Mud, Glorious Mud

– If It’s Good Enough For Catherine Zeta Jones…

MICHAEL Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have been to hell and back and found it a heavenly experience.
How do I know?
I simply followed in their footsteps retracing the route they took to find the hottest spot in Italy (apart from Vesuvius and Etna, that is).
Even though it’s close to most of Tuscany’s greatest attractions, Monsummano is not the best-known of region’s retreats.
But once you’ve sampled the quality of the experience, it’s easy to understand its star-studded appeal.
If ever I needed some stress-relieving pampering it was following a nerve-jangling motorway drive north from Umbria. Lesson learned: If hiring a car in Italy, avoid the motorways unless you’re in a hurry.
Some Italians – well, all the ones in big, flash macho machines – don’t allow anything to delay their progress once they slot into the fast lane.
Drivers of both sexes, notoriously impatient and who do not take kindly to being held up, come at you like torpedoes and grimace so furiously that their faces loom up scarily in your rear mirror, teeth usually bared.
So it was, thank goodness, that we were heading for that sanctuary where experts have been soothing shattered nerves for over a century, in need of a large gin and tonic and some or their world-famous stress-relieving treatments.

Utterly dazzled

Within minutes of swooshing up the white pebble driveway to the Grotta Guisti Spa and Hotel and, we had slipped from feeling frazzled into being utterly dazzled by the tranquility of its beautiful setting.
The facilities are unique – and not exclusive to the rich and famous.
Locals – many sent there by their doctors long ago convinced of its benefits – enjoy a healthy helping of everything from steam baths and mud treatments to hydro massage and vapour inhalation.
True hedonists can wallow in the various programmes offered by the multi-lingual assistants in the beauty centre which also houses the Cosmetic Dermatology Research Institute.
Golfers can celebrate too as one of the finest courses in Europe is right on the doorstep.
The main attraction however, lies deep in a stalactite and stalagmite-encrusted cave beneath the 19th-century villa and four-star hotel where hot springs give off steam enriched with trace elements thought to help all manner of ailments.

The hottest spot, close to the aquamarine-coloured underground lake of bubbling water, is referred to as “hell”. A few metres away is the not so steamy “purgatory” and cooler again, but still a sweat-inducing corner, is “paradise”.
The grotto was discovered by chance in 1849 by quarry workers who moved a huge rock and found steam pouring from the cavity. They plucked up courage to climb inside and were awe struck by the out-of-this-world surroundings.

Natural steam bath

One of those who finally emerged claimed his aching joints had miraculously disappeared and soon, crowds were flocking to the spot to enjoy the revitalising “steam bath” laid on by nature.
You take a quick dip in the thermal pool before heading underground, dressed in the cool cotton tunic provided with a hooded woollen robe to keep the beneficial vapours in.
After an hour or so, you head off for a blast from hydro-massage experts who hose you down to make you feel spine-tingling good.
The mud treatment is something different too as specialists smear layers of the soft clay over your back, arms and legs then wrap you in a fine muslin sheet to bake your bones for twenty minutes at a steady 27C. Afterwards, there’s another hose down with powerful bursts from the jets freeing the heat-caked crust from your skin.
It’s a blast!
The restaurant too, is very different to what you will find in the average Tuscan town where calories are simply not of concern to the chef. Here, the emphasis is firmly on healthy diet and nutrition designed to make you feel better without adding to your waistline.
The walks on Cypress tree-lined paths that thread through across the hillside behind the property and back again are exhilarating and even on the hottest day, refreshing with wafts of mountain Thyme, Rosemary and Sage carried on the slightest breeze.
At the nearby Monticatini Golf Club, the hilltop location, with panoramic views of classic Tuscan countryside through rows of olive trees, is bonus enough. Who cares what the numbers add up to on the scorecard after playing a round in such perfectly sublime surroundings.
The 18-hole course is just one of many to be enjoyed in Tuscany, providing another great escape in the hills where Leonardo da Vinci liked to take a stroll.

To find out more or book a treatment or stay, check out the website