Travels in Tuscany, Part I

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Aah, Italia. Toscana. Land of olive groves and cypress trees, stone villas and terracotta rooftops, and, as Jess Baldwin discovers, a whole lot more besides sipping Montepulciano on a sun-baked terraza…

I’m having a moment of enlightenment. I am in Tuscany, surrounded by rolling hills and olive groves, unable to concentrate on the road as we take yet another wrong turn because my eyes strayed from the sat nav. But it’s so hard to concentrate on concrete and screens when medieval towers wave from hillside towns and fiery yellow fields carpet the distance between.

This scenic detour has made me realise that I, like most Londoners, have wasted the last decade of my life looking down. The result of which is a seriously gammy neck and a decade in the big smoke being a blur of Hubba Bubba and other people’s feet. Luckily, I am in the perfect place to fix the former.

San Giuliano Terme, a small Tuscan spa town, is home to the prestigious Bagni di Pisa hotel and spa. It is the ultimate healing retreat for the achy traveller. The ancient Lorraine palace features 61 rooms and suites, a fine dining restaurant, a wonderfully opulent bar and the mother of all spas.

This is a spa in the truest sense of the word, with ‘health through water’ at its core. Therapeutic mineral-rich thermal springs fill its numerous pools at a dreamy 38 degrees and an A-team of doctors, dieticians, cardiologists and even a posturologist help you achieve your goals, be they be aesthetic, weight loss, pain relief or like me, simply relaxation.

The town’s medicinal waters were first enjoyed by the Etruscans and later the Romans before capturing the attention of the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1743 who built the palace as his summer spa residence. Today, the luxury hotel is a magnet for those seeking to alleviate everything from muscle tension to arthritis. Kings, authors, poets and aristocrats have all fled to this peaceful spot over the years.

Visitors to the sleepy town can’t help but gaze up at the 5* hotel’s impressive eighteenth century façade, complete with an enormous clock which gongs on the hour (almost). Bagni di Pisa, is the heart of the town and we were lucky enough to be staying in one of the 5* hotel’s lavish suites, complete with elegant frescoed ceilings, Carrera marble bathrooms and enormous windows which provided a balmy breeze. The room had oodles of space and our suitcases vanished in no time making us feel right at home (of course we live in a palace at home you see).

Outside our suite was a courtyard leading to a path which clambered up the hill behind the hotel, through hundreds of fragrant citrus and olive trees to an ornate building referred to as Kaffeehaus. The idyllic peak was the favourite spot of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, who whiled away her days reading poetry here. Each morning at 8am the hotel guide keen guests along the path and reward them with a view of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Having got my bearings, my next stop was the medical spa. My history with medical spas is chequered; I have starved on detoxes in the Alps, had 1000 injections of my own blood in my face in Spain and had my fat electrocuted in Croatia, so I approached the consultation room with unease. Five minutes later I had politely declined a colonic, shied away from a gruelling 47 degree hot mud body wrap and refused a slimming program (the hotel restaurant’s food looked far too good for that!). Instead I was booked in for a mix of medicinal thermal treatments, relaxing massages and a hi-tech facial. Little did my poor boyfriend Sam know, but I had booked him in for the gruelling mud wrap (that will teach him to nick the aisle seat on the plane).

I kicked off my stay with the facial- well, I wanted to look the part for my holiday snaps. The microdermabrasion machine shot a jet of fine microcrystals over my face whilst simultaneously hoovering them off creating an intense exfoliation, or a peel if you like. This removes dead, damaged cells and reveals healthy new skin. As I lay there being hoovered with crystals I began freaking out that my skin would simply fall off like a scene from Zombie Apocalypse. I needn’t have worried, my skin looked radiant and I couldn’t stop touching my new silky visage.

My youthful complexion deserved to be seen, so we ventured to the hotel bar with my ID in tow. Bar Shelley is named after the famous poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley who arrived with his family and friends in 1818 and ended up staying for four years – it’s easily done! His authoress wife, Mary Shelley was said to have completed her book, Frankenstein during her time here.

The bar was a grand affair with a four foot bouquet welcoming us in to an explosion of rich velvet sofas, marble floors and elegant pillars – but as with most things on this trip, we had to look up to see the star of this show – the ornate ancient frescoes. The hotel is the town’s central landmark, so it was easy to feel like royalty as we sipped on cocktails overlooking the piazza beyond, it was like the town had been built around the hotel for viewing pleasure.

Jess’s Tuscan tour continues tomorrow…

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