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La Dolce Vita in Tuscany

by Barbara Rogers

Jan 29, 2018

Serban Enache | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / Europe

When Tuscans lift a glass of their beloved Brunello di Montalcino and say, “Salute” — “To your health” — they mean it. And they offer a lifestyle to make it possible. For amid those postcard-perfect Tuscan hill towns flow thermal springs where Etruscans and Romans soaked, and where medieval pilgrims rested their weary legs en route to Rome.


Today these hot springs are fitted with luxurious trappings the sybaritic Romans would have envied. Spa resorts serve as perfect bases for Tuscan holidays that can include walking, cycling and other active ways of seeing the region’s many attractions. Full-scale health and wellness centers cater to those in need of a longer retreat.


Panorama Gimignano, Tuscany. Italy

© Freesurf69 | Dreamstime.com


Tuscany lies at the center of Italy, with Pisa, Florence and Siena — a trio of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations — forming a triangle at its heart. Wine routes wind among its vineyards and between its hill towns where you can savor the region’s most famous products: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.


Medieval towers of hilltop towns dot rolling landscapes of vineyards and poppy-splashed meadows. You can imagine yourself in the 13th century as you enter San Gimignano, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, preserving 13 of its original 70 tall towers.


Each hill town has its own character and story: Volterra preserves a rich Etruscan and Roman history, Montepulciano’s wealthy noble families attracted top Renaissance artists and architects, and little Montalcino sits inside well-preserved 12th-century walls. In Arezzo you can see the works of several of the greatest Renaissance masters without the crowds of Florence or Siena.


Tuscany, Volterra town skyline, church and trees on sunset. Italy

© Stevanzz | Dreamstime.com


But for all its iconic sights, Tuscany is a supremely satisfying place to just kick back and relax with friends or the whole family. Rent a spacious farmhouse or villa for a week, share a full-scale luxury spa retreat or get your adrenaline pumping on a bike or walking tour. You couldn’t ask for more scenic surroundings.


Deep in wine country, between Montepulciano and Montalcino, Adler Thermae Resort and Spa was among the first to
create a modern 5-star hotel around its ancient thermal springs. The spa’s more than 120 treatments and a staff of 40 (including physicians)
 provide individual care that
includes relaxation, beauty,
 weight loss and modern and alternative medicine, taking full advantage of the healing thermal waters of Bagno Vignoni.


The family-run resort recently added its own on-property vineyard and winery, producing organic wines from Sangiovese, the region’s classic grape. Guests can join walking or cycling tours of the vineyard, wine tastings and hands-on cooking classes of traditional foods like focaccia and tiramisu.


Etruscans and Romans luxuriated in the 100-degree waters of San Giuliano Terme, just outside of Pisa (and 30 minutes from Tuscany’s primary airport). The 18th-century Grand Duke of Tuscany built his summer palace for direct access to its healing waters, now the sumptuous hotel Bagni di Pisa. Guests will find aesthetic and medical treatments, Eastern medicine, fitness and massage therapy at the spa, along with weight-loss and detox programs and the signature Salus per Aquam (healing through water).


Another specialty of Bagni di Pisa is treatments with thermal mud made by mixing natural local clay with the warm spring water, especially effective for muscle and joint pain. Organically grown ingredients lie at the heart of the cuisine served in the spa’s elegant Dei Lorena Restaurant.


Bagni di Pisa and Grotta Giusti, a Tuscan spa between Florence and Pisa, offer a new Equilibrium wellness program, a total body overhaul of three days to a full week that includes a microbiotic diet, nutritional coaching, cooking lessons, fitness classes, thermal treatments, relaxation and physical therapy. The impressive 19th-century villa of Grotta Giusti houses Europe’s largest thermal cave; both spas are members of the Italian Hospitality Collection.


Opened just this spring, the 5-star Il Castelfalfi Resort occupies a 2,700-acre estate in a medieval village between Florence and Volterra. In addition to the full-service Armonia spa, Il Castelfalfi offers indoor and outdoor ways to bond with friends or family than sharing a trail. Walking paths and ancient tracks form a network that makes exploring on foot easy, and several outfitters offer Tuscan tours or programs that mind the details so you can just have fun.


Vermont-based Boundless Journeys, which has lots
of experience creating active
itineraries throughout Europe,
 Asia and Latin America, offers
two options in Tuscany. Combining the iconic Cinque Terre with
a little-known part of northern
Tuscany, its Tuscan Coast and
 Cinque Terre Hike follows pilgrimage routes to ancient abbeys
and walled villages, with a
luxurious hotel base in charming
Lucca. Another combines the
hill towns of Tuscany with those
of neighboring Umbria, visiting
Montalcino, Pienza, Assisi, Spello and the Etruscan sites of
Tuscany’s Maremma region. This tour combines walking with two other things Tuscany excels at: wine and cooking.


Tuscany at sunrise

Photo: Sborisov | Dreamstime.com


The Via Francigena was an early pilgrimage path to Rome from northern Europe, winding from town to town through the Tuscan hills. British walking tour specialists Rambler Holidays offers eight-day trips following the route from the medieval village of Gambassi Terme to the Renaissance glories of Siena.


A bicycle allows you to cover more ground but still stay connected to the land in ways a car can never match. To cycle with your companions at your own pace, consider A Flavour of Tuscany, a self-guided tour with Inntravel. It provides four nights’ B&B lodging, bicycles, airport transfers, luggage transport, route notes and maps. You provide the pedal power.


Share new skills with your traveling companions during a Tuscan vacation arranged by Flavours Holidays. Take daily classes with a professional Pilates instructor on a health and well-being week; learn to speak Italian; or polish your cooking, painting or photography skills in three-night or week-long stays that include lodging, all meals, local wine, private lessons and visits to local towns.


The ultimate luxury is renting a fully staffed villa and filling it with family and friends, planning each day as it comes and letting your personal concierge arrange activities. That’s what Tuscany Now & More is all about, offering charmingly updated historic farmhouses with private pools, maids, cooks and concierge service. Activities for all ages can include anything from windsurfing or farm-to-table cooking classes to a Chianti wine spa treatment.


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