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Spa, Italian-Style

It would be hard to summarize the million gestures that were made to my body in those six days. Among the facial treatments I had at the talented hands of a certain Manuela, the most unusual was a buffing by means of a mechanized nozzle that emits a fine spray of minerals to remove the top layer of dry cells; according to the aesthetician's discretion it can be used with greater power and duration over areas where the skin tends to thicken, such as the chin and in between the brows. I was afraid this might irritate, but afterward my skin seemed to have entered a time machine, for once in the right direction—backward.

The hotel is in a building adjacent to the original Renaissance structure; through a long descending corridor you reach the newly constructed spa, which is unremarkable as architecture goes but was built down into the slope so as to be practically invisible at ground level. The complex consists of many private treatment rooms and several pools, among them the Bioaquam; the Acquagym for water exercises; the Kneipp, two long corridors of water, one hot, one cool, through which you walk in continuous loops, alternating the two temperatures, to improve circulation in the legs; as well as a sauna and a Turkish bath where the lights are kept low, making the delicate black-and-white mosaic interior seem very magical. There's even a shallow, round thermal pool for dogs: here they can waddle and be cured of their arthritis and rheumatism before returning to special, uncarpeted guest rooms.

The water of all the pools is kept at 97 degrees and contains no chemicals. Perhaps the most exceptional feature of Terme de' Medici—aside from the people who work there, who are refreshingly regional in their ways, since many of them were born and bred in the area—is the Bioaquam pool. This is a Jacuzzi to end all Jacuzzis: a vast round pool made of travertine marble and mosaic that merges into a narrow outdoor lap pool. When I asked the resident physician, Paolo Bruno, whether you could actually describe it as a Jacuzzi, he said that it's much too large and much too beautiful to be called that, and fits far too many people comfortably. All right: it has 22 jets at different heights set into its sides; four thrones you can sit on and have your shoulders and waist massaged; a large geyser-like fountain inside a circular enclosure that you can stand in to feel the water surging around you; a zigzag walkway with jets at the thighs and knees; and more jets everywhere that you can activate by pushing a black rubber button. All this is fine, to be sure, but what determines that you'll never be as happy in any other whirlpool, or whatever you want to call it, is the immense glass façade overlooking one of the most beautiful Tuscan valleys you've ever seen, with cypress, olive trees, the towers of the castle of Radicofani in the distance, and nothing to spoil the view. It is as it must have been several centuries ago, because this corner of Tuscany on the borders of Lazio and Umbria has been mysteriously overlooked by developers and tourists alike.

I'd go back right now for another dose. The combination of warm, enveloping waters from which you emerge with baby skin and rested nerves and the nimble, expert fingertips dabbing minerals and fine mud on your face and body while tickling nerve endings along your neck, is irresistible. So said the body, and for once we agreed.


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