It is autumn in Tuscany so you’ll be expecting mist and there seems to be plenty of it above the outdoor pools of Hotel Adler Thermae. These are nothing to do with cloud, though, they are the steam rising from the thermal waters. The hotel is in Bagno Vignoni in Tuscany, in the middle of the Val d’Orcia national park. The clue is in the name. Since Etruscan times, this has been a place where people came to take the waters. It was very popular with the Romans and in the sixteenth century, an enormous tank was built in the centre of the village where a few Medicis and Pope Pius II among others have had a dunk.
So, like so many European spas, this one has an ancient history founded on the therapeutic powers of its waters. The pools at Adler Thermae are filled with this local thermal water (it comes out at a piping hot 36C) and its minerals including calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate and sulphate have beneficial effects on the bones, the joints and the skin; and, if you alternate with cool showers, it stimulates the immune system as well. There’s a small private pool with thermal water, too, where you can have an underwater massage (watsu).
But before I got started on the spa, I wanted to spend some time out in the glorious Tuscan countryside so I took the morning excursion (9am-3pm) to Montalcino, an exquisite hilltop town and a mecca for wine lovers. In fact, afterwards we were headed to the Podere le Ripi vineyard* where they produce wine that is not just organic but biodynamic – and totally delicious. The Adler has (free) excursions every day, some of which involve a drive, but there are walks and bike rides, too. And, given you’re in the middle of a national park, there are lots of walking and biking trails and you can use the hotel App and just take off on your own.
After my wine tasting, it was time for my facial down in the spa. And this is quite some spa, surrounded by beautiful views which is odd, really, because this hotel is built inside an old quarry. Of course, it’s not any old quarry. It’s travertine marble (Michelangelo used the stuff in St Peter’s in Rome) and you are most aware of it on the lower levels of the pools and spa. Here there’s a Philosopher’s Grotto complete with stalactites and a Turkish bath; there’s an olive press steam room where automated wooden buckets bring water for the hot coals and a performer wafts aromatherapy-infused ice cubes three times a day (there’s a queue for this every time). Both sit on an ornamental lake surrounded by the natural stone walls of the quarry.
Indoors, the spa is extensive with numerous steam and dry heat rooms of varying temperatures. Being Italian, everyone’s naked, of course. Just thought I’d mention it. And then of course there is the vast treatment area and here they have just about everything you can imagine. There are all the usual massages and beauty treatments, many of which use their own exclusive products, all organic and using local ingredients, but then there are some unusual ones, too. Haki, for instance, is for people who are stressed, have back pain or find it difficult to concentrate. This can take place in water or on dry land and is all about regaining balance. Tui Na is a Chinese massage targeted at the meridians. And, for couples, there’s the Bacchus Ritual which involves a lot of grapes (in the bath, in the scrub and then in the glass for a tasting). Only in Italy.
But back to my facial. So my therapist, Monica, and I spent some time looking at the various options and she then spent some time looking at my skin under a super-bright light. Given how I’d spent my morning, I was tending towards the one with the grapes and she agreed. The local red Sangiovese grapes have a variety of active ingredients, including the acid that is present in most fruits, and they’re used in a range of skin care products produced exclusively for Adler spas. So I lay back on the heated bed that rose under my knees and head to create a shape for perfect comfort.
We were off with a cleanse, tone and scrub (I swear I could smell the grapes in the scrub, my nose having become accustomed to the smell of the must that morning) and then Monica applied a serum and on top of that a massage cream. The massage itself was long and wide-ranging – not just on the face but the neck and the top of the chest, shoulders and arms. Then there was the mask, mixed by Monica and applied with a brush and I could feel it tightening almost immediately. While that was cooking, she gave me a great hand, arm and shoulder massage, then peeled off the mask (now solid) and I was more or less done. My skin, I have to say came pretty close to the “pure, radiant, youthful” skin that I’d been promised and had a real glow. Interestingly, it stayed that way over the next 48 hours, getting better if anything.
The daily newsletter at Adler Thermae is called Carpe Diem and, given I’m here for such a short time, I intend to do exactly that and make the most of my two and a half days. So back from the walk and wine tasting, and after my facial, I get changed and head for the stretch class. This turns out to be a very gentle end to the day and more relaxing than challenging. So I’m back in the same room at 8am next morning for yoga. Later, I do the Express Core (they have a 15 minute very focused class each morning) and a bit later still, the underwater bicycles. This is a bit of a challenge because it’s in the non-thermal pool and the water is definitely not 36C but once you start, you warm up – though I did warm up a bit more afterwards in the bath-hot indoor pool.
After lunch, I had an eyebrow session. This featured a brand called Sumita that specialises in eyebrows and eye make-up and I knew at the very least I’d be a challenge. Most people go along with too much brow that needs to be shaped. I was going with almost no brow and what was there was so fair as to be invisible. Laura, the therapist (whose brows were of course perfection) took one look and said “tattoo.” I felt this was a step too far. No? She shrugged and got to work with pencils, brushes, powders and – amazingly – tweezers. Surely, there was nothing to pluck. Afterwards I was unrecognisable. From invisible, my brows became brown, thick and with a pronounced arch. On someone else’s face, they would have been perfect. On me, they were fat caterpillars crawling across my brow. But it did show me that maybe if I did something a bit more subdued, a bit lighter, it might look quite good. But would I be prepared to spend the 15 minutes Laura took every morning just on achieving the correct eyebrow? Doubtful.
My last appointment of the day was in the aesthetic medical spa. Here, you can have a non-invasive facelift using threads (1000euros), various peels and acids and cryotherapy, a process whereby fat cells are frozen out from localised areas. This struck me as a brilliant idea, though I was not a little terrified. Would it hurt? I’ve read about pain during or after (as you thaw out). Come to that, would it work? The promise was to reduce the volume of fat in the treated area by up to 20%.
So I went along with not a little trepidation. The doctor applied a very cold, wet (gel to protect the skin) pad and then placed two enormous suction pumps on top, and I was hooked up to a monitor for the next 50 minutes. It was very cold and the initial sucking sensation was, as she’d told me, a little odd but after a while the cold kicked in and the area became numb. Mostly, it was just a bit boring. When all of the applicances were removed, the area beneath was bright red and I couldn’t feel a thing. This, she told me, was completely normal and would wear off overnight. In fact, it wore off before I went to bed and now I have to wait and see. It takes five to six weeks, so watch this space….
Room rates start from Euros 254 per person, sharing a double room, on a half-board basis and including complimentary afternoon tea, access to all the spa facilities and thermal pools, and participation in a full daily programme of fitness and wellness activities, as well as free wifi and parking. Full details of all wellness packages available at Adler Thermae, and booking details, can be viewed on their website www.adler-thermae.com.