SAN CASCIANO DEI BAGNI, ITALY — I’m in a hotel elevator, staring resolutely at the doors, desperately trying to ignore the stranger next to me. There’s nothing particularly wrong with him. It’s just that, well … he’s in a bathrobe. On an elevator. With me. And I have no idea what, if anything, he’s wearing underneath.
Is now a good moment to mention that I am also in my bathrobe?
This might sound like some weird dream you’ve had after an ill-advised, overly spicy late-night kabob. It won’t seem any less weird when I tell you that, when I emerge from the elevator and enter the breakfast room, everyone else is in a bathrobe, too. Anyone chancing unwittingly upon this scene could be forgiven for imagining they had accidentally wandered into a Big Lebowski convention.
In fact, this is Fonteverde five-star resort, about a two-hour drive south of Florence, with a dress code quite unlike most luxury properties. But there’s a reason guests here ditch satin and sequins in favour of fluffy robes and slippers. They haven’t come to this hideaway, tucked in the velvety green folds of Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia, to see and be seen. They’ve come to soak and spa in warm spring waters where folks have poached themselves for millennia.
Above: Fonteverde's state-of-the-art thermal bioaquam pool glitters at night. The 5,000-square-metre spa is arranged over three levels.
Fonteverde itself has roots dating back to the early 17th century, when the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici built a small structure (small for the Medici family, anyway) alongside the Ficoncella spring. Today, that structure has been incorporated into the elegant Fernando I restaurant. (Even the most laid-back guest wouldn’t dare to shuffle into this refined dining room, with its fine linens and portraits of stern-faced ancestors, bundled up in a bathrobe.)
The 78-room resort opened in 2002, with the 5,000 square metre spa as its main attraction. Sprawled over three levels, it has seven, count ‘em, seven pools. There are indoor pools, outdoor pools, one pool that is partly indoor and partly out, another that is shaped like a spiral, several with massaging jets, one with a waterfall, and a doggy-paddling pool exclusively for pups.
The pools are fed by therapeutic thermal spring water, rich in sulphur, calcium, fluoride and magnesium, and range in temperature from about 34-42 degrees Celsius. You can whet your whistle and “take the waters” at a drinking fountain in the spa, too, and housekeeping will leave a glass bottle of spring water on your bedside table every night.
Above: Truffle hunting expert Gianni Barzi and his faithful dog, Sally. lead guests on truffle hunts. Then they enjoy the fruits of the hunt.
It takes an effort to pry my pruny fingers from the warm, bath-like waters, but eventually I’m enticed back to dry land by the promise of a massage and a regenerating “radiance” facial. I feel like a queen being cleansed and anointed, lavishly slathered with layer upon layer of oils and lotions until I simply float adrift, unmoored from cares and consciousness.
But Fonteverde doesn’t just stick to a tried and true assortment of massages and facials. Oh no. There are plenty of off-piste offerings, as well, including a nasal wash, blood and urine analysis, Botox, face and/or bottom lifting with “bio stimulation wires,” and cheek remodelling (either set).
Guests can also choose a special diet, such as a macrobiotic regime. But personally, I am all about the cheese dumplings, beef ravioli, duck ragout, wild boar sirloin and the can’t-tear-yourself-away-from-it tiramisu which populate the resort’s regular menus.
In addition to fine dining at Ferdinando I, there is a more casual restaurant for breakfast and lunch, as well as a spa café, and an enticing bar, where I highly recommend indulging in a little “hanky panky” — the cocktail, of course, with gin, red vermouth and fernet branca. My favourite niche, just off the bar, is the cozy wine shop, where I enjoy a tasting of three Tuscan vinos — with generous pours and a hearty selection of nibbles — under the entertaining tutelage of sommelier Mirko Stollo.
Stollo confesses that, upon uncorking a bottle, he is sometimes still surprised — for better or for worse — by what he finds. There are not necessarily great wines, he asserts, as he’s greeted by an undulating wave of raised eyebrows from his audience.
Above: The resort's pools are fed by thermal spring water, rich in sulphur, calcium, fluoride and magnesium.
“There are great bottles,” he explains with a smile. “Not all bottles are the same. The wine is alive.”
Should you be feeling, well, less than alive after an excess of fine wine, the bar serves a concoction called a Corpse Reviver (gin, grenadine syrup, orange juice, and absinthe) — although it sounds more likely to land you in your coffin than raise you up out of it. You might seek a safer form of salvation at the spa, with a detoxifying wrap of rehydrated algae. The point is … you’ve got options.
Fonteverde feels like a sumptuously self-contained biosphere, a water world where you need not feel compelled to do anything so drastic as get dressed and venture beyond the resort. But I’ll give you two good reasons to change out of that cotton robe and into a pair of trousers.
Reason number one: the morning walk, led by one of Fonteverde’s staff, into the Tuscan hills or to the nearby village of San Casciano dei Bagni. This compact maze of medieval buildings and cobblestone streets is so quaintly picturesque, it could be a movie set.
Reason number two: Hunting with Gianni Barzi and his curly haired, chocolate-coloured canine, Sally. Rest assured, this is an entirely bloodless endeavour. The only “trophy” Barzi has set his sights on is the tantalizingly elusive truffle.
“Dov'è?” Barzi whispers in Sally’s endearingly floppy ears, as he removes her lead. “Vai! Vai!”
Tail wagging, Sally trots ahead into the shady forest, letting out an excited whine and frantically digging when she catches the scent of her “prey.” She receives a sausage for her troubles, while we are rewarded with several deliciously pungent nuggets. None are large enough to mount above my mantelpiece, but they do make a wonderful accompaniment to the dinner which Fonteverde’s chef prepares especially to incorporate them that evening.
After heaping helpings of pasta and fried eggs lavished with truffle shavings (a traditional Tuscan dish), the waistband of my skirt is feeling decidedly snug. But never mind. I’ll be back in my bathrobe tomorrow, and it hides a multitude of sins.
Above: Fonteverde Resort is located near the historic village of San Casciano dei Bagni, above.
JUST THE FACTS
• Fonteverde (www.fonteverdespa.com) is a pet-friendly resort and part of The Italian Hospitality Collection (www.italianhospitalitycollection.com).
• All of IHC’s Tuscan properties offer thermal spas and an Equilibrium programme, focusing on nutrition, relaxation techniques, thermal therapy and exercise.
• The nearest airports to Fonteverde are Florence (150 km) and Rome (200 km).
• The closest train station is Chiusi, 20 minutes away. Fonteverde also has its own helipad, if that’s how you roll.
• The resort can arrange truffle hunting with Gianni Barzi, followed by a visit to his shop in San Casciano de Bagni, where he sells truffles and his own wine and olive oil.