I tell Chiara I’m game to try this fango (Italian for mud) treatment, and the next morning I’m brought to a thick bed of mud spread across a treatment table in a tiled room on the hotel’s ground floor.
Enriched with algae grown in the hotel’s special maturation tanks, the fango has various healing benefits, from anti-inflammatory effects on tired joints to cell-renewal stimulation. My spa therapist wraps me in towels once I’m on my back in the warm mud. There, I rest mummy-like for the 15-minute treatment. He checks back repeatedly to make sure I’m handling the warmth okay and to place cooling towels on my neck and forehead to ensure comfort. Then, I’m ushered into a tiled bathtub full of thermal water for the final infusing effect. When I emerge, my skin is baby soft. The natural minerals are already starting to work their soothing magic, and I feel like I’m glowing from the inside.
Although taking the mud and thermal waters is the main lure at Abano Grand Hotel, the spa’s extensive menu offers other luxurious treatments, including week-long anti-aging regimens and programs to target arthritis pain.
I opt for the spa’s Bacchus Therapy, an indulgent two-hour treatment consisting of an exfoliating body scrub made from red grape-seed fruit and a layer of foamy mud blended with grape gel rich in polyphenols that stimulate the production of collagen and elastin. The scrub is followed by a vitamin-regenerating massage with resveratrol, an antioxidant derived from red wine. For an equally indulgent facial, I choose the GB Luxury Hematite Facial, a treatment infused with iridescent black hematite crystals and oxygen-rich soy sprout extracts. Paired with Abano’s thermal waters, it leaves a magical effect on my skin that’s both radiant and firm.
As if the pure indulgence of the spa treatments weren’t enough to make you feel in top form, the Abano Grand Hotel naturally spoils guests with the finest Italian gastronomy. At lunchtime, I find myself with other guests taking lunch at the poolside Restaurant Etoile in a most decadent manner. Clad in my bathrobe, I dine on a healthy spread of antipasti and Italian specialties, including succulent salt marsh lamb.
Extracting myself from the Abano Grand Hotel’s perfect blend of full-body pampering proves to be the most trying task of my stay, but it’s for the good cause of discovering another Italian spa.
I leave my robe behind and board a west-bound train from nearby Padua for a two-hour ride to Florence through small villages and fields of sunflowers. Upon my arrival, a driver from Castello di Casole takes me into the rolling hills outside the hilltop town of Casole d’Elsa in Tuscany.
Castello di Casole consists of an exquisite boutique hotel with 41 suites and a collection of grand villas spreading across 1,200 acres of vineyards and olive groves. The property was once home to a noble family from Siena. Now a Timbers Resort, the all-suite hotel is one of Tuscany’s finest properties and has been lauded as one of the top luxury hotels in the world by such publications as Conde Nast Traveler.
As I sip a welcome glass of Prosecco in the hotel’s Bar Visconti and gaze at the undulating hills rising just beyond the sprawling outdoor infinity pool, it’s easy to understand how the hotel has earned its prestigious accolades.
Hand-hewn wood-beamed ceilings and rich Carrara marble decorate the main building, but I’m staying just down the hill in the more private Oliveto suites. My enormous accommodation feels like a penthouse apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows affording spectacular views from indoors.
The first thing I do is slide open the doors to let Tuscany’s golden sunlight stream in and, along with it, the scent of wild mint, lavender and sage. The cool travertine floors and seamless transition from interior space to private porch shaded with a pergola are pure bliss.
There’s a wellness factor in simply being here, and the detoxing effects come from soaking up the wide spaces and inhaling the freshest air. Castello di Casole also happens to be home to what is possibly Italy’s most atmospheric spa. Before the following day’s treatment, I indulge in a savory seafood feast at the property’s Ristorante Tosca, where line-caught fish from the Mediterranean and organic produce from the onsite gardens are on the menu.
The sommelier surprises me with a wine from nearby Chianti made from 100 percent Viognier grapes at La Petraia, a vineyard property owned by an English couple who decamped to Italy. “They’ve only released their white wine so far,” explains the sommelier. “They’re waiting till their red is perfected for debut.”
The Essere Spa (essere means “to be” in Italian) has made the most of just “being.” The Essere Spa is situated within the vaulted-ceiling surrounds of the estate’s former wine cellar. As I descend into the cool, candle-lit lower level from the welcome area, I admire a museum-like display of ancient jars and artifacts recovered during excavations in the surrounding hillsides.
The spa has separate relaxation spaces for men and women, each with a steam room, hot soaking pool and lounge area. Local ingredients such as rosemary, citrus, grape seeds and olive oil are incorporated into many of the treatments.
I’m bound for the most luxurious treatment space, the couples’ therapy room, a high-ceiling chamber with a deep-soaking tub, twin treatment tables and an open shower with a rainhead.
My two-and-a-half-hour Lusso treatment starts on a high note, with a flute of Prosecco proffered alongside a tub overflowing with rose petals and infused with hydrating jojoba oil. After 15 minutes of soaking it all in, I lazily lift myself out and settle onto a dedicated table to await the massage and facial.
The treatment starts with the mildly exfoliating application of a body polish made with micronized mother of pearl and champagne extract lauded for its anti-aging properties. My spa therapist works into my muscles a rich honey-like product made of grape-seed extract and caviar. She spritzes my skin with marine water, rendering the mixture into a kind of body milk that creates a moisturizing layer with benefits I swear I’ll feel for days to come. The treatment tapers to a finish with a facial and vitamin C mask with a cooling effect that strikes a perfect balance between stimulating and soothing.
When I finally emerge from the former wine cellar, it’s into the golden light of another Italian sunset. The beauty around me feels comfortingly familiar, and yet I feel exotic—renewed, revitalized and utterly relaxed.
Take a look at the rest of the photos from the Abano Grand Hotel and Castello di Casole below (and click on them to make them bigger!)
Image Credits: Courtesy of the Abano Grand Hotel & Castello di Casole