Travels in Tuscany, Part II

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Each evening we ventured up to the third floor, to Dei Lorena restaurant. Our last stay at a medical spa hotel saw us surviving on spelt bread and vegetable broth, so we were excited to see that Chef Umberto Toscano offered indulgent dishes alongside the calorie controlled options. Needless to say we opted for the naughty menus.

Our standout dishes were a starter of scallops with black truffle, Swiss chard and creamed pecorino and a quirky tiramisu made using amoretti- it was so good that both of us had it… every night. On the final night I finally succumbed to Sam’s plea of sharing the infamous bistecca alla Fiorentina… all 1kg of it. Yes, this was one spa where the weak willed could indulge guilt-free.

As well as a world-class spa, impressive fine dining and striking period features, this hotel has a seriously enviable location. As well as being close to Pisa airport and the Tyrrhenian coast, it’s also just a short drive from two of Tuscany’s most prized attractions; Pisa and Lucca.

Lucca’s renaissance walls double up as a three mile walk around the city, providing a bird’s eye view of ‘the city of 100 churches’. For us however, the view was too tempting and made us want to jump right in and explore. So, after a crispy calzone pizza and a glass of local red in a busy trattoria, we wandered Lucca’s cobbled streets aimlessly until we arrived at the iconic Guinigi Tower.

Despite the gammy neck, this is one tower that you can’t help but stare up at, mainly because the 125ft creation has oak trees growing at the top. It dates back to the 1300s when competitive families were vying to display their wealth, much of which was made trading silk. Stuff flashy Range Rovers, posh private schools and personalised plates, back then the ultimate symbol of wealth was a ginormous defence tower. There used to be around 250 dotted around the Lucca, only 9 remain, but thanks to the garden in the sky, Guinigi is the star of the show. Basically, we have a severe case of medieval willy waggling to thank for Lucca’s punctured skyline.

Another testosterone-filled creation is the Roman amphitheatre, once a stage for gladiator battles, today it is the go to spot for a cappuccino. I couldn’t help but smile at this manly city of waring families and buff gladiators… especially considering it was ruled by Napoleon’s feisty sister, Elisa and made its wealth from silk knickers!

Later that afternoon I abandoned my silk undies (okay, M&S cotton briefs but frankly comfort should come first), to try out the hotel’s famous thermal pools. The main pool is surrounded by original arches and has a wonderful glass ceiling, perfect for gammy necked staring at the ever-changing Tuscan sky. The outdoor pool was perfect for our family, as Sam and I bubbled away our aches and pains, our daughter, Rosie watched on wondering why we were wearing the ominous yet compulsory yellow bathing caps. I also loved the salt floatation pool which makes you feel weightless- a very welcome feeling after all of our over indulging.

The next morning, I had a very special appointment with the Duke’s ‘thermal grotto’. Located beneath the hotel and accessed by a James Bond style eighteenth century tunnel through the rock, and rediscovered just a few years ago. The thermal pool is the ultimate retreat for stressed mothers – no crying babies, just you, warm medicinal waters… in a really creepy cave! As I bobbed around aimlessly I couldn’t help but tilt the gammy neck and stare up apprehensively at the tons of rock that encased me, please God don’t let there be an earthquake.

Despite the unnerving setting it is perfectly peaceful. Having been rescued from this underground sanctuary I was taken to an enormous marble bed, to be cocooned in a warm perfumed wrap and buried in hot salt crystals in the name of detoxification. Meanwhile Sam had just experienced the infamous fangotherapy – that is a bloody hot mud wrap to you and I.

Created by mixing natural clay with the hot spring water the medicinal mud takes 6 months to absorb all of the water’s healing minerals. The torturous 47 degree mud wrap is followed by an intense hot bath to gradually lower the body’s temperature safely. After twenty minutes of strict horizontal relaxation guests are free to leave… looking like sweaty lobsters. This intense treatment is so successful that it is subsidised by their national health service.

On our last day we decided that the inevitable tourist photo had to be taken and we headed to the leaning tower. We had imagined gridlock traffic and endless queues, yet just twenty minutes after finishing my cappuccino at breakfast and I was in Pisa’s touchingly named, Square of Miracles, clutching my gammy neck and staring up the medieval tower and its countless arches.

It began to lean during construction as the ground on one side was too soft – they tried to correct it towards the end so it has a rather entertaining top leaning in the other direction to compensate. This mishap is unsurprising when you consider that the name Pisa is from the Greek word meaning marshy land. With baby Rosie in tow our sightseeing was limited to ground level (despite costing more than my first car it seems that the Bugaboo pushchair can’t do stairs, even when offered the shorter half of the tower which is two steps less to reach the top).

Trying to get the perfect photo of the tower is like comparing Dulux shades of white; irritatingly addictive. “Just one more photo, Jess, the tilt is bigger from over here”, I heard Sam plea for the umpteenth time. After another gelato it was back to Bagni di Pisa to absorb the calming thermal waters and hit the spa for a massage before heading back to reality.

As we packed our suitcases, I noticed Rosie, lying contently in her pram staring up at the ceiling. I looked up and took in the glorious frescoes once more, with a decidedly less gammy neck. That’s it my girl, keep looking up.

Nightly rates at Bagni di Pisa start from €288 (approx. £244) per room per night in a Comfort Room on a B&B basis. Rates include wi-fi, morning hike, private parking, access to spa including Turkish bath and Swedish sauna, thermal pools and fitness facilities. For further information please visit www.bagnidipisa.com or call +39 0578 572333.
Bagni di Pisa is a member of the Italian Hospitality Collection www.italianhospitalitycollection.com.

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