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Two new Italian spas have recently opened and couldn’t be more different. Though, strictly speaking, neither is a conventional spa and neither is entirely new. Anna Selby mixes red wine and chocolate therapies with hot yoga and serious rejuvenation.  Villa Lucia, half an hour’s drive from Pisa, is everyone’s...

La Dolce Vita

Two new Italian spas have recently opened and couldn’t be more different. Though, strictly speaking, neither is a conventional spa and neither is entirely new. Anna Selby mixes red wine and chocolate therapies with hot yoga and serious rejuvenation. 

Villa Lucia, half an hour’s drive from Pisa, is everyone’s idea of the perfect Tuscan villa, its gold ochre walls bathed in the light of a warm sun, cypresses lining its drive. There are big, airy rooms, roll-topped baths and frescoed walls. Swallows swoop across the surface of the outdoor swimming pool and there are lovely gardens filled with fragrant plants and sculptures.Most meals are served outside at a long, shaded table. The food is, quite simply, sensational and the chef versatile enough to adapt to everyone’s needs. While I was there, we sampled the red wine and chocolate diet. Now, I know this sounds like cheating and I can’t say it was exactly tough but there was only a tiny bit of the finest quality dark chocolate every day and the wine was the kind that is high in procyanidins, guarding against heart disease, strokes and diabetes. The food followed the same procyanidin theme with lots of berries, pomegranates, nuts and beans but little fats, sugars or other carbs.

There is a dedicated spa with a hammam, sauna, monsoon shower and treatment rooms. Outside there is a tennis court, a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi in a grotto watched over by a stone statue of Pan playing his pipes and an orchard where we had yoga classes. There are walks through the Tuscan hills and the perfect little town of Lucca just a short drive away.

Villa Lucia isn’t a spa all year round – instead, it hosts spa retreats with English therapists. It’s a team of three, all with very different skills. Lisa Bond takes care of your fitness. She does group yoga and Pilates, one-to-one training and will take you for a mountain run if you’re a real glutton for punishment. I’ve done a lot of yoga but never Bikram style which is her speciality. Bikram yoga usually takes place in a hot room and the whole sweaty routine takes about an hour and a half, constantly on the move with no pauses. For Villa Lucia, we moved out into the orchard which was a cooler setting but pretty demanding nonetheless.

Bikram is relentless. You do a series of postures, balances and stretches, repeating each twice and moving rapidly from one to the next. It is fast and works through every part of the body and manages to be both exhausting and invigorating at the same time. I liked it so much that when we had our one-to-one I asked Lisa to go through the whole thing with me again, correcting me and pushing me that bit further. Thank god for that Jacuzzi…

Keely Wright continues the red wine and chocolate theme with some of the most luxurious treatments imaginable. Villa Lucia uses ISHI Elements, an Italian range of what they describe as “skin foods”. There’s ChocoTherapy, VinoTherapy and even Truffle Therapy. The world’s finest cocoa powder is used to produce chocolate therapies for the body (anti-cellulite and, paradoxically, slimming) and anti-ageing facials that have high concentrations of anti-oxidants. The VinoTherapy uses Tuscan grapes and other active ingredients in invigorating body toning and slimming treatments. But it was the Truffle Therapy that was perhaps the most amazing. Using black truffle caviar, the anti-ageing facial was extremely indulgent with a mask and lifting serum that firmed and brightened the skin – everyone’s favourite treatment on the retreat.

Villa Lucia features another unusual element. It takes a look at the health of your mind, too. Gloria Budd is a performance coach who has helped international tennis and racing car drivers achieve their goals but can also help counsel you through all kinds of personal turning points such as divorce, changing career, pregnancy and fertility issues and grief. She will, quite simply, listen to what you want to talk about and help you deal with your own worries and circumstances. She finishes with a visualisation and one stressed-out young mum came out of her session transformed – relaxed, radiant, able to cope.

The chances are that you might bump into some of Gloria’s tennis champions at the Melia Olbia Geovillage Resort and Spa in Sardinia. The resort has long specialised in coaching sports stars of all kinds – particularly tennis and football. When I was there, the boys of the Chelsea Academy were, too, training for a match with their Milan counterparts. But, while the resort has been there a while, the spa is brand new, having been opened in May 2009. And it’s a very different kind of spa from Villa Lucia.

The Malo Clinic Spa
The clue is in the name. The Malo Clinic Spa is part of the Malo Group, the largest medical spa company in the world with outlets from Hong Kong to Warsaw, Sao Paolo to Casablanca. The antithesis of Villa Lucia’s Tuscan romanticism, this is an environment of cool modernism. The spa is divided into four sections – medical, esthetics, acqua and fitness. Fitness includes a vast state of the art gym and swimming pool covering an area of around 80,000 sq ft plus personal training, a range of classes, squash, Pilates and Kinesis toning.


The Acqua spa comprises, not surprisingly, all kinds of water treatments. At its centre is a pool with a relaxing, firming and toning circuit, underwater massage beds and armchairs and Jacuzzis, while around it are tropical showers, a “cold fog” shower, sauna, Turkish bath, Mediterranean bath and a Kneipp foot bath. I personally find this changing between hot and cold really invigorating while I’m doing it (particularly a series of swims in the pool interspersed with saunas) and then equally relaxing when I stop. So, after a morning in the water, I chilled out in a peaceful relaxation area and had sushi, fresh juice and herbal tea in the “tisanaria”.

The medical part of the spa is key to Malo Spas. The founder Paulo Malo started out as a cosmetic dentist and he is a firm believer in the new beauty technologies. In Sardinia the medical treatments are confined to small scale procedures like botox and lasers, though in other Malo Spas there are fully equipped operating theatres. I didn’t try any of these out – this part of the spa hadn’t yet opened – but there will be quite a range on offer: hydro-microdermabrasion is a supersonic jet peel; photo-rejuvenation reduces wrinkles and age spots with pulse light therapy; micro-injections of vitamins and amino acids counter skin ageing; lips can plump up; hair can disappear permanently; and cellulite reduced with bio-mesotherapy.

It does add up to an awful lot of needles. There is, though, the Esthetic Spa – and here Malo is back on more familiar spa territory with a gigantic treatment menu on offer. There are mud therapies, every kind of massage from sports to aromatherapy to hot stone, Chinese therapies including acupuncture, moxibustion and Tui Na massage, and numerous facials. I decided to go for the signature treatment that had a strong Ayurvedic flavour with warmed sesame oil for a massage of face, scalp and body. After the first stage of hand massage, the therapist uses boluses – linen bags filled with ground spices including cinnamon and aniseed used in a similar way to hot stones. The scents were lovely and my skin felt great – according to Ayurveda, sesame oil is the most nourishing for the skin.

So, classic or contemporary? Hot yoga in the Tuscan hills or serious rejuvenation in the clinic? The choice is yours – just try not to be too swayed by the red wine and chocolate…

The Mind, Body And Soul Retreat costs £1,900 and will take place at Villa Lucia from 13th to 18th September 2009.For more information and other themed retreats please visit www.vedicsparesorts.com or call 01252 790222.An Easyjet flight and a week at the Melia Olbia Resort in Sardinia will cost from £550 in low season, rising to around £1,000 in high season.

For more information: call 0039 0789 554000 or email melia.olbia@solmelia.com

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