Grotta Giusti Terme SPA Hotel:In a Tuscan Grotto

Beneath this hillside hotel is a grotto called the Inferno. This ancient natural vapor cave, the largest thermal grotto in the world, provides a place to cleanse body and mind.

Terme in Tuscany come in many sizes, from traditional hot springs to sophisticated resorts. Grotta Giusti is neither the largest nor the grandest, but it has a combination of comfortable lodging and affordable treatments that make it among the best buys in Italy. Basics include thermal mud baths and facials, consultation with dermatology specialists, and choice of treatments designed to activate musculoskeletal and circulatory systems. Add the grand country villa ambience and the personalized service of a four-star hotel and you have an affordable escape.

Both a day spa and destination spa, Grotta Giusti offers revitalization packages with the adjoining hotel of the same name. Guest rooms are functional and modern, rather than posh old world. Surrounded by extensive gardens, tall parasol pines, and chestnut trees, the hotel itself is an enchanted place where time seems to stand still. The villa’s history goes back to the nineteenth century, when the poet Giuseppe Giusti had the hillside estate created. Today you don a spa robe in your room and walk down the hall directly into the reception area and thermal swimming pool.

A physical checkup is in order before any heat-based treatment, so an English-speaking hostess escorts new arrivals to the medical department. Once your appointments are programmed into the computer, red-coated hostesses help you get oriented. Spa clothing appears in your room: a long white cotton tunic for relaxing in the grotto, a hooded woolen robe for warmth, and plastic shower shoes.

Group activity is minimal, but meeting people is no problem. The dining room host speaks four languages and seats you in a section of the room where menus are in the appropriate language. Join a morning exercise group or walk in the park to make new friends. In the palestra, an airy aerobics studio with sprung-wood floor, aerobics, tai chi, and back muscle stretches alternate with sessions of yoga. Your daily routine might include a sweat in the grotto, a massage, or inhalation therapy.

Save one morning to take the waters in Montecatini at the grandest spa park in the world, Tettuccio Springs. As an orchestra plays operatic arias and waltzes under a classical rotunda, stroll to ornately tiled fountains and try a cup of sulfurous, salty water. Famous for helping to repair the damage of overindulging in the good life, Tet-tuccio’s waters have been praised for their purgative powers. Because all shops and spa services shut down each day from noon to 3:00 p.m., and all day on Sunday, complimentary van service is provided by Grotta Giusti to get you back to your hillside hideaway in time for lunch, a swim in the thermal pool, and perhaps a nap before dinner.

Antidote to la Dolce Vita

As an antidote to la dolce vita, the grotto at Grotta Giusti ranks among the best spa experiences. Robed and hooded, you join a monklike group on stone ramps leading to subterranean caves and an underground lake. Handed towels, you recline on wooden chairs, meditate, and sweat out toxins. An eerie beauty pervades the vaulted rocky chambers of Inferno. Heat increases as you descend past dripping stalactites and a transluscent pool called Lake of Limbo, where scuba divers explore on weekends. Arriving at Purgatorio, your tunic soaked in sweat, it’s hard to keep track of time. But an attendant brings towels and a dry tunic just in time to head back up for a shower and massage. Paradiso!