As well as healthy Tuscan cuisine, elegant rooms and innovative cocktails, this historic villa has a series of underground caves, which will give a deeper meaning to your spa experience.
With its 16th-century city walls, atmospheric oval Piazza dell’Anfiteatro – complete with curved terracotta-coloured buildings – and at least 100 churches, Lucca in the heart of Tuscany is one of Italy’s most charming towns. Offering everything anyone loves about Italy and more (Renaissance monuments, untouched ancient streets and plenty of pasta pitstops), it is often overlooked in favour of Tuscany’s bigger hitters of Pisa or Florence.
For something totally unique, head to the nearby Grotta Giusti in Monsummano Terme. As well as being a pretty 19th century villa, and original home to the poet Giuseppe Giusti, it has a series of underground caves and thermal springs, complete with stalactites and stalagmites and a vast lake. In fact, stretching over 200m below the resort, it is the largest thermal cave in Europe, dating back millions of years. Here, guests can experience a unique take on a sauna experience. As they pass through three separate areas of Heaven, Purgatory and Hell, temperatures rise to 34°C with the natural steam said to give many health benefits. You can also try out flotation therapy and scuba diving in Limbo’s crystal-clear pool of water.
The hotel, dating back to 1849, has recently undergone a €1.5m refurbishment, with the 64 bedrooms having a restrained yet elegant revamp and public areas offering a sumptuous respite from the Tuscan sun outside. The main lounge has oversized Murano glass chandeliers to offset the original ceiling frescos, gilded mirrors and tableau of red velvet chairs. The bar, next door, is carved out of the original chapel and has a stand-out cocktail list curated by award-winning bartender Francesco Iglio.
The main restaurant, La Veranda, is headed up by chef Guido Cotti, who showcases local, seasonal produce in a range of healthy Tuscan dishes, such as ‘Spaghetti with Salt Cod Ragu’ and ‘Baked Fillet of Seabass with Confit Tomatoes and Crispy Potatoes’.
The sister hotel Bagni di Pisa in San Giuliano Terme, a noted spa-town close to Pisa, is worth a side trip. This grand former palazzo once attracted Lord Byron and Mary Shelley as guests and has magnificent suites and rooms with canopied beds and antique furniture. Both properties, part of the Italian Hospitality Collection, are focused around their vast thermal spa offerings, with a wide range of treatments, thermal pools and mud therapies on offer.
Take a morning hike through Grotta’s spectacular 45-hectare park, designed by the landscape architect, Pietro Porcinai,at the start of the 20th century. With church bells ringing in the distance, you can follow one of the trails, past Cypress trees, and scented lemon groves.
Nightly rates at Grotta Giusti start from €144 (£125) per person per night in a Comfort Room on a B&B basis. Rates also include wi-fi, access to spa and fitness facilities.
This article was also published in City Am Newspaper on 24 September 2018