Let’s face it. Traveling can be tiring. Packing and unpacking. Planes, cars, trains. Walking around a new city or town every day. It can all be exhausting.
Luckily, Tuscany offers a solution: Take a Spa Day!
The hilly geography of Tuscany has given birth to a plethora of caves and hot springs that – along with some complementary pampering — offer a wide range of natural nurturing. So, if jet lag or sightseeing fatigue is slowing you down, check out one of these delightful destinations for a well-deserved recharge.
Starting in northwest Tuscany and going southeast…
Part of the Province of Lucca, the thermal springs here were visited by the Etruscans and Romans. In the first part of the 19th century, Bagni (pronounced bahn-yee) became the summer home of the court of Napoleon and his sister Elisa Baciocchi. Back then, they opened the first casino in Europe. From the earliest years on, the town was a hot spot of sorts for famous poets (Dante), writers (Browning), musicians (Puccini) and rulers.
Today, perhaps partly due to Covid, the springs and spa are not as trendy as they once were. The area is beautiful but quiet — more visited by hikers and cyclists than spa-goers. A recent note on the Hotel Terme Bagni di Lucca said that while the thermal pool was open the spa “remains closed.” Check the website before you make the trip.
If you do decide to drive up there, though, plan a stop in Borgo a Mozzano where you’ll find the Ponte della Maddelena, or “Devil’s Bridge.” It was built in the 12th century and is truly one of the most elegant structures I’ve ever seen.
Let me first say that, today, Grotta Giusti – just southwest of Florence — is a 5-star resort. When I first went there, about 15 years ago, it wasn’t. It was nice and all, just… interesting.
After we’d chosen our services, we were given bath robes to change into. We first went into the different levels of the thermal grotto – a series of underground caves. As we went deeper, it got hotter, so the different levels were appropriately named Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. Clever. And the hot, steamy air did wonders for my muscles and pores. The Cave Pool was magical, with crystal clear water that wrapped around the natural stone walls of the cave.
I got a massage, which was nice, but I also signed up for “hydrotherapy,” which I imagined would be a whirlpool tub of some sort.
Not so much.
I was called into a large room, relinquished of my robe and told to stand against a stone wall. At that point, a woman – who I affectionately nicknamed Helga – turned a firehose-type stream of water on me aimed at all my fatty bits. I jumped around a lot and finally understood that I was to hold my cellulite in the stream of water as it “water-bombed” the stubborn fat out of my body.
Like I said, interesting.
When I put by bathrobe back on and went out of the room, my friend Will was next in line. He asked me how it was. I smiled and said, “You’re gonna love it.”
I can only assume that in the intervening years, several things at the Grotta Giusti have changed. In 2022, it was named World’s Best Thermal Grotto Spa, and is now part of the Marriott International Autograph Collection. The grotto is still there, as well as the enchanting cave pool. I sort of secretly wish Helga was still there, but I doubt it. Still, I long to go back!
I could go on about all the goodies that are part of the Grotta Giusti experience now, but just peruse the website and you’ll get the idea. It looks fabulous in every way and as soon as I get a chance I will be making my reservations.
Like many other healing water sources in the Tuscany hills, Montecatini has been popular for its hot springs since the time of the Romans. Located just west of Florence, this lovely town has three spa buildings that each specializes in a different type of treatment.
Terme Tettuccio — first built in 1779 and renovated in 1928 — is a beautiful, marble-encased building with columns and architectural flourishes. It’s what they call a “drinking spa” but don’t start thinking “cocktail hour” — the drink they feature is thermal mineral water. There are four taps that each dispenses a unique straight-from-the-springs H2O containing minerals to treat different conditions.
Terme Excelsior is one of the spas my friend and I visited when we were there. Also a beautiful, historic building with arches and a lush garden out front, this is where you can get more traditional spa treatments like massages and mud treatments. We did facials and they were excellent.
The Redi Thermal Complex is the “newest” building, constructed in 1960. It is the center of Montecatini’s thermal baths and offers treatments like inhalation therapy, ionized baths and more. We did the hydro-massage and a dip in the thermal bath and came out feeling brand new!
Once you’re done indulging your spa sensibilities, make time to take the bright red funicular tram up the hill to Montecatini Alto, which means “High” Montecatini. It’s a charming, mostly medieval town that was a fortress in the time of the Medicis. The village now features several shops and lots of restaurants. We had a delicious light lunch at W.O.W. which had outdoor dining and offers spectacular views of the valley below.
Rapolano is an historic town in the Crete Senesi, the gorgeous countryside southeast of Siena. Well known for the travertine marble that is mined there, it is also the home of the Rapolano thermal springs, which serve as the water source for two different spas that you can visit. Experts at each location can help you find the perfect series of treatments for your particular needs.
Luxurious in every way, the complex itself was built here in 1864. While the water emerges from the ground at around 40 degrees centigrade, 104 degrees fahrenheit, the different pools at the spa maintain water at varying temperatures so you can pick the one that feels best to you. Soaking in the water – which contains calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium – is said to be an ideal treatment for ailments like arthritis, rheumatism and certain skin conditions. Accommodations in the area offer special deals to spa guests. See the website for details.
This facility has a hotel for overnight stays, but it also offers a “day hotel” package which includes access to the hotel pool, relaxation area, and the Thermal Park pool. You also get lunch or dinner and a “Pool Kit” (beach robe, beach towel and flip flops). Additional treatments include a variety of massages, facials, mud baths and more. And after a few “tough” days of Tuscan sightseeing, any and all of that sounds simply delightful.
There are several other spas and springs in Tuscany, a few being Terme di Saturnia, Chianciano Terme and San Casciano dei Bagni. Depending on where you are, how mobile you can be and how much time you have, it’s likely you can find one that will provide the holistic healing and resplendent relaxation you want and deserve.