Through the steamy mist rising from the surface of the wide pool, the outline of an ancient castle shifts in and out of focus. My mind acknowledges the structure is probably attached quite firmly to a nearby hill, but the vapor plays tricks with my vision, leaving me with the impression that the castle is suspended, floating — likely to disappear if I look away. Swimming past a Stonehenge-like collection of rocks in the center of the water, I reach the pool’s edge and fix the distant, crumbling towers firmly in my sightlines.
It’s a few minutes past 8 a.m., and staring at a castle while blissfully enveloped in soothing thermal water proves a rather nice way to begin the day. The pool, filled by a mineral-rich spring flowing from deep within the earth, is one of several at Adler Thermae Toscana Hotel & Spa Resort, located next to the tiny Tuscan village of Bagno Vignoni in the Val d’Orcia.
Back on terra firma and comfortably wrapped in a thick robe, I climb the stairs to the dining room for breakfast. The room’s glass ceiling has been rolled open to let in the fresh air and bright sky. Shafts of sunlight play off the gleaming table settings and an enormous buffet. There’s a live olive tree growing in the center of the exquisite space, offering a tangible connection to the tranquil Tuscan landscape.
I’ve scheduled an Inca massage for late morning and prepare for the experience by loosening up in the thermal suite located on the ground floor. Guests access the space, with its collection of steams and saunas, via a walkway made of stepping stones set along the length of an interior stream that runs throughout the spa.
The path leads to the Salino, an Etruscan salt steam bath. Through the thick vapor, I make my way to a floor-level slab of stone with a curved headrest and relax in a world of hot, swirling cloud. After about 10 minutes, I leave to cool off at the bocca della venità, a fountain of crushed ice.
Other heat options tuck into corners off the stepping-stone trail, along with a rhassoul clay bath, and an underground salt bath with a float chamber that resembles a watery temple. I follow the path to a relaxation room with access to the outside, fronted by floor-to-ceiling glass doors looking across a shallow lake and bordered by a hillside faced with massive blocks of travertine. Above this room lies a second resting space, fitted with comfortable, water-filled beds.
Outside, the stone footpath turns into a slatted wooden walkway heading in several directions across the water, punctuated with small decks with wooden lounge chairs. I pass the Olivae, a Finnish sauna fed with fragrant olive wood, and follow the path to its endpoint beneath an overhang of rocky hillside — the location of the Grotta del Filosofo, or Philosopher’s Cave. Within, knobby stalactites jut from the ceiling’s irregular surface and thick candles flicker, set upon stone ledges. On the far wall behind a rocky outcrop, steps lead up and around a corner to a steam bath. I soak in the hot, wet air, then cool off beneath a fog shower of cold mist. In the main space, wooden lounge chairs face a wall of cascading water, and I rest here, listening to the falling water, before heading to my treatment.
My therapist explains that the strokes and pressure points targeted during the massage are designed to balance the male energy emanating from the sun with the moon’s contrasting female energy. For the next hour and 15 minutes, my body is stretched and massaged into a state of complete relaxation.
Afterward, I make my way to the lobby, where a lovely selection of cakes, fruits and sweets is served each afternoon at 4 p.m. Nibbling on a thin, flaky tart topped with berries, I step out onto a broad terrace to enjoy the views of the peaceful, green countryside.
There’s time for a pre-dinner wander along a path leading from the resort to the nearby village of Bagno Vignoni. Here, a church and a small number of stone buildings, dating to the 16th century, were constructed around a huge rectangular central pool rimmed by a stone wall. Even today, this spot where the thermal waters collect is known as the “square of sources.” Steam drifts along the surface, and though bathing is no longer allowed, the water’s presence adds plenty of atmosphere for the cappuccino-sippers seated at the café terraces along the wall’s perimeter.
The following day begins with a yoga class set to the ringing of Tibetan bowls and another long soak in the main outdoor pool. I check to see that the castle is where I left it and then spend a half-hour moving between the various water massage features along the pool’s edge.
Besides a host of classes that include water yoga and cardio sessions on hydro-bikes, the resort offers daily complimentary guided walking and cycling excursions ranging from seasonal truffle hunting, complete with truffle hound, to a walking tour with wine and chestnut tasting.
I relax until it’s time for my afternoon Watsu massage. My therapist, a shiatsu master, leads me along the wooden walkway across the lake toward the travertine-encrusted hillside. We enter a small, secluded pool roofed with thatch where I’m provided with ankle floats and invited to lie back and close my eyes.
In less than a minute, I’ve surrendered completely to the water and my therapist’s supporting arms. For nearly an hour, he blends traditional Japanese pressure-point massage, Thai stretching techniques and the natural healing of the watery environment to remove every last vestige of stress from my body. I’m pulled and swirled through the depths, losing all sense of direction and acquiescing entirely to the embrace of the water. Though my face never goes beneath the surface, my ears are submerged, and the sound of the water becomes an essential component to my healing experience.
When the treatment is over, I float for a moment, my eyes still closed. I know that if I open them, there’s a castle on a hillside and a path leading to a village built from stone. Right now, I can hear the soft burble of the water that surrounds me and feel its comforting warmth. “La vita è molto bella,” my therapist half-sings, half-whispers in Italian. Life is very beautiful.
Adler Thermae Toscana Hotel & Spa Resort
1-53027 Bagno Vignoni
San Quirico d’Orcia, Italy
tel 39 0577 889 001
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