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Terme di Saturnia

Mineral Springs in Tuscany

"We don't charge extra for the smell, " said Barbara Scorza laughingly when I phoned her form the States to ask a few questions prior to departing for Terme di Saturnia in Tuscany. The director of spa services added that, having lived in California for a year, she enjoyed hosting American guests. Just as she predicted, shortly after the bellman unloaded my bag from the car that met me at the airport in Rome, the odor of sulphur from the thermal waters seemed to fade. Instead I focused on another sensation, the melodious sound of Italian.

Even if you don't understand or speak the language, ciao, arrivederci and buon appetito soon become part of your vocabulary, particularly when you opt to sit at the social table in the dining room. My table mates, all Europeans who were traveling alone, were friendly and talkative. Some who spoke English translated for those who didn't and I found the conviviality at mealtime in the Villa Montepaldi restaurant to be an especially enjoyable part of each day.

Taking the waters (or the cure, as it is often referred to) is the draw here. Spa means "health through water." The magical, mystical H2O that springs up from deep beneath the ground is said to bring rejuvenation, vitality and beauty. It brings just plain fun, too. The water in the hotel's enormous pool is slightly effervescent with tiny bubbles that tingle on the skin. It also comes out of openings located at varying heights in a series of stone tubs and massages different parts of the body. Those hydromassages are as soothing as any rubdown administered by a pair of dexterous hands.

An oft-told myth is that Saturn, tired of wars, in a fit of temper threw a bolt of lightning to earth, causing warm sulphurous water to erupt from the crater of a volcano. The Etruscans knew about the therapeutic benefits of the pools 3,000 years ago and Caesar's legionnaires stopped to rest here before returning to Rome. Today Saturnia is still gushing 800 liters per second at a temperature of 98.6 degrees F. and the "cure" has been taken a step further.

Taking the waters, Terme di Saturnia
(Credit: Edwin Fancher)

One level of the hotel is given over entirely to the Institute of Thermal Medicine and Scientific Cosmetology, where bathrobe-clad guests await their appointments for diagnostic and medical, as well as beauty treatments. Participation in the many medical programs requires a checkup. Some Italians use part of their vacations for clinical tests such as cardiograms, blood analyses and respiratory assessments and for curative measures like physiotherapy. Those who wish to be served the special dietetic menu in order to lose weight must be supervised by a physician, too. For massages, facials and all the other glorious ways the staff has devised to keep you happy and relaxed, you may indulge to your heart's content without consulting the head aesthetician.

Americans will probably approach the spa experience much as they do on their own shores, choosing exercise, diet and pampering.

Beginning with an early morning hike, 12 classes a day are offered, ranging from easy to advanced levels and including two sessions of aquaerobics. Because minerals create greater resistance, the workout, even with gentle movements, is more strenuous than in a regular pool.

Led by two fitness instructors, Kirk Lemley and Rocco di Caloro, the classes are bilingual with Kirk giving instructions in English. Since gym activities are not high on the list of priorities of European guests, the number of attendees is small, assuring lots of individual attention.

I thought I was familiar with every hedonistic pleasure offered in spadom, but gommage and plankton turned out to be a new one. My body was rubbed with a slightly coarse substance for exfoliation. Followed by a shower and a slathering of a green mineral-laden product whose primary ingredient is extracted from the thermal springs, I was wrapped up cocoon-like to absorb the cream for 20 minutes. This procedure is said to renew the skin and it certainly felt like it did.

The table on which I reclined during a second treatment, the multi-level facial, was heated from below, lulling me into a semi-slumber. While I was cleansed and steamed, wonderful essences filled the room. Because specific male aesthetic problems are often neglected, Saturnia developed two facial regimes just for men.

The Italian approach to eating at Saturnia is different than what I've experienced at American spas. I tried one diet meal and did not find it to my liking. Most of the guests ate from the regular menu featuring very fine cuisine. Since Tuscany is known for its choice farms and excellent regional products, it is not surprising that the food was so good.

Breakfast buffets included cereals, fruits, breads, pastries and local cheeses. Four courses were served at both lunch and dinner. The antipasti table, which preceded each meal, was filled with a variety of salads; raw, marinated and steamed vegetables; fresh anchovies and other cold fish; and ham. Particularly outstanding were the many distinctive ways in which both pasta and fish were prepared. By selecting wisely and finishing with poached or fresh fruit, you could create your own lighter meals and still enjoy the bounty of Villa Montepaldi.

In a spring schedule listing all the special weekly programs, certainly the most original one was "Singing as Expression and Communication." From the description of the vocalizing, breathing and recitative exercises and the dedication to all who love bel canto, it seems like an appropriate seminar for an Italian spa. Ditto, "A Green Holiday," encompassing photographic safaris; classes to study flora, fauna and birds; and hikes to pick herbs.

Evenings at Saturnia tend to be quiet. Chicly turned out Italians who dress for dinner extend the nights by attending the occasional dance lesson or art auction, or by sitting in the lobby drinking and listening to the piano. Last year the legendary barman, Umberto Vasponi, won a trophy for the best dietetic cocktail in the world.

Terme di Saturnia, set in the heart of Maremma, the wild west of Italy, is associated with and a few kilometers from Saturnia Country Club, where guests of the spa can horseback ride, fish or mountain bike. A typical Tuscan restaurant and a restored 20-room farmhouse are on the property.

In nearby Pitigliano, Sovana and Sorano, the so-called "triangle of Maremma," it is possible to visit vestiges of ancient times - medieval fortresses, Etruscan necropolises, Roman relics and a castle. Other suggested excursions are to Argentario, a picturesque village fronting onto the sea, and Parco dell'Uccellina, a preserve of plants, trees and wildlife so vast that seven horseback and hiking itineraries have been planned starting at the visitors' information area in Alberese.

With many spa services on hand and Tuscany at your feet, Terme di Saturnia is a good choice for a combination travel/fitness vacation.

Terme di Saturnia, 58050 Saturnia (Grosseto) Italy, tel. 39-564-601061, fax 39-564-601266, is a Small Luxury Hotel of the World, 800-525-4800. There are several different rates (room with breakfast only or half and full board) and packages depending on the kinds of spa services included. In the least expensive category rates begin at $140 per day for a double with breakfast. My single room, which was small and spare, is $165 in high season. www.termedisaturnia.com/English/index.html

Fall 1997