TUSCAN SPAS REPORT

Review of Fonteverde Spa Collection resorts

Background.

I am a travel consultant so I travel on business trips often. I inspect hotels so that I may personally recommend and promote my favorite properties. I know, tough life   but someone has to do it!

I do not take chances of sending client to places I have not personally been.

Our motto is “We know what we sell!”

When I met the Fonteverde marketing representatives on Luxury Travel show, we’ve discussed why it is difficult to get Americans to these luxury spas. These are gorgeous hotels, each in their own right, in beautiful locales, with great food and mineral waters.

While they are very popular with Europeans, for some reasons Americans are not interested in them, even though they are looking for spas in USA and Caribbean. Maybe it is a cultural thing. I was brought up in Europe and spa meant to stay in resort for at least a week, drink mineral waters or bathe in it, have massages and mud wraps. Different mineral waters are used for different illnesses (liver, arthritis, etc…).

Americans like to go to spa only for massages, relaxation, diet and vigorous exercise.  In Europe and Israel, people like to eat healthy but well, recharge, relax, drink waters and use massages and mud.

We concluded that when going to Europe, Americans are very busy, sightseeing and running from one place to another trying not to miss anything. That’s why spas are popular with Americans only on cruise ships since clients are “captives” of the ship and have time to relax.

Resorts listed in the order visited.

Grotta Guista October 3-5, 2013

Day 1. I arrived to Italy after traveling in Bulgaria,  Macedonia, Romania and Moldova for about 3 weeks. It was intense exploring, meeting with my suppliers, walking a lot and moving almost every night to next place. Therefore I was looking forward to stay in spa for 2 days before moving to my next exploration assignment in Italy.

My plane landed in Fumicino, Rome airport from Chisinau, Moldova. Flight took only 2 hours and was uneventful.  Probably only Eastern Europeans clap when plane landed :-) .  Passport control was almost nonexistent for me, he just waved me through with my American Passport (they paid more attention to Moldovan and Romanian passports for some reason). I proceeded to exit to train station.  I asked the cashier for first class ticket through to Montecatini Terme Monsummano but later I realized she sold me second class. I thought it was too cheap. For some reason she asked 60 euro by credit card and 6 euro cash. Not sure why and she could not explain to me.

Fumicino train station does not have good signs. I was looking for Leonardo Express. There was some ticket official taking tickets and pointed to the train. I asked few Anglos  If this is to Termini and no one seemed to be sure, they just were herded like me to the train. Finally I noticed sign on the train, Leonardo. The ride took 20 minutes to Termini and then I was changing  for my train to Firenze.  Few info booths had long lines. I only had 20 minutes. I was able to figure out from ticket machine train and info. The track was number 2. But nothing on the display. Finally about 10 minutes before departure, the track showed up but it was 9. I had to move to track 9. I congratulated myself for traveling with a small suitcase.  I knew I need to look at train no, and not direction, since my train final destination was Venezia not Firenze. Anyway I got on the train and 2 hours later I arrived to Florence and same way in info machine figured out which train goes to Montecatini (train to Lucca direction).

That was regional old train and no announcements in English. Italian would be good as well (names are names) however it was lot’s of static. No tourists were on my train but kind Italians told me when to get off. I got off at Montecatini, it was already 8pm and called hotel to send a taxi. The taxi came in few minutes – 30 euros for taxi (it is a bit off town). I still had time for dinner which was included in my room cost.

So I arrived! While it was OK for me, I do advice to my clients to avoid stress of using public transportation and schlepping your luggage – book a private driver instead. After all, it is supposed to be your relaxed vacation!

The food was beautifully presented. I opted for Rabbit and Greens with truffle salad and risotto for second course. Desert was forest berries in apricot sauce.

I went to my hotel room and started figuring out how things work. Finally after previous countries I’ve traveled these weeks, I got new and easy to use safe.  Hotel is a former noble mansion so it has high ceilings and tall windows.

Nice touch was that in the bathroom there was a separate faucet with mineral water if one wants to take a mineral bath in the room! Later on I found out, this amenity starts on only their deluxe rooms.

The room was lovely but not business traveler friendly. Lights were not that bright and outlets not convenient. I had to climb under the table to set them up.  Also my European plugs did not work, hotel had Italian plugs. I called the front desk and they delivered local adapters.  My usual routine in new hotel room to settle – to set up my chargers, internet was finished.

Internet was only with cable for my laptop but wifi did not work (even though they gave me a code). I left it this task to fix for the next morning.

Someone prepared my room for sleep and closed shutters in the windows (from outside –wooden ones and from inside shutters plus heavy curtains). It darkened the room. I tried to open windows – I like to sleep with windows open when possible and wake up with natural light. After few minutes fight with the window, I gave up and went to bed.

At night I woke up with really bad toe cramps. I do not think I was dehydrated since I almost finished large bottle of Pelegrino and did not have any wine. I know wine dehydrates me. That also disturbed my sleep. Maybe too much of walking and climbing hills, cemeteries, monasteries. I promised to take care of myself for the next few days.

In the morning, I woke up at 6:30am.  I managed to open windows and it offered beautiful tranquil view of the garden. So mission 1 is accomplished windows are open and there is light.

I had breakfast, it was usual breakfast fare. Few things stood out – fresh squeezed red orange juice – darker than blood orange – it was delicious! I also loved ricotta and Italian bread.

After breakfast I went to the reception and figured out where wi-fi is. It was at the bar, so at least I was able to upload some of my phone photos online. They also have their own computer with printer for use if needed. I asked for local information and was given maps and shuttle info.

At 8:30am I promptly appeared at reception where supposedly daily walks took place. Turned out only I was there so instructor took me for a private walk. I had to work harder:-)  . We walked 30 minutes in the trails of hotel’s large property and there also were many stations where you stop and exercise. Walk was  mostly up and downhill and some parts in woods with rocks and roots so it was a good workout. I am not a stranger to climbing and walking, so it went well.  Beautiful Tuscan fall weather made the whole workout very energizing.

After walk I came to hotel and went to check out Grotto. It is natural phenomenon  – a thermal steam bath .

It was unique experience, however I wish they spent more attention on explaining how this grotto treatment works. The attendant at grotto did not speak English. He told me to change into robe. Robe was from very nice, soft material and was warmed… He told me to leave my bag with personal things at the lockers. I had my phone there so I hoped it will be still there. …Then he pointed me to go to grotto and mentioned something re: time limits. Not knowing what to take, for how long (he did tell me the limit in Italian but my limited Italian did not register that number).  Finally he gave up and sent me with another Italian guest – just follow her. I asked if I should take my glasses (for example, I do not use glasses in sauna or hammam). He said no. Then I saw the lady I was following had glasses, so I took mine anyway. I was glad I did. The walk through grotto took about 10 mins and I would not see well. The temperature and breathing pattern was changing as we walked. I was not sure how long we walked until I saw group of people in robes like me sitting in chairs doing nothing. Some read under dimmed lights. Some had water. Now It would be nice for me to have water at least!  The Italian lady sat down. I thought it is grotto to swim and I asked if I can find swimming area but got reply – no swimming.  It was not what I expected. In hammam I do not like to sit more than 15 min. Here I did not have watch, no water . It was  a cave , with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites .  So I sat and then in a while I started to sweat. I was not sure how much time passed. I can tell you for claustrophobic people it would not have been positive experience. I am not claustrophobic though. But… I sweated enough in my robe and I think it was time for me to go back. Besides main road, there are other cave paths so I was afraid to get lost. I have bad sense of direction in nature. In cities I am better and in airports the best  :-)  .  Michael usually leads in woods..  but I was alone here. I imagined my robed body left in cave for long time :-) . So I decided to wait until someone will go back and I will follow that person. This did not happen.  So I started my journey back. I remembered some landmarks. I only got lost once.  I got back and retraced myself on main road and exited. The attendant was there and he met me like a long lost friend. I asked him to take photo of me in the robe…

So my recommendations later on to management of this hotel was:  Would be nice for them to put some signs and explanations in English.

But this is my job to inspect, test properties and then tell my clients what to do and give recommendations to hotels and tour organizers . There is some dangerous element in this job and I accept it.  :-) .

After my grotto adventure,  I tried to find spa reception – it was kind of large area but most attendants did not speak English. Finally I found one with decent English and she showed me around. There were some lockers but no signs for men or women (maybe they were unisex – private ones).  I went to the thermal outdoor pool which was nice temperature 90F and air temperature was 60F .  I met a couple from Israel and we ended talking for about 30 minutes. They already been in many Tuscan spas. They told me to go and check out Montecatini Terme spa Tetuccio which I already had plans to check out tomorrow.  They warned me it cleanses body so one needs to be near the bathroom. Would not work for me.  I “got no time for this”  LOL .  After pool I went to spa reception and made appointment for 2 massages – one neuromuscular body massage and second facial toning massage back to back. It was very pleasant and made me relaxed. In fact so relaxed that when I started dressing up, I lost one of my rings – it bounced on marble floor and I started crawling all over the floor to find it.  It was semi dark. I felt level of stress raising, finally I called massage attendant and she found it for me. I also asked her to put back necklace on me since I did not want to get stressed again!

So hopefully this massage will help me with feet cramps. I decided to skip lunch since they had delicious apples at reception so I will have apples until dinner. I will also try to catch up on my sleep. How  nice is today so I do not need to go anywhere!!  Instead of going back to mineral pool, I will probably just run mineral water in my bathtub…. Life is good.

On the way to my room, I met housekeeper and asked (in sign language plus some italian words) to change my wet spa towel and also showed her window and said do not close anything. So with night bed turndown it worked, however I realized there are some mosquitoes and ran back to the room before dinner to close it . The housekeeper was there and we again concurred that it is better to keep windows closed because of mosquitoes.  But without wooden shutters!

Dinner was again antipasti buffet. Excellent tasty vegetables and bread. For dinner courses I chose Tuscan bread and tomatoes soup and steak with foie gras dressing and it came with small roasted potato , sweet yams puree and string beans. All beautifully presented and delicious. Steak, as I requested, was rare.  I complemented it with Montalcino glass of red wine (suggested by sommelier).  For desert I chose chocolate soufflé, and it was delicious.

I watched the clientele, most were well healed Italians. Casually but nicely dressed, women better dressed then men. No shorts allowed but many wore jeans. I saw some guests with small dogs but I did not noticed dogs in the dining room. Only one family with 9-10 year old and he was well behaved.

Spa unlike in Germany is with swimsuits.  Even for massages they either give you underwear or you can keep yours. Italians I guess are more prude then Germans or Eastern Europeans.

After massage and dinner I went to the room, and soon fell asleep.  Once I turned lights off, I opened windows and fresh air was pleasant.

Day 2.

Morning was breakfast buffet similar to yesterdays. Most items are included in half board but there are some extras for payment prepared on request.  After breakfast I went to the thermal pool and enjoyed it without crowds, mostly being by myself.  I discovered different jet areas with different massage jets. The temperature outside was about 60F but the water was so nice and warm and jets massaged whole body. You can even float and being massaged by jets. Very clever. In about one hour, the guests started coming in, so I left.

At 12:15pm I went downstairs to get hotel’s shuttle to the town to explore Montecatini Terme.

The driver dropped off some people at train station and next step left me at Municipio. I walked on main street, pleasant town something like Baden Baden.  I went to main spa complex Tetuccio  where people drink water (not for swimming).  I walked nice boulevard with many trees. Something was going in the  town, with police showcasing their car – Lamborghini!  Italians took photos seating in it.  They have nice stores but most of them were closing from 1:30 to 3:30pm. Siesta! Rain started and I took refuge at Restaurant Don Chihotte where I had nice pizza. There were some Americans sitting and talking over each other’s tables which somewhat disturbed my tranquility. One woman was talking with her hands and knocked down bottle of wine.. After finishing my pizza, I went towards minicipio where driver was supposed to pick me up in 30 minutes. Rain continued so I went to another café to get espresso and some cookies which looked like American biscotti but they were soft and delicious.  So I passed time and caught the shuttle and got to hotel.

I went for dinner, that evening I chose Homemade Tuscan pasta with wild boar sauce and tomatoes, it had small chunks of boar meat and it was very tender. For main course I chose Seafood – Prawns and shrimps and it was very good.  Desert I chose crème Brule vs. spa offered fruit … I did not make best food choices but they tasted so good…

I fell asleep immediately after I got to my bed.

Next morning, I went to breakfast in my robe (it is allowed by hotel – nice touch). I was going to enjoy my book with meal but neighboring table had 6 Russians who disturbed my tranquility… I did overhead their conversations that they love bread so much so they will look at opportunity to start French and Italian bakeries chain delivering bread daily. Must have been some business men with their wives.

After breakfast I still had 1 hour to enjoy mineral pool and at 10am I checked out and took taxi to my next destination – Pisa De Bagna, in Guliano Terme.

Need improvement: Wi-fi in rooms, Better light Better adapters to charge – need to crawl under the table to plug them in. Would be nice to have spa orientation (grotto, pool, treatments, more signs) in English especially grotto instructions

I loved: Thermal pools, Food and service, Apples and water , herbal tea available during the day, Robe and slippers size to order. Mineral water faucet in my room (not in all rooms, starting at deluxe)

Bagni di Pisa

After being relaxed for few days in the spa, I did not feel like schlepping by train. Hotel booked for me a driver to get to the next spa In Pisa, which took about 35 minutes.

There was some antique fair / market in front of hotel. Later I understood the village is very small and everything is outside of hotel.

Receptionist greeted me and announced that they upgraded me to a suite. The suite was tremendous, living room with TV, hallway, bath with separate shower and huge bedroom with another TV. It had historic value I believe because ceiling had frescoes. They were lighted by special lights in the corner. It was gorgeous however kind of wasted on me since I have small suitcase, cannot remember where I put my things for 2 days, so I kept my things near me in the bedroom.  I can watch only 1 TV :-) . But it was very kind of them. I loved huge bed, high ceilings and large windows which I opened and it was nice view .

Each guest is given kit (slippers to size), robe and bag to carry with you. They give you a cap, and require to wear them in the pool.

There is a safe in the room to keep all valuables.

I went for the spa orientation with  Spa Manager Edouardo. They do it for each new arriving guest.

Spa is large. It has section for hotel guests only and also for outside guests (robes color are different).

The main attraction of course, are mineral pools. They have 2 parts – Eastern and Western. There are different mineral pools with hydro massages. One is saline water. Various jets are positioned in the thermal pool so they good for massaging back, feet  and legs. Some jets produced bubbling water so I just floated on it. Even outdoor pools are used year round because it is naturally warm water.

There are various treatment rooms for massages, inhalation, mud therapy, etc.

There are herbal teas stations in the spa – loose herbal tea – three varieties. You put them in the bag and add hot water from dispenser, so in few minutes your herbal tea steeped in… Also water and apples and oranges available.

There is also ancient hammam – grotto (Grand Dukes Hammam), a small natural cave with thermal water pool for thermal water steam bath.  This grotto was discovered only few years ago. The attendant took me there and left for 20 min (this is max recommended)

They have weight loss packages with delicious low calorie food, deter body and exercise.

There is internet (cable connection in the room), wi-fi in the bar. Also computer in the lobby . You cannot really call it lobby, it is like palace parlor with very cozy corners and couches. It is historic hotel.

Room had good lights,  Italian plugs but some rooms also have round European plugs (schuko outlets).

TV’s have same program, as Grotto Guisto, enough channels in English and other languages.

Food  is gourmet. There is vegetarian menu, wine pairing menu, low calorie menu.  Other choices are available as well. On my first night I chose Appetizer – Octopus in tomato culis, with almonds. Second – risotto with tomatoes (not tomato sauce but really infusion of tomatoes).  Main course was sea bass with mussels and small patch of mashed potato with saffron in the middle. Kind of strange combination but it came off very well together. They also offered complimentary Proseco to taste and small appetizer compliments of the chef – some tartlet with salmon. For desert I chose Panna Cota with berries. Everything was good. The waiters are very attentive especially for me as a woman traveling alone. They draw in a stool for a purse, gave me some tourist info to read while I was waiting for my course and waitress was taking care of clients immediately as needed. I was watching how carefully waiters moved and worked.

Breakfast was nice as well, with organic produce, items for Mueslix, excellent breads and sweets. There was separate table with gluten –free products. Gluten free diet requirements are also accommodated here.  Very health oriented.

Overall, this hotel had very refined atmosphere with mansion – high ceilings, large windows, lots of air, and beautiful gardens with olive and citrus trees. Like Grotto Guisti, they also offered walk in the morning.

I needed to go to airport early for 6:30am flight, so they told me will wake me up and will prepare tea and breakfast box. Very thoughtful.

Outside is a small village San Guiliano Terme and it is about 10 min walk to the train station (1 stop to Pisa San Rossore 5 min ride). I was contemplating to go there but the lure of spa and thermal pool was stronger. I did walk the village and ended in nice pizzeria, I had pizza there – excellent crust and I chose Marinara topping (like American but instead of tomato sauce – real crushed tomatoes, and mozzarella).  I ate only half of it and the rest they packaged to go. I crossed the street and found gelateria and treated myself to gelato.  Now I have snack until dinner – half pizza J

Clientele: Italian (some families), German,  Russian, Israelis… People who appreciate balneotherapy. Mostly well-heeled.

Fonteverde Spa.

It was my last spa on this trip. I found it so far the best and more comprehensive hotel.

I got privilege valley room, small but well appointed. Great working space and plugs right at the desk, very convenient. The window afforded beautiful valley view as description promised. It came with 2 robes and 2 pairs of slippers, very handy.

I met with sales manager Ursula and we went on a tour of the spa. She suggested to Etruscan circuit – an area with hot plate, hammam and sauna which was included in my package.

First I tried hot plate, it is kind of in between hammam and sauna. It was nice and warm to sit there and watch lights changing color.  Next I went to Sauna and then to Turkish steam room. It was so far best hammam I ever tried, right temperature, fog, quite large (2 other people came in too ) , and with water for cool off to splash.

After that I decided to splurge and try Kneip treatment for feet, I needed it after all this walking and climbing. It took total 20 mins. You walk on stones forward and back, then walk in 2 pools – one is warm water with jets and another in cold. After some walking minutes it did not seem so cold. You must walk both pools. It was excellent.

Next I went to the pool with waterfall shower massages, spine back, shoulders, and 2 pools for hotel guests and outside.

Clientele was mostly Russian and Italians. I did not see any Germans and I was told they have their own spas which covered by health insurance. There were some families with grandparents and nannies. All children were well behaved. I saw people with dogs, I did not dare ask for permission taking picture of a dog. It’s like asking Americans to take picture of their children. I can warn Americans re: swimsuits “Costumo di Bagno” – most wore speedo or short shorts not like ours long shorts until knees. Women wear 2  piece, except little girls with one piece. The hotel had quite large Russian staff since well heeled Russian tourist are getting common in Europe. Newspapers were available in all languages including International Herald Tribune (overseas version of New York Times), and Republica for Italians.

There are separate pools for hotel guest only and as well for outside guests.

In some pools you can swim out or walk to the pool area and use lounges.

Out of 3 hotels I visited, Fonteverde had the largest and extensive pools, even some beds in the pools  with jets. It tried one and the switch turned on bubbles for 3 beds. I pushed the button and woke up Italian on one bed with water jets. Water is about 98.6F . In October it was nice sitting outside in a pool. There was one indoor pool with colors changing in them.

Food is excellent gourmet with many selection (gluten free available), emphasis on local organic (bio) produce. I ate first dinner – salmon tartar antipasti, ravioli for first course, and local steak . I wanted famous Chianina beef but it came only 1KG for 2 people portion. Waiter suggested steak it was good but not as soft as Chianina as I remember. For desert I chose Baba Rum with fruit. Second day – fried salted cod for antipasti,  tortellini with ricotta and spinach for first course, and lamb chops for main. Desert chocolate gateaux with ice cream, needed to wait 7 min but it was worth it.

There is also chefs compliments – small starter – first day was smoked swordfish and second some fish with ricotta.

Everything was delicious and well presented. I tried red wine Montalcino and it was good.

Water here is excellent sparking water not know the brand but bottled specifically for Fonteverde.

Location – it is in located in delightful Tuscan Village San Casciano. I walked there (about 20 minutes pleasant walk) and enjoyed very much few hours there. 

Conclusion : I hope this review of spas will bring to attention what Americans are missing and hopefully they will slow down and enjoy their European spa vacation.

Contact me with any questions at info@mytravelfind.com

Disclaimer: this report presents just an opinion of individuals who’ve been there…. Tastes Differ…

Copyrights Sophia’s Travel Agency, division of EMCO Travel, LLC…