Pure 'spa'ce to unwind

by Aimee Greaves ,  EMIRATES Business 247 | 2008-10-10

Spa treatments are easily available in Dubai but the idea of combining them with a luxury hotel in northern Italy makes the experience that bit more magical. And that is why I jumped at the chance after getting an invite.

As the aeroplane glided over Venice, the scores of canals below revealed the water city in all its glory as the ancient domed-topped buildings came into view.

The cream of Hollywood was in town recently for the annual Venice Film Festival making the already congested tourist hub even more so, which is why it is refreshing to know that when the crowds get too much, it is easy to escape to the foot of the Euganean Hills – just a 45km drive north of the city. Indeed many people who stay in the spa towns of Abano Terme and Montegrotto just take a day trip to Venice and spend the rest of their holiday relaxing in the treatment rooms and thermal water swimming pools at their chosen hotel.

I checked into the family-run Abano Grand Hotel for a week of exquisite pampering. Everything about this luxury hotel is geared towards relaxation and wellness. The Persian rug-lined lobby and hallways lead to suites decked out in brocade furniture. The fruit platters are replenished daily, while the traditional food served at mealtimes makes long lazy days pass by in a flash.

There are more than 150 hotels in the two towns, meaning the 19,000 resident population relies on visitors to keep business ticking over. It is the most important spa resort in Europe and famous for its thermal water that trickles down the hills and fangotherapy, which is not as scary as it sounds.

Fangotherapy – basically mud treatments – is the reason people flock to the region's only five-star deluxe hotel Abano Grand every year. It collects mud from the depths of lakes in the nearby mountains and cultivates it with homegrown algae for six months at temperatures up to 87C. Its reputed benefits are such that the Italian Government will pay for 12 treatments annually to relieve people's aching backs and necks.

For this reason most hotels employ in-house doctors for guests to determine how hot the mud needs to be and where it can be put. Those with varicose veins, for example, cannot have it on their legs as it causes inflammation, while for others it is cooled from 45C to 35C for beauty reasons. The idea of lying on 20kg of mud for 15 minutes is not everyone's idea of a fun holiday, especially as it takes a few minutes to get used to the smell, but once cocooned it is surprisingly relaxing, especially when followed by a thermal water bath.

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