Tag Archives: Italian Spa Culture

Roman Ways

Roman Ways

I confess – I love Rome.  Not so much the Colosseum and St. Peter’s (and I ADORE those places) but rather just walking around through the piazzas and the tiny streets that connect them all together like an ancient necklace. This is my take on the many ways to enjoy Roman Ways.

There is that famous adage: “Roma non basta una vita” which means “A lifetime is not enough,” but I will assume that most people have about three hours for a brief walk through time. Usually I and my companions start my walk in the piazza in Santa Maria in Trastevere and end up at the Piazza del Popolo. It is a walk that spans every conceivable period of Roman history with stops on the way for shopping, cappuccino, and gelato. It is a walk crammed with fountains, a Roman arena here and there, and ancient pillars. It is the story of Rome – it is the story of a city we have come to adore.

The main piazza in Trastevere is where we find one of the oldest churches in Rome, Santa Maria, which has walls dating back to around 300 A.D. It is not a bad place to start. Across the Ponte Sisto bridge, which connects Trastevere with the beautiful Via Giulia, we see Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s in the nearby distance. We are heading to the Piazza Farnese to see the Farnese Palace, designed by Michelangelo, and now home to the French Embassy.  On an evening stroll you can often see the magnificent frescos inside, designed by the famous painters, Annibale and Agostino Carracci.

This square is dripping with history. The two bathtubs in the fountains were pulled from the baths of Caracalla. Caravaggio, the painter who had a terrible temper, had a bad argument there with somebody after a tennis game, and argument that resulted in a death. As a result, he fled Rome. I guess you would!

Right next door is the Campo de Fiori. The best slab pizza in town is at the Forno. The fountain–one of many we will see today–is stuck at the end of the square, because what looks like Darth Vader is taking up the center space. His name is Giordano Bruno and he was unceremoniously burned alive here in 1600 for outrageously suggesting that the Earth was not the center of the universe.  Shame on you Giordi!

Campo de Fiori is abuzz with a local market most days and cafés and restaurants surround the outside of the square. It is a real hangout at night. At the bottom of the square is where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Yeah, it is a wild square the Campo de Fiori.

Across the busy street, passing the biggest mortadella (real healthy) in the world, we pass a Renaissance palace, the Cancelleria, and we wind ourselves into the fabulous Piazza Navona.  Here we have a formal introduction to Bernini, the cool and iconic Baroque master of the Pope, and Borromini, the brilliant and very depressed foil to the master himself. This place is loaded.  Inside of this square, there is: a medieval church, a beautiful Renaissance church, a Roman statue (the Pasquino – the original Talking Head), the ancient Domitian stadium 20 feet below ground (and still visible in some places), an Egyptian obelisk, a Baroque fountain (The Fountain of the Four Rivers), and the beautiful St. Agnes in Agone by Borromini. In between all of these landmarks, it is not a bad idea to grab a gelato at Tre Scalini. The tartufo is crazy good!

Gelato done, there is no time to lose. Out of the square and passing the senate building we wander into the spectacular Piazza della Rotunda. It is a breathtaking moment. The Pantheon is staring us down. This is the most perfectly preserved Roman building in the world. It is an extraordinary site as you spill out from the narrow street. There is a steady flow of tourists and Romans walking back and forth and around this magical building with a hole in the top. It is the basis for the great Brunelleschi dome in Florence and Michelangelo’s dome at St. Peter’s. The building, now a church, is also home to Rafael and the kings of Italy…and it is free to get in.

It is a short walk from here through the back streets of Rome, past the Palazzo Chigi, before you spill out onto the craziness of the Via del Corso and up to the Spanish Steps along the Via dei Condotti. There are more designer shops on this tiny street than there are in all of Manhattan, it seems! Here I enjoy heading to the Café Greco to grab an espresso and a tiny sandwich. At the base of the Spanish Steps, there is another fountain, this time by Bernini’s father.

We are getting close to the end of the walk. What better way than a stroll down the very chic Via Babuino to the Piazza del Popolo. To the right are the Villa Borghese gardens, and at the Piazza del Popolo, you can see clearly down the Via del Corso to the Piazza Venezia and the slightly awkward looking “wedding cake building”, Altare della Patria, designed to symbolize the unification of Italy in the 19th century. Beyond the wedding cake is the Forum, Michelangelo’s Capitoline Hill, the Jewish ghetto, and in the distance, the Palatine and the Colosseum.But that is another day.


Roman Ways ≈ Rome_Peter_Spanish_Steps 100815 Roman Ways Peter Jones Pietro Place

Merano and the Sud Tyrol

It is one of those wonderful Italian moments that you pick up in Northern Italy.

You are driving along the Autostrade, stopping at an auto grill here or an auto grill there, the bathrooms are okay but not brilliant, but the further north that you go, you start to see the signage change.

If you trace the River Adige to its source high up in the Alps, you suddenly uncover a different Italy — Austrian Italy. The signs are in German, the bathrooms are perfectly spotless, and everything is organized. Plus you even get a few Alps thrown into the scene so you know that you are close to Switzerland.

At Bolzano, which is home to the now famous 5,000 year old man, named Ötzi, I chose to take the Autostrade to Merano situated in the Italian Alps and specifically not in the Dolomites which are on the other side of the ridge near Bressanone and Ortisei.

What an incredible place Merano is. First of all, it is the apple capital of Europe. I have never seen so many apples in my life. There are fantastic wines around here as well, notably the white wines. Because of the thermal springs in the area, it has become a world-famous spa resort made famous by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria during the great Hapsburg reign. Nowadays there is a large, modern spa (not offensive) near the center of town on the Passer River. It is great fun with the kids or on a rainy day as there are a series of huge hot baths both indoor and outdoor.

Everything is terribly well organized as it would be in the Sud Tyrol. From the baths, you can stroll through the lanes along the river front to the castle. There are also the most famous botanical gardens in all of Europe just outside of town.
The town itself boasts several fabulous restaurants. Scattered in the hills around the town are standout resorts – some of them with Michelin-starred chefs. My hotel, the Castel Fragsburg, had amazing food, a brilliant chef, and I could not resist the spremuta of apples and celery with olive oil for breakfast in the morning.

About a 10 minute drive from the hotel is where you can pick up the cable car called the Merano 2000. It takes you up to around 10,000 feet and from there you can bike or hike with views across the Alps and the Dolomites in the distance.

This place is amazing. It is an hour and a half from Innsbruck, Austria and three hours from Munich, Germany. You can visit Ötzi in Bolzano or discover the Dolomites on the other side of the valley. It takes an easy three hours from Venice. All you do is take the Autostrade all the way to Verona and then head north.

For my two cents, during the heat of an Italian summer, you cannot beat the diversity and openness of the Italian Alps and Dolomites. There is plenty of sunshine, clean air, fabulous food, and everything works. The Italy of dreams, Merano and the Sud Tyrol!

Italian Spa Culture

I will always remember the time I went to Montecatini, a spa town outside of Florence. I pulled up to this beautiful gate and saw an elegant driveway that led to one of Italy’s famous spas. Fully expecting hot water thermal springs I was quickly initiated into the non-hot water type of spa. Here it was all about drinking the waters which includes tasting water pulled from taps that looked like beer spigots. You have to taste it to believe that anyone in a sane state would ever believe that this stuff is actually good for you. And so my introduction to the whole spa deal in Italy came full circle, I began to learn about the Italian Spa Culture.

I had previously taken the waters at Saturnia and recently at the delightfully trendy Fonteverde Spa in San Casciano. But here is what is interesting about spa culture in Italy – it is paid for by the government! This is because Italians actually believe that taking in the waters (i.e. drinking awful tasting rotten egg water and lounging in sulfur baths) is going to make a huge difference to our health and longevity.

Italian spa 2 050514

The Italian government allows a week every year to indulge in these ancient spas. Every tax payer has the right for one cycle according to the National Health System. In order to access this, the tax payer needs a prescription by a national health GP. Tax payers between the ages of 6 and 65 are charged a fee of 50 euros for the entire treatment. If your income is less than 36,000 euros, you are entitled to the spa treatment for three euros. Yes, that is right, three euros.

The board and lodging expenses are fully paid by Social Security. It is still not quite as liberal as the “old days” when you could get as many “paid holidays” as you liked within your “nine week vacation allotment.” Also, each spa configures its own scientifically based period for the treatment cycle. Water or mud treatments apparently have a different time period with different spas. So you may be entitled to 14 days according to the specific treatment that you are looking for and who would not look for the 14 day treatment? All hotels located in a spa location have an agreement with Italy’s Social Security to host the tax payers that have been prescribed spa treatment. This includes 5-star deluxe hotels as well as 3- or 4-star hotels. In other words, it is a wonderful paid vacation that even with the chronic economic situation in Italy is still ongoing. Nice!

italian spa gate 050514

Recently at San Casciano, I pulled up to this groovy 5-star retreat and saw a classic Italian moment. There was a wealthy looking guy with his younger companion both in their robes, both smoking cigarettes and with a glass of wine in hand. The notion that spas could have a wellness component that involved working out, yoga, and meditation is a just a mind boggling concept that is not understood in Italian culture. Here lounging in a hot bathtub fed by ancient sulfur springs while taking in the sun and taking time out for a quick cigarette is still all the rage.

So as I was having dinner of pasta with wild boar complemented by the inexpensive and delicious Montepulciano wine, I asked myself, “Who has it right?” I am making my reservations for next year already.

One tones. Other, the imagine straighter. Yoga the sustaining wrinkles and canadian pharmacy and week. I’m my dry to always real I I like a very research.