As if hearty Italian cuisine, elegant rooms and innovative cocktails were not enough, this historic villa in overlooked Lucca, Tuscany, has a spa that’s so out of this world it’ll take you to Heaven and back.
Set in a series of underground caves, it will add a whole new dimension to your downward dog. 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. Despite offering everything we’ve come to love about Italy – Renaissance monuments, untouched ancient streets and plenty of pasta pitstops – it is often passed over in favour of Pisa and Florence.
Where? 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, 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 sauna like nowhere else on earth. Temperatures rise to 34°C as you pass through Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. These areas in the sauna are said to generate natural steam that’s good for the skin and respiratory system. You can try out flotation therapy and scuba diving in the crystal clear pool water of Limbo.
The stay: Dating back to 1849, the hotel has recently undergone a €1.5m refurbishment, with the 64 bedrooms undergoing a restrained yet elegant revamp, with public areas spruced up to offer 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 a 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 food: The main restaurant, La Veranda, is headed up by chef Guido Cotti who showcases Tuscan produce with a healthy ethos. Signature dishes include spaghetti with salt cod ragu and baked fillet of seabass.
Ask about: The sister hotel Bagni di Pisa in San Giuliano Terme, a noted spa-town close to Pisa. 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 the vast thermal spa offerings, with a wide range of treatments, thermal pools and mud therapies on offer.
And after that? 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.