What's under all that mud? oh, it's only Sophia Loren

Trieste & Victoria
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The Independent Travel

Thank the ancient Romans for the current craze for spas. They coined the phrase "salus per aqua" (health through water) as they frolicked in the countless thermal springs that gurgled across their land. Two thousand years later, benessere (well being) is the new buzzword but Italian spas are still the pick of the bunch.

Thank the ancient Romans for the current craze for spas. They coined the phrase "salus per aqua" (health through water) as they frolicked in the countless thermal springs that gurgled across their land. Two thousand years later, benessere (well being) is the new buzzword but Italian spas are still the pick of the bunch.

Capri Palace Hotel & Spa

Where?

Tucked between Monte Solaro and Anacapri town, on the island of Capri.

What should I expect?

A-list glamour, from the spa's herb-scented garden to the hotel's clotted cream and gilt décor, staircase waterfall, minimalist four-posters and ubiquitous white orchids. There's also an indigo, palm-fringed pool, a bar patio overlooking the Bay of Naples; and L'Olivo restaurant's helium-light Mediterranean cooking.

Why?

To rejuvenate yourself. In-house spa medic Professor Francesco Canonaco is Italy's premier anti-ageing guru. As well as beauty treatments, massages and thalassotherapy, guests are encouraged to follow a low-calorie or detoxifying diet.

Signature treatment

The Leg School. Patented by Canonaco, this four-stage technique sees limbs first wrapped in algae-treated mud then bandaged in minty, medicated towels (all formulas are secret). Then a 10-minute plod around a Kneipp bath - one hot pool, then one icy cold - laid with volcanic stones. Finally, pressotherapy (like wearing a pair of inflated trousers) squeezes the toxins out of the lymphatic system. After a seven-day course, legs feel light and look lissom - Sophia Loren swears it is the secret behind her still-fab pins. Other satisfied celebs include Julia Roberts, Sir Elton John and Harrison Ford.

Should I escape?

No.

How do I get there?

Capri Palace, via Capodimonte, 2b (0039 081 9780111; www.capri-palace.com). Double rooms from £210 including breakfast. Magic of Italy (0870-888 0220; www.magictravelgroup.co.uk) offers seven nights at the Capri Palace from £1,180 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers and b&b accommodation.

Grand Terme Hotel

Where?

In Abano Terme, a spa town built on top of the thermal springs below the Euganean Hills, 8km south-west of Padua.

What should I expect?

A long-established, professional spa, the majority of whose treatments are based around the healing properties of the local thermal waters. Attached to the spa is a comfortable fin-de-siècle hotel with immaculate bedrooms, gleaming marble floors, sumptuous-yet-healthy buffets and five swimming pools, both thermal and freshwater, set in a leafy garden.

Why should I come?

For fangotherapies, massages, balneotherapies (exercises, jet showers and massages in thermal pools) and beauty treatments. The Euganean waters have been heaped with praise since Ovid's day for their ability to ease a variety of ills from arthritis and rheumatism to post-traumatic injuries and chronic catarrh. New "foodie" beauty therapies appeal, too: face masks, massages and body peels using products based on grapes, olive oil and whey.

Signature treatment ?

Mud, mud, glorious mud, soaked for several months in the famous water and consequently loaded with pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory powers. The classic treatment consists of a hot-mud wrap, then a thermal shower, ozonised bath and revitalising massage.

Should I escape?

One must-see is the newly reopened and restored Scrovegni Chapel (0039 049 201 0020; www.cappelladegliscrovegni.it) in Padua. Advance booking essential.

How do I get there?

Grand Hotel Terme Trieste & Victoria, Via P. d'Abano, 1 (00 39 0498665100; www.gbhotels.it). Doubles from £95. Erna Low Body and Soul Holidays (020-7594 0290; www.bodyandsouldholidays.com) offers four-night packages from £780 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers, full board and a choice of spa programmes.

Grand Hotel Palazzo della Fonte

Where?

Presiding over the spa town of Fiuggi, 75km south of Rome.

What should I expect?

A state-of-the-art spa in an art nouveau palace, set in a hilltop park. Downstairs, the atmosphere is Edwardian-gracious; upstairs, luminous bedrooms in daisy-fresh pastels are made extra-special by Hermes bath smellies and fresh flowers. Decorated in mint and primrose, the spa features a spotlit indoor pool, Turkish bath and sauna. Outdoors, the mammoth garden pool overlooks the Ciociaria countryside.

Why should I come?

For de luxe pampering by sweet-natured female staff who are professionals to their manicured fingertips - don't miss the Ayurvedic massage from Nina.

Signature treatment ?

The high-tech beauty therapies, such as Dermosonic Body Treatment which uses ultrasound techniques to mimic the effect of liposuction.

Should I escape?

Pop down the hill to taste the waters that spout from Fiuggi's two thermal springs, the Fonte Bonifacio VIII and the Fonte Anticolana (00 39 0775 5091). Particularly beneficial for kidney ailments; previous visitors include Michelangelo.

How do I get there?

Grand Hotel Palazzo della Fonte, Via dei Villini 7, 03015 Fiuggi (00 39 0775 5081; http://www.palazzodellafonte.com). Double rooms from £230. Exclusive Italy (01892 619650; www.exclusiveworldwide.com) offers three nights from £597, including return flights, car hire and b&b.

Grotta Giusti Terme

Where?

At Monsummano Terme, 25km from Florence.

What should I expect?

A spectacular natural grotto with thermal springs revamped into a modern spa and beauty farm. The adjoining 18th-century villa is now a luxury small hotel with frescos, Zocchi prints, antique wall-hangings and a restaurant serving Tuscan specialities such as bread and tomato soup and duck pasta.

Why should I come?

To bask in the grotto's mineralised vapours, said to have anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and pain-relieving properties. Or buff your body into shape in the Beauty Centre. Consider Dermovital, a facial that uses thermal ingredients to rejuvenate the skin.

Signature treatment ?

A visit to the thermal grotto followed by a mud wrap and thermal bath or a hydromassage jet shower leaves you pure of skin and relaxed of limb.

Should I escape?

To sip a glass of thermal water from one of the marble fountains at Tettuccio Terme, a breathtaking Liberty folly of neo-classical colonnades and frescoed Tuscan landscapes, in the nearby town of Montecatini Terme.

How do I get there?

Grotta Giusti Terme, Via Grotta Giusti 1411, 51015 Monsummano Terme, Italy (0039 0572 90771; www.grottagiustispa.com). Doubles from £100. All spa treatments available on a daily basis; a visit to the grotto costs £29. Exclusive Italy (01892 619650; www.exclusiveworldwide.com) offers three nights from £538 per person, including return flights, car hire and half-board accommodation.

Pigna Antiche Terme

Where?

In Pigna, a walled village in the Nervia Valley, Liguria.

What should I expect?

A breathtaking location in the foothills of the Maritime Alps. The spa complex, with thermal treatments, massage centre, beauty farm and pools, is attached to a modern, four-star hotel, the Grand Hotel Pigna Antiche Terme. Day passes cost £68.

Why?

To wallow in the sulphurous waters and fangotherapies - good for the immune system, musculo-skeletal disorders, respiratory problems and skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. Alternatively, pamper yourself in the beauty farm or shift a few kilos on a diet programme.

Signature treatment s

Chinese medicine features strongly. A Tuina massage combined with acupuncture and moxibustion (a herbal therapy) aid muscular tension, digestive problems, headaches and insomnia.

Should I escape?

Explore Pigna village, a medieval gem whose two splendid churches contain 15th-century works by Giovane Canavesio. Try the Ligurian cooking in the restaurant above the spa, Terme Ristorante Hotel (00 39 0184 24 10 46).

How do I get there?

Grand Hotel Pigna Antiche Terme, 18037 Pigna, Italy (00 39 0184 240010. www.termedipigna.it). Doubles from £65. EasyJet (0870-6000 0000; www.easyjet.com) offers daily flights to Nice, which is about 60km from Pigna from £55 return. Europcar (0870-607 5000; www.europcar.co.uk) offers a week's car hire from £131.

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