Wine and chocolate on the ultimate health retreat

Adrian Mourby enjoys an epicurean break at an exclusive spa in Tuscany.

The directions from Pisa airport were clearly written from memory, not observation. They had a cheerful vagueness about them that reminded me of my mother. No road numbers or road signs, just phrases like "if you drive past the BMW garage you've gone too far" and "on your left you will see a beautiful monastery".

After a protracted journey I was not in the best of moods by the time I finally drove up to the gates of Villa Lucia. This exclusive Tuscan property has just begun a new Mind, Body and Soul Retreat at its Vedic spa that's specifically intended to calm down people like me.

The villa stands just outside the village of Vorno down a long gravel drive, framed by poplars and protected by electronic gates that swung open to admit me. As I trundled down I passed the Vedic spa, formerly the stables of this L-shaped 18th-century manor house. The tall main doors of the villa were open, so I walked in to find a Baroque hall painted in duck-egg blue, with cherubs looking down at me from above the chandelier. I sat down on an excessively scrolled chaise. All was serene, the only noise a fridge purring in the far distance as it chilled Tuscan wine. Already I was feeling calmer.

Until recently, Villa Lucia was one of those luxury gated Tuscan homes that you got inside only if you hired it for a few weeks. Last autumn Mike Rhode, the American owner, decided to diversify into Vedic treatments. Now you can book in for a few days and recharge your batteries via a regime that majors on chocolate, truffles and wine. Roger Corder, best-selling author of The Red Wine Diet, directs these treatments from London.

That evening I ate in the villa's Limonaria with the other guests and the staff. There was an easy informality around the huge table. Some of the food had been prepared by Irwin and Judy, on a cookery course from America. The staff were being fed by the guests, but then there are no clear demarcation lines at Villa Lucia.

After breakfast I was introduced to my first masseuse who was called Sonia. She was small and dark and spoke no English. I thought I spoke reasonable Italian until she led me into the Vedic spa. Here I realised my restaurant Italian did not extend to phrases like "Do you want me to take my clothes off?" and "Actually that is beginning to hurt". With the pain came the gain and the sleep. I find it all too easy to drift off during a massage. When Sonia woke me to proceed to the Turkish hammam downstairs I felt 10 years younger and 10 pounds lighter.

The rest of the group was off on a walk into the Tuscan hills above the village of Vorno. Monte Vano dominates the landscape around here and the Mind, Body and Soul retreat takes advantage of it. I was secretly glad to have missed that ascent but I was told I'd be in time for Pilates with Lisa, who had been brought over from Los Angeles. Before lunch we assembled outside the spa and worked on our core strength, while a pair of doves made soporific cooings in the rafters.

All this mind-over-body stuff was doing my morale so much good that it came as a bit of a blow after lunch when Lisa and I had our one-on-one nutrition and exercise session. Lisa smiled warmly but was not deflected by my various wine diet jokes.

There was a possibility the next day of a session with Gloria, a performance coach brought in for the retreat. Gloria (also from America) counsels on life-change experience, anything from divorce, change of career, pregnancy or grief. I really didn't think that my wish to put away less wine could be called a life change even if it might count as revolutionary.

The rest of my stay involved reiki and reflexology, more massage and more Pilates, all very laid back. The whole place felt much more like a house party than a hotel.

I emerged calmer and healthier than when I arrived. I was even drinking less. That was until I got back to Pisa airport and we all had to be bussed over to Florence because of a fault with the plane.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Villa Lucia (01252 790222; vedicspa resorts.com) is about 7km from Lucca and about 27km from Pisa. A three-night introductory package here is available from €550 (£480) per person (based on two sharing). The price includes breakfast and evening meals and one spa treatment.

Adrian Mourby drove from Pisa airport to Villa Lucia courtesy of Holiday Autos (0870 400 0010; holidayautos.co.uk), which offers car hire from £19 per day.

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