I was born in July under the sign of Cancer, daughter of the Moon but dependent on the Sun; water has always had a fascinating, irresistible and seductive power for me.
I would persistently live in the water if I could. And I’d swim for hours. Its flow and its noise are enough to make me feel better. And I admit to being an undisputed fan of the spa. As much as I underappreciated spas as a child, today I dream of having one at home for my daily breaks.
Spas in Italy are a ritual for many, a widespread habit.
From time immemorial an almost mystical place, considered a space of recovery for mind, body and spirit. From the ancient Romans to the present day, taking time for the spa means needing to regenerate and above all take care of yourself.
In the past the healing aspect and the thaumaturgical power of water revered to relieve joint pain, respiratory or skin problems were the main reasons for going to the spa, while today going it has become more of an opportunity to break away from the routine, a mini vacation.
Even the habits of the spa ritual has changed a lot. Over the years, the baths have become increasingly modern places, often located within futuristic architectural structures with luxury and highly instagrammable interiors.
But how is a classic spa day structured?
The baths in ancient Rome had several rooms that made up the course for the thermal baths: the calidarium, often preceded by the laconica (rooms full of steam: the Turkish baths of today), the frigidarium and the tepidarium.
The process consisted of a first immersion in the calidarium, a hot bath designed to dilate the pores of the skin to allow sweat and toxins to escape. The bather then went to the frigidarium, in order to tone the muscles and close the pores (today where possible you can for example dive into the snow!) and the tepidarium for a final relaxation.
Today, all this is accompanied by Kneipp paths, to stimulate circulation under the feet, waterfalls, pools with relaxing music or whirlpools. Hay baths and biosaunas, showers with chromotherapy … the variety of the offering compared to ancient times has been significantly enriched.
I remember that when I was little, my maternal grandfather spent several days in Tabiano Terme to treat his bronchial and lung problems. And at most he brought home as souvenirs bottles of water with the unmistakable “parfum” of rotten egg.
Likewise, my uncles gave themselves fifteen days in the month of May to go to Ischia, the island of Campania rich in springs of hyperthermal hot waters overlooking the sea.
In short, for me, the spa was something for “thirty-year-olds with 30 years more”. Certainly not a place for young people.
If a guy invited you to go to the spa, he passed for a bit of a loser, as the use he made of it was linked to medical and healing aspects, rather than a romantic, cool or pure pleasure moment.
But over time the so-called 2.0 spa, made up of relaxation and wellness, has become more and more a “must to do” even among younger people.
Italy is a country rich in thermal springs with truly unique views; from North to south.
Veneto, Campania and Tuscany are on the podium for spas with adjoining accommodation facilities truly equipped with every luxury and comfort.
My first time at the spa was in Saturnia, Tuscany in 2004 and like all the first times “you never forget!”
Legend has it that the Terme di Saturnia originated from a thunderbolt launched by the god Saturn against the crater of a volcano. What is certain is that the properties of its waters were known by the Romans and before that by the Etruscans, widely used in medieval times and still today they remain the undisputed destination of elite spa tourism in Italy.
I had yet turned 24, and my boyfriend at the time gave me a surprise Maremma weekend. Not knowing what to expect, I went to the spa at “that time of the month”. Quietly. Wearing a nice black one-piece swimsuit I nonchalantly entered the outdoor pool, which measures right around 40°C (104°F), and shortly after… I collapsed.
They had to drag me out and get me back with lukewarm drinks.
So women, be careful not to go to the spa in “those days”… definitely not a good idea.
The vasodilating power of hot waters has beneficial effects on toxins, skin, bronchi, etc. but certainly not on menstruation.
However, if, like me, you suffered the first pains in your back and joints and you were surprised to say “oppalalà” every time you get up, you will surely find a very valid and irreplaceable ally in the spa.
In Tuscany, in addition to the Terme di Saturnia, with adjoining the suggestive Cascate del Mulino – a complex of terraced limestone pools and waterfalls unique for the precious sulphurous water flows – I recommend a visit to Bagno Vignoni, in the province of Siena, full Val D’Orcia. Bagno Vignoni is truly unique: nowhere else in Italy will you find a swimming pool located in the central square of the town, full of hot thermal water. This Renaissance-era square was built exactly above the original source of water, which gushes out at a good 52°C (126°F!): it is the hottest in all of Tuscany. You cannot swim directly in this pool, but you can follow the thermal springs as they flow towards the area of the ancient mills where there are small free thermal lakes immersed in the Mediterranean scrub.
In Northern Italy, in Trentino Alto Adige, I recommend a trip to Merano: here the Terme Merano, located in a beautiful and futuristic Hotel Terme Merano in the center of the town, will leave you speechless. Merano was already one of the most health resorts in Europe in 1800 with Princess Sissi often attending. The Merano thermal baths, however, were only born during the Second World War when water containing radon, the so-called “Merano gold” with remarkable and incredible healing properties, was discovered near the town. Its 25 pools of thermal water and the various spa and wellness services make this center an unforgettable place, even for the little ones.
In Lombardy the QC Terme group manages San Pellegrino Terme and the spas of Bormio, with Bagni Nuovi and Bagni Vecchi (the beautiful primitive caves with warm waters and outdoor pool overlooking the Bormio basin here are not to be missed) as well as the Terme from Milan. The latter structure was built in Porta Romana, among the remains of the Spanish walls, and has a characteristic bio-sauna created inside an old tram, unique in the world.
Even in Sicily, the island of my heart, the possibilities of thermalism are many: for example, there are the Terme di Vulcano – in the Baia di Levante: pools of hyperthermal sulphurous waters in the open. Entrance to the spa is subject to a fee, and you can take advantage of both the thermal pools and the sulphurous baths in the sea, as well as the inhalations at the fumaroles. Those who are on the island of Pantelleria cannot fail to visit its thermal baths, such as the Benikulà cave or the source in the Specchio di Venere lake, an oval-shaped lake formed above the caldera of an extinct volcano fed from a hyperthermal spring (50 – 60°C) with deep Tiffany blue waters and pink beaches. Magical!
I visited the Terme di Acqua Pia in Montevago, a village in the heart of the Belice Valley, between Castelvetrano and Sciacca, which has thermal springs with hot and sulphurous waters set in ancient stone basins. Inside there are many waterfalls and a temperature that reaches 40°C; a simple and certainly not luxurious place which preserves the authenticity of the ancient spa places.
It is said that wellness and true beauty come from within. Holy Truth. But from within a certain spa even more.