Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Dolce Far Niente" in Grotta Giusti, Toscana

Inside Grotta Giusti Thermal Grotta
Photo credit:  Grotta Giusti
The silence was remarkable.  It was not the disconcerting or eerie kind.  It was humid and warm, but not unbearably so.  The lights were dim.  I was in shallow slumber.  Or at least I thought I was.  How could I be so lucid then?  


Like that slow trickle of blackness onto a waiting cup of drip coffee, the cave was sweating on me.  Yes. Stalactites, stalagmites, were sweating on my face as I sat reclined on a wood chair, wrapped in a thick terry robe.  The iridescent underground thermal lakes beneath create heat, humidity, and condensation, and with nowhere else for these to go, the water drips on me.  What a delicately pleasant sensation.        
The warmest part of the thermal grotto - Inferno
It was almost like role play, like most of Italy is if you're on holiday.  Like it wasn't even real.  You fall into a routine of eating as though you were part of the cast in Leonardo's "Last Supper", as though there's no tomorrow.  You take everything in with ferocity - the landscape, the food, the paintings, the crumbly walls, the old ladies hobbling to the market, the loud Italian conversations, and in this case, the thermal cave - because you know it will inevitably end in a few days, this sweet, almost ridiculous rendezvous with bella Italia.  That day is looming when you'll disrobe, take off the costume.  You'll exchange the role for frightening reality.

But I'm not ready just yet.

It was our sixth day in Italy, our fourth in Tuscany.  We were melancholic to leave our agriturismo in Monteriggioni earlier that day, but the prospect of spending a day of convalescence was too damn appealing.

The iridiscent underground lake
Phot credit: Grotta Giusti
We were at Grotta Giusti, a spa in Monsummano Terme, a small town at the base of a mountain wedged between Lucca and Florence.  We came here at the recommendation of a local, Serena Bonacossi of Capezzana in Carmignano where we were wine tasting earlier that day (more on that later).  The idea of spending an hour at a "thermal cave" was so foreign, I had to see for myself what it was.  Upon check in, we slipped into the robes and slippers we were given.  A new role play is beginning.

We entered the dimly-lit cave and the warmth was inviting.  I expected caves to be dank and musty, but this wasn't.  After ten minutes, we descended deeper into the cave, as we were told.   The depths of the caves had almost tongue-in-cheek references to Dante's Inferno - Paradiso, Purgatorio, Inferno.  I told you.  Role play.

The thermal heat in the caves is generated by underground warm lakes.  The lakes glow in the dark.  It was mesmerizing.  The warmth and humidity were pleasant and very natural - not like what you would experience in a dry sauna.  This is supposed to detoxify and destress.  After about forty minutes, I had to nudge The Dutch.  He was snoring softly.

I guess it was working.

After a quick shower, we went to the outdoor mineral pool.  It was gorgeous.  We swam laps and sat around, happy with the notion of not having to be anywhere to do anything.  Holy mole.  Just thinking about that fresh, clean, warm water makes me want to impulsively buy another plane ticket to Italy.  Perhaps a one-way?
The Thermal Pool.  Photo credit: Grotta Giusti
The sun was starting to be obscured by the clouds. The umbrellas were folded.  The place was closing for the day.  Reluctantly, we left the pool.  

Experiencing the coveted la dolce vita is tough business, I had learned.  One must not only eat as the Italians do (that's the easiest part, to be honest), but moreover, do not as the Italians do not.  To be Italian, one must emulate dolce far niente - the sweetness of doing nothing.  Although I was born and raised Filipino, I have lived the last decade in the United States and I find myself Americanized in ways I didn't even realize.  For one, I have succumbed to the unsettling feeling over not doing anything.  Even in my suburban existence in the States, every single moment is filled with something. To be idle was intolerable, insufferable.  I went to idyllic Tuscany and booked a day mountain biking.  When did I turn into that crazy American?  

At Grotta Giusti though, it was almost easy to shutdown and reboot.  It was gratifying to truly unwind, close our eyes, and succumb to that nap.  If you make it to Tuscany, spend a day here, if only at the thermal pool.  Check your guilt at the door and remember, dolce vita is meaningless without dolce far niente. 

Grotta Giusti is located in Monsummano terme in Tuscany, between the towns of Lucca and Florence.  You can find their website here.  Grotta Giusti is also a resort offering elegant rooms, a spa, a restaurant, and even a golf course.  For inquiries and reservations, you may email info@grottagiustispa.com.  They have English-speaking staff that offer delightful service and are quick to respond.  

Terme facade.  Photo credit: Grotta Giusti

Disclosure:  This post is a statement of independent opinion.  While I was accommodated as a non-paying guest at Grotta Giusti, I did not receive any compensation from them. 

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