Melissa's Travels

A New Spa Favorite: Palazzo Fiuggi

While I’ve visited most of the top spas in America and been impressed by some for their spectacular settings and profound spiritual focuses (looking at you, Mii amo), I have long been intrigued by European medical wellness spas. Over the years friends have sworn by annual visits to Old World spas in Austria, Italy and Germany where the healing waters have been renowned for centuries. While at most American spas, the focus is on fitness and facials and a plethora of outdoor activities and group classes, Europeans have long gone to spas to soak in healing waters, detox in mud and salt baths and cleanse with special liquid or health menus—and be on their own. Lanserhof, Merano and Brenner’s Park are among the most famous of the “wellness clinics” (see our article on European Medical spas), but recently friends who have been to these have been raving about a new one. They told me it has all the benefits of the revered clinics but more modern medical treatments in such an elegant environment and with such serious pampering that it makes American spas look spartan and European clinics seem old-fashioned. So last month, I decided to check out Italy's Palazzo Fiuggi. My friends weren't the only ones recommending it, either. Oprah Winfrey, who not only has great taste in literature and in spiritual gurus, but also knows a lot about spas, dubbed Palazzo Fiuggi in Italy dubbed it “the best wellness retreat of her life.”

Contact Indagare your Trip Designer or to start planning a wellness-focused trip to Italy, or head to our review of Palazzo Fiuggi to book your stay.  Our team can match you with the accommodations, reservations and activities that are right for you.

Located an hour’s drive south of Rome in the town of Fiuggi, which has been famous for its healing waters for centuries, the Palazzo Fiuggi was transformed into a state-of-the-art medical wellness spa in 2021. Pope Boniface VIII put the town on the map in the 14th century when he claimed its waters cured his kidney stones. Medicis and Michaelangelo followed and eventually in 1913, Palazzo Fiuggi opened in the town as a grand healing resort for the Italian elite; the last king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, and his wife were frequent visitors. The property retains much of its historic glamour, from its imposing iron gates and dramatic tree-lined driveway to its Italianate palazzo, complete with an Art Nouveau frescoed dining room and dozens of original Murano glass chandeliers. But beneath the original hotel, a massive, 65,000-square-foot spa has been added along with the spa’s new motto: “For a longer life, better lived.”

While the healing mineral waters are at the literal heart of the spa facility in the form of numerous indoor and outdoor pools and play an important role in all visitors’ experience, there are various programs to choose from, ranging from longevity and detox to immuno boost and various healing practices, from traditional medicine to ayurveda. At the entry to the spa facility is the medical area, where the thalassotherapy pools are located, as are the medical screening rooms and doctor’s offices, where your program is customized. As you move down the massive white marble hallway toward the indoor and outdoor pools, you find the Beauty Spa and Ayurveda areas. The Roman Baths building contains thermal pools (indoor and outdoor), Kneipp hydrotherapy pools, as well as multiple steam rooms and saunas, including an infrared one, cryotherapy chamber and a room lined with salt blocks to aid respiration.

Whether guests are focusing on medical, beauty or detox goals, or a blend, most will begin their stay with a Welcome Hammam ritual. This was Oprah’s favorite treatment. In a beautiful marble-clad room with a concave ceiling speckled with points of “starlight,” steam floods over you once you lie down on the central massive marble slab. Then a bathing suit-clad therapist scrubs you with salt and argan oil and slathers you in foam bubbles before rinsing you with warm water. “This prepares your body to receive the healing waters,” explained my therapist. “Plus, it makes your skin silky.”

The thalassotherapy pools are another must. Located in a sun-flooded space with two large pools—both are warm and buoyant; one is filled with mineral-rich, muddy water and another with super-salinated water—the treatment involves floating in each large pool for 20 minutes (with your head resting on an inflatable neck pillow) and then taking a cold plunge.

All guests will begin with some basic medical screenings, like an EKG, to ensure that their blood pressure is low enough to tolerate the various treatments. (Those with high blood pressure, for instance, should not use the cryotherapy pods.) Most will also have a Bioeletrical Impedance analysis (BIA) and 3D Body Scan (STYKU), which analyzes your body composition, including your visceral fat and muscle mass. These, too, can be used to tailor your spa program and longer-term lifestyle adjustments. For those who want to go deeper with medical panels, it is possible to get blood and hormone panels done, abdominal ultrasounds and circulation tests among many others.

“I believe that we have to be more proactive about our medical care,” said one guest I met, an American doctor who had compared pricing for a week at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires and a week at Fiuggi and found the Fiuggi program, with all of its inclusions, to be cheaper. “I cannot get my internist to order some of these screenings for me without a diagnosis in America,” she said, “but here I can, which is amazing.” (She, like me, had recently read Peter Attia’s best-selling book Outlive, which advocates for a more personal and proactive approach to healthcare.)

The spa’s range of beauty treatments is equally extensive. You can opt for non-invasive facials with fabulous therapists who use the products of Dr. Barbara Sturm or Team Dr. Joseph, an Italian botanical line, and electrical current machines to stimulate collagen. Or you can choose treatments such as cellulite cupping and waist firming or from the medical team, oxyneedling, blue light laser treatments, peels, microsurgery without scalpel, biostimulation, carboxytherapy, radiesse, botox and filler—none of which I tried, but many intrigued me. The on-staff Indian Ayurvedic doctor will also analyze your skin and suggest natural products and supplements as well as nutritional changes.

Cuisine plays a major role in the guest experience and the effectiveness of the Fiuggi detox, because just as the local waters are renowned for their diuretic properties, so have the menus been developed to support wellness and detox. In fact, this may be the only spa in the world with diet menus developed by doctors and a three-star-Michelin chef, Heinz Beck—and where guests are expected to dress for dinner. Bathrobes can be worn into the majestic dining room for breakfast or lunch, but in the evening, the chandelier-lit space takes on a ceremonial atmosphere that complements the beautifully plated, low-calorie cuisine. (Room service is also an option.) Guests can choose between three different menu programs: Longevity and Rejuvenation (daily calories up to 1,900); Deep Detox (daily calories of 1,400) add semi-colon and Optimal Weight (daily calories of 1,200). No olive oil, butter or milk are used in dishes, which focus on seasonal vegetables and fish, but can be adapted for vegetarian or other dietary requirements. (Also, no coffee or alcohol is served, though some stroll into town for espresso.) I found the Longevity program so delicious and satisfying that often I didn’t finish my meals.

The fitness offerings range from personal training sessions in a magnificent gym facility to hiking and group classes. (An Italian friend had told me that Europeans and Middle Easterners, who made up the majority of the guests, “wouldn’t be caught dead in a group spa class” and that proved accurate.) So I found myself mostly alone in classes such as core training and “true Indian yoga,” as the Ayurvedic doctor explained it. On a morning hike, I was joined by two American guests, one a repeater from Denver and the other the doctor from Boston. Our guide drove us 20 minutes to the slopes of Monte Rotk, where we ascended a few kilometers to a spectacular lookout over mountains and Centosa Trisulti, an historic monastery that we visited to see its exquisite pharmacy that dated back to the Middle Ages, when the monks cultivated hundreds of herbal cures.

When it comes to giving travel advice, I have always been more of a matchmaker than a "best" pronouncer, because I think you have to match the person and their purpose with a place. Some people, for instance, go to spas with a specific intention to lose weight or to jump start an exercise regime, and many want to be forced into a regime to accomplish that. Others want to be pampered or gather with friends for group bonding and renewal. I tend to want what Palazzo Fiuggi promises, a gentle nudge to “a longer life, better lived.” The doctors and their scans encouraged me to add more protein and strength training to my routines, but I relished the relaxing detoxification in the pools and saunas as well as the delicious meals in the formal dining room, where elegant couples or solo travelers, including a famous movie star, ate blissfully alone in our own worlds. There is a formality, but there is a genuine warmth as well. The doctors go by their first names, and they gently encourage you to healthier habits as only Italians could. The grandeur and serenity of the Old World spaces cast an instant calm over the experience, so I would agree with Oprah: Palazzo Fiuggi ranks as my favorite wellness experience to date, and one that I eagerly hope to return to soon.

Contact Indagare your Trip Designer or to start planning a wellness-focused trip to Italy, or head to our review of Palazzo Fiuggi to book your stay.  Our team can match you with the accommodations, reservations and activities that are right for you.

Published onDecember 18, 2023

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