You’ve still got that dreadful hacking cough, my husband informed me helpfully. Yes, I’ve been busy, I’ve just finished looking after a group of Ferrari drivers in Tuscany and now it’s time to take care of myself. You should go to the doctor, said the husband irritatingly. Oh yes I snapped back, I’m in Italy, my doctor is in England, how am I going to achieve that then!
As often happens, he got me thinking and his words rang true in my befuddled brain. I was not very well and I probably did need a bit of help. But I didn’t fancy turning up at some random doctor’s surgery. It was a Sunday, of course, isn’t it always, and I wasn’t sick enough for a hospital visit. Now what was the solution here….I really didn’t know. The coughing returned, racking my body and hurting my lower back, I sniffled miserably and considered a little self-pitying weep. What exactly was I going to do…….
I should explain that I was stood in a very luxurious bedroom in a beautiful, historic villa with far-reaching views over the River Arno. My precise location was 6 kilometres east of Florence. I had finished work that morning and I was about to leave the hotel and head up to Venice, possibly even fly home later the same day. But the problem was, I felt dire, headache, coughing, even a bit of blurred vision and a sore throat. So what exactly was I going to do.
DAY ONE – I went downstairs and had a coffee, always a pleasure in Italy. I packed up my car and paid the bill, I said my farewells. Problem was I didn’t really know where I was going and I really didn’t have a plan. I followed the signs for the autostrada and headed north towards Bologna, along a horrible, treacherous bit of motorway. All speeding BMWs and Italians driving three inches from your rear bumper. I stopped at a crowded and unpleasant service station for another coffee. Then it came to me, I had a brainwave, a solution swam into my muddled head. Just outside Venice is a spa town called Abano Terme. It is famous for the special, mineral rich waters that emerge from the rocks beneath the town. A year earlier I’d met the lovely Daria, one of the marketing people from Abano and she’d invited me to visit any time. Maybe now was that time. I sent her a message, and bless her heart, she responded in minutes. Did I want to stay in Abano she asked, and how could she help me. I explained my situation, and she was so kind, within twenty minutes I had a hotel reservation, an appointment with the hotel doctor and instructions on how to get to the hotel. It was a two hour drive, a challenge in my condition, but with the motivation of a doctor’s appointment and a comfortable hotel room booked, I was on my way. Well, I did actually have a quick weep first, and then I was on my way.
As I drove northwards I began to calm down and I started to think about Abano Terme, the spa town that was about to become my saviour. The hot springs have been famous since Roman times and the town claims to be the oldest and even the original spa town in Italy. Terme actually means spa, baths or hot springs in Italian. In my somewhat enfeebled state I didn’t care about the town’s outlandish claims. I just wanted a comfortable bed and a friendly doctor. A few hours later I was negotiating the rather complicated one-way system that carefully segregates tree-lined promenades and fountains from the rather ugly concrete blocks thrown up in the 1960s. I eventually found myself at the elegant entrance to the Trieste & Victoria Hotel. I was dishevelled, relieved and once again a little emotional. The reception staff could not have been more welcoming. They helped me with my luggage, escorted me to a lovely, comfortable room and informed me that the doctor was waiting for me. I couldn’t believe it, waiting for me, how incredible. I made my way downstairs to the spa and treatment centre, where endless small rooms offered all types of treatments. I had to fill in a couple of forms to register my presence and probably confirm my ability to pay for the services I would receive. To be honest I didn’t know or care what I was signing. I just signed.
Then five minutes later a smiling, charming, white-coated lady appeared in the corridor. She ushered me into her consulting room. She was just what the doctor ordered! Calm, decisive, attentive and she spoke perfect English. Her English was so good that she shared her love of Monty Python with me, including ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition’. Believe me that’s not a common occurrence in rural Italy. Within ten minutes of my arrival she’d taken my temperature, listened to my chest, examined my throat, taken my blood pressure and examined my limbs for swelling and water retention. She diagnosed a chest infection, inflamed tonsils, and a nasty head cold. She recommended a variety of painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicines. As she hand me the prescription she must have noticed the look of horror that crossed my face; find a pharmacy, in a strange town, whilst on the brink of who knows what. I couldn’t do it, it was the last straw, tears welled again…. Quick as a flash the doctor reacted to my predicament, fear not she assured me, the porter would go to the pharmacy on my behalf. I made my way back to my room where a beautiful bowl of fresh fruit had been placed on the table and a range of herbal teas left on the sideboard. Ten minutes later there was a knock at the door, my medication had arrived. Ten minutes after that I was in bed and fully dosed up. I slept for six hours. When I woke up the light was fading, the sun was setting and I realised how fortunate and lucky I had been.
The Open Road, Trieste & Victoria Hotel, Abano Terme – my saviour, Essential Treatments!
The next day, after an epic night’s sleep, the treatments would begin; ionic aerosols, inhalations, an anti-aging mud wrap and even an ozone enriched something or other. Whatever was on offer and recommended for me, I was totally on board.
I should explain at this point that the town of Abano Terme is made up of at least a dozen medical spas, each offering accommodation, spa treatments and a huge range of medical therapies including massage, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, respiratory treatments and even ultrasound scanning. These medical spas are serious therapeutic centres with doctors constantly on call. In the post-war years in Italy, many treatments were prescribed by local doctors and available free-of-charge through the Italian Health Service. This created a boom in business for the medical spas of Abano Terme and numerous other spa towns throughout the peninsula. To this day there are still a high number of smokers in Italy, each of whom was entitled to a one-week course of treatments at a medical spa, each year, to alleviate asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems. Government funding for spa therapies dried up at the end of the 1990s but the infrastructure remains. In fact the spa towns market themselves very effectively nowadays to overseas visitors.
DAY TWO: Having had a good night’s sleep and feeling significantly better than I did on my arrival I’m ready to embark on a programme of treatments. I consult my personalised timetable. First on the list is an inhalation treatment. It involved sitting at a desk, a bit like one of the old fashioned desks in the language labs of the 1970s. There was a plastic mask placed over my nose and mouth, and a white-coated assistant turned on a supply of moist, damp air that smelled faintly of pine and eucalyptus. It was my job to sit still, inhale and relax. I was to concentrate on my breathing and allow the steam to do its job. The whole thing lasted about 40 minutes and it was really very pleasant. Bizarrely my tense shoulders began to relax, my airways felt less constricted and my lungs felt soothed. Verdict – thoroughly enjoyable and very relaxing. Level of calmness at the end of the treatment – I’d classify it as serene.
After an hour slumped on a deck chair by one of the many geo-thermally heated pools (the water is at a constant 32 degrees) I was summoned downstairs into the dungeons of the hotel. My next experience was to be a volcanic mud wrap. I felt a bit nervous and actually slightly concerned. The mud, which is thick and dense and slightly sticky, is pumped up from beneath the ground into huge holding tanks. It is then decanted into metal buckets (see below) and liberally smeared onto a plastic bed. The mud emerges from the underworld at a temperature of more than 80 degrees celsius. Firstly the mud has to be cooled. The doctor had already assessed my skin type, delicate and very fair. She deemed an appropriate temperature for me of 40 degrees (not more). The young woman preparing my bed had a large thermometer which she used at regular intervals to ensure that the mud would not burn me. Still I felt a bit anxious. Next I was instructed to strip naked and put on a pair of disposable pants, I was then invited to sit on the bed, with the mud squelching around me, it was hot, nicely hot, deliciously hot actually. I was encouraged to lie down and enjoy the sensation of the heat and the strange texture of the mud caressing my skin. Another bucket of mud appeared and it was ladled over my body from top to toe, even the forehead and cheeks got a little dollop. It felt like swirls of buttercream spiralling over my shoulders, like a huge velvet cloak, borrowed from a fantastical stranger. By the time a huge plastic sheet was placed over me, cocooning me in a shroud of heat and reassurance I was drifting off to join Tinkerbell and the other fairies in the forest.
I’ve got no idea how long I was wrapped in the mud for, perhaps an hour, I really don’t know. At some point I was awoken and guided to a huge shower, where the mud that was still clinging to my body was gently hosed away. Then I was led to an enormous bath tub, all polished stone and grandeur, where I was left to luxuriate in warm water scented with rose petals. Eventually I was guided out of the bath and given a gentle massage. My skin felt soft and totally rejuvenated. I made my way slowly and very carefully, back to my room, where I lay on the bed and immediately fell into a deep and (this time) dreamless sleep. Verdict on the mud treatment – the whole process was intense and positive. The sensation of the hot mud on my skin was powerful and thoroughly reassuring. At one point it made me feel as if I was an unborn child wrapped in the warmth and security of the womb. I’d definitely have this treatment again.
DAY THREE – After a couple of days of pampering, prescription drugs and total security I was beginning to feel a lot better. The doctor popped in to see me several times during my stay and was delighted with my progress. I even ventured out beyond the gates of the hotel to have a little look around the small town of Abano. It’s a pleasant place with squares and fountains, numerous gift shops and a variety of cafes and bars. The town is sheltered by the Euganean Hills to the west. These hills, geologically speaking, are made up of ancient volcanic rocks. In fact it’s the presence of these rocks and their high mineral content that contributes to the special waters and muds that have made Abano famous.
This article is really a massive thank you to the staff of the Grand Hotel Abano Terme and the Grand Hotel Trieste & Victoria for their kindness and dedication. A series of unlikely events positioned me fairly and squarely on the road to recovery and for that I am extremely grateful. It’s not every day that you can joke with your doctor about Monty Python and even laugh together at the ‘Dead Parrot Sketch’. After all the parrot wasn’t dead, everyone knows that, it was just resting.
Grand Hotel Orologio – Abano Terme (left), Basil the support plant dresses up to amuse me. Mud, glorious mud, Abano (right)
PostScript – I forgot to mention earlier that I did have one rather unusual assistant travelling with me. Basil my support herb has done a brilliant job of looking after me, in Tuscany when I was sick and on the journey to the spa. He even dressed up to amuse me in my favourite silk scarf here he is showing off, just for you (photo above). What a herb he is…..
JUST A LITTLE BIT OF GEOLOGY – The Euganean Hills were formed by an under the sea, volcanic lava flow of basaltic material during the Eocene geological period. This was followed by the more recent Oligocene period – when a further series of lava flows, this time of more viscous magma formed deposits of a volcanic rock known as trachyte. It was this geological activity that created the picturesque Euganean Hills, visible from Venice on a clear day. These hills were loved by Petrarch, one of the fathers of Italian literature who found peace and tranquillity in Arquà towards the end of his life. The Euganean hills, like an archipelago of steep-sided wooded islands rising from the perfectly flat agricultural plain, inspired the setting of Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills.
Shelley likens the hills at first to an island in “the deep wide sea of Misery”, then he sees that the hills offer views over the surrounding ‘campagna’ below,
‘….Beneath is spread like a green sea, The waveless plain of Lombardy…’
Views of Venice – 2022 – including sunset with Euganean Hills on the horizon
- With special thanks to Daria at Grand Hotel Abano Terme and Grand Hotel Trieste & Victoria who made all this possible – www.gbhotelsabano.it
- Also to my wonderful doctor – she knows who she is!
- Thanks too (as always) to Villa La Massa, especially Tamara – your hotel is exceptional. For me it is the perfect 5-star base for exploring both Tuscany and Florence https://www.villalamassa.com/
- #grandtourist and #educatedtraveller sharing the very best of Italy.