Spas & Thermal Springs: 3,000 Years of R+R
Imagine…a glass in hand, a string quartet playing as you stroll through beautifully manicured gardens. A glass of water full of promises to enhance your wellbeing. The healing waters that gush from the Italian earth are drunk, soaked in and endlessly talked about. With a history of R+R that stretches back thousands of years, the Italians know a thing or two about unwinding in style.
Many American spas today tout rigorous weight loss agendas, classes on meditation and strenuous sports activities. Spas in Italy have been popular since the time of the Etruscans and Romans when they would “take the waters” in natural hot springs. They have always been a combination of exquisite spa pampering, luxurious long soaks in thermal waters to cure what ails you, and superb organic seasonal cuisine.
Our offering this week takes inspiration form these spa menus of seasonal fruit, produce and seafood, demonstrating that food can be both flavorful and healthy.
Featured wine: Rosato Condorino, Fontaleoni, Tuscany (Read more here)
Imagine… a glass in hand and a string quartet playing as you stroll through beautifully manicured gardens. A glass of water full of promises to enhance your wellbeing. The healing waters that gush from the Italian earth are drunk, soaked in and endlessly talked about.
So why didn’t I listen when the Italians talked about “taking the waters” to heal what ailed them? Maybe it was my youthful skepticism that had me scoffing at the idea of water pulled from taps that looked like beer spigots to heal a cadre of ailments. Every year, my mother-in-law would travel to Montecatini Terme, one of the largest spa towns in Italy, to drink the water from a specific spring that was reported to be good for the liver. Now, I regret that, in almost twenty years that I lived there, I never went to drink the curative waters at a spa (terme) or soak in a regenerative thermal spring. Che peccato! What a sin!
Italian spas have been around since toga-toting Romans languished in large communal baths to conduct business, read books or listen to music. They elevated bathing in thermal waters to a fine art. Tuscany is known for its numerous hot springs. The waters are rich in mineral deposits, especially sulphur, giving it a slightly “eggy” smell and usually run at 99.5 degrees all year round.
At the Terme di Saturnia in southern Tuscany, people go to soak in the water and mud or inhale the vapors to treat digestive and gastric problems, arthritis, high blood pressure and more (link). Not far from there, on a hill above the Val d’Orcia, is the charming little town of Bagno Vignoni, whose main square is a large pool filled with hot spring water. There are many hotels and spa centers set up around the town offering specialized treatments as well as free outdoor springs that can be enjoyed by the general public.
Italians so believe in the restorative effects of these thermal waters that until recently the government completely underwrote the cost. All it took was a doctor’s prescription and every Italian citizen could spend 1-2 weeks drinking curative waters and benefitting from spa treatments, massages, mud baths, etc. However, since the downturn of the economy, many of these benefits of Italy’s socialized medicine have ended, causing the closure of surrounding hotels, shops and restaurants.
Unlike their Italian counterparts, many American spas today tout rigorous “boot camp” weight-loss agendas, meditation classes and strenuous sports activities. The Italian experience, on the other hand, has always been a combination of exquisite spa pampering, luxurious long soaks in thermal waters, and superb organic cuisine. Our offering this week takes inspiration from these Italian spa menus of seasonal fruit, produce and seafood, demonstrating that food can be both flavorful and healthy.
Nettarine, Burrata e Granturco is a flavorful summer salad of nectarines, corn and burrata. Emilia Romagna is considered to have the most delicious peaches and nectarines in Europe, probably influenced by the proximity of the Adriatic Sea.
Vellutata di Pomodori Arrostiti, chilled tomato soup is made by slowly oven roasting a variety of local tomatoes to bring out their natural sweetness, garnished then with a dollop of minted mascarpone. Tomatoes contain high levels of antioxidants, vitamin C and potassium.
Filetti di Sogliola ai Pinoli is quickly pan seared flounder garnished with pine nuts and fennel potatoes. Flounder is low in fat and is a primary source of amino acids and omega 3.
Macedonia di Frutta al Maraschino, fruit salad with a splash of maraschino cherry was the first dish I was taught to prep at the trattoria. Summer fruit is at its prime now and best eaten in this delicious medley.
“Riposo e Rilassamento.” With a history of R+R that stretches back thousands of years, the Italians know a thing or two about unwinding in style. It is said that even the word “spa” is an acronym of the Latin, “Salus Per Aquam” – “health through water.”