Italian Exposure: Grotta Giusti Natural Spa

Italian Exposure: Grotta Giusti Natural Spa
Down, down, down I walk on a narrow ramp that descends deep into a cavernous abyss. I imagine Dante’s Inferno, except instead of tortured souls I see sweating bodies. They appear like ghosts through the silky steam coming off a subterranean lake. They lounge on white chairs, quietly and reverently inhaling and absorbing the healing vapors. Dropping my white hooded robe, I take my place alongside them in the rock-walled cave. Ahhhh! I inhale and absorb.

Massages rank among the favorite services provided by the Grotta Giusti spa.
Massages rank among the favorite services provided by the Grotta Giusti spa.

This is the grotta termale of Grotta Giusti, an exclusive full-service natural spa resort outside Montecatini Terme, Italy.

An Italian terme originates from an ancient underground spring that provides healing water for people seeking wellness and even cures to illness. The modern-day terme offers relaxation and feel-good treatments as well.

Recognized since Roman times for its therapeutic hot springs of volcanic origin, the first baths of Montecatini Terme were built in 1540. In the 20th century this medieval city of about 21,000 became one of the most renowned spa resorts in Italy.

Composer Giuseppe Verdi and playwright Luigi Pirandello were among the most famous guests enjoying a retreat here. Today, nearly two million people visit annually.

Grotta Giusti and spring were discovered by workers excavating to build a home for the Giusti family in 1849 in the hills of Tuscany. Eventually the villa was made into an elegant hotel, and the grotto was opened to the public. All the curative thermal water and mud used throughout the spa come from the grotto’s lake. The water is also the basis for lotions and potions sold at the spa.

A couple absorbs the vapors of the natural spring in the grotta.
A couple absorbs the vapors of the natural spring in the grotta.

Preparing for my next treatment — a massage — a woman escorts me to the showers. Stripping me of my robe, she motions for me to stand against a wall. I take my position, and the uniformed technician turns on a sprinkler and washes me down like you would hose off your car. At first I feel a little exposed, but quickly I decide to go with it and enjoy the warm water wash.

After what seems like 10 minutes, she wraps me in yet another robe and leads me down the hall to a private room. In the middle sits a table.

Prego (please),” she says, as she pulls the robe from my shoulders. I lay on the white sheets, and she covers me from tonsils to toes in a luxurious velvety blue towel. She leaves, closing the door behind her.

Lying on my back, I nearly drift into sleep when a knock on the door jolts me to reality.

Permesso?” a deep voice says as the door is opened and someone waltzes through it.

Now I know enough Italian to know that permesso translates to something like, “Permit me.” I think this man is asking permission to open the door as in: “May I come in?” But no!

Almost simultaneously, he lifts the towel from my body in one sweeping gesture, leaving me naked as a newborn and staring into the eyes of a drop-dead gorgeous Italian stallion called Mario, the massage therapist.

Buon giorno!” (“Good morning)!” he chirps. “Come va? (How are you?)”

Bene, grazie. (Fine, thanks),” I stutter back, appalled that I could speak casually to a stranger while lying nude under his gaze. With that, Mario begins his work.

The exterior of the Grotta Giusti spa is surrounded by lush vegetation.
The exterior of the Grotta Giusti spa is surrounded by lush vegetation.

Instinctively, I close my eyes, for I cannot bear to watch. This magnificent man proceeds to massage nearly every inch of skin on my body. Now, I’m having an out-of-body experience, viewing the whole bizarre picture from above.

If my kids could see me now, I think. My eyes stay tightly shut. I know laughter would double me over if I got into the picture.

When he lifts my legs above his shoulders to get a better angle at the rubbing, my modesty is toast, and my chuckles are contained. I decide to relax and go with it. This is, after all, the best massage I’ve ever had!

If You Go

Grotta Giusti Spa Hotel

Colorado native Claudia Carbone is an award-winning ski and travel journalist and the author of the book “Women Ski.” She writes for local, national and international publications.