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Actively Exploring Italy

Written by  Geri Bain

Europe ItalyIn Italy, clients don’t need to count calories to stay trim--and who would want to! All it takes is a bit of
active exploration.
On an 11-day trip to Rome, Florence and Tuscany, my husband, 21-year old daughter and I charted our sightseeing via walking and bike tours and topped off our trip with five days at a Tuscan spa resort. Along the way, we savored the best of Italian cuisine, yet returned home slimmer, fitter and with the intimate sense of discovery that comes with foot-on exploration. We laid the groundwork with a few key guided tours and reserved plenty of time to discover our own version of “La Dolce Vita.”

In Rome, our welcoming home base was the Hotel d’Inghilterra (www.hoteldinghilterra.com), a tucked-away historic hotel whose former guests include John Keats, Ernest Hemingway and Elizabeth Taylor. Its central location, near the Spanish Steps and the upscale shops of Via Condotti, made it easy to map walking itineraries that looped in all our wish list sites and allowed for after-dinner strolls to the Piazza Navonna and Trevi Fountain.

Two-Wheeling in the Eternal City
We started with a four hour bike tour with Top Bike Rental and Tours (www.topbikerental.com) which gave us an engaging overview of the city’s history and layout and provided a framework for the rest of our stay. With more time, we also would have joined their Appian Way bike trip. Note that while e-bikes are available, these tours are best for clients comfortable with urban cycling. We also took two tours with Walks of Italy (www.walksofitaly.com). “Pristine Sistine” allowed us to enter the Vatican Museums an hour before the general public and to quietly admire Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel before the crowds arrived; “Caesar’s Palace Tour with Colosseum & Roman Forum” provided entree into the Casa di Augusto. Home to Emperor Augustus, it just opened to the public in 2015. We also pre-booked a timed visit (necessary for admission and easy to do on-line) to the Borghese Museum.
Among our most memorable meals were dinner at Rome’s “grand dame” property, the Hotel Hassler (www.hotelhasslerroma.com), where we savored a tasting menu and panoramic city views at Imago, its Michelin-star restaurant, and lunch featuring hand-crafted ravioli at the intimate Villa Spalletti Trivelli (www.villaspalletti.it/en), an aristocratic mansion-turned-hotel with 12 grand guestrooms.

The Art of Florence
In Florence, the Westin Excelsior (www.westinflorence.com) location along the Arno River made it easy to find our way home each day and placed us less than a ten minutes’ walk of the Ponte Vecchio and other important sites. The property, once owned by Napoleon’s sister, has hosted luminaries from Winston Churchill to Tom Cruise and clearly earns its five stars.
We decided not to tour Florence by bike after watching cyclers trying to navigate through the summer crowds. Plus, Florence is so compact that it is easily explored on foot. In fact, it is so dense with museums, churches and open-air sculptures that it’s hard to walk far without seeing noteworthy art. Clients looking for a fitness boost can stroll through the manicured, sculpture-rich Boboli Gardens which adorn a steep hill behind the Pitti Palace, or walk to Michelangelo Square, a steep, half-hour walk up a stepped path or meander through pretty neighborhoods. Both provide rewarding panoramas.
Additional sweeping views of the city beckon, along with creative twists on Italian cuisine, at the Westin Excelsior’s rooftop restaurant, Sesto on Arno, and our favorite spot for freshly made ice cream was Gelateria Santa Trinita near the Santa Trinita Bridge, a lovely bridge with sculptures representing the four seasons and a great vantage point for photos of the Ponte Vecchio.

Taking the Waters in Tuscany
We topped off our trip with five nights at Hotel Adler Thermae Resort & Spa in Tuscany (www.adler-thermae.com). Perched on a mountainside in a bucolic region of ancient castles, monasteries and vineyards, the resort makes a great launching point for walking, bike and van tours to Siena, Pienza, the wine centers of Montalcino and Montepulciano and other Tuscan towns. The resort itself is built around a grand villa and lagoon-sized indoor-outdoor pool filled with the area’s mineral-rich thermal waters, whose healing powers have been touted since the days of the Etruscans and early Romans.
The Via Francigena, a pilgrimage trail created in the Middle Ages connecting Canterbury to Rome, is part of a well-maintained trail system that links the hotel to Tuscan villages. Hotel Adler Thermae offers daily free and nominally priced guided outings on foot and by bike and van. Bikes, e-bikes and a self-guiding app are also free for guests. We joined insight-filled, guided visits to several of the fortified medieval towns that cap the surrounding hilltops and also ventured out on our own, hiking from one town to the next. Those not up to traipsing up and down the Tuscan countryside can take a easy ten minute stroll to the tiny historic village of Bagno Vignoni, built around an ancient stone pool (no longer in use) filled with the area’s volcanic mineral waters.
The hotel also offers classes in TRX suspension training, aquasize, yoga and more-most free to guests-as well as an indulgent array of saunas and steam baths. The spa takes advantage of the region’s natural ingredients in treatments such as vinotherapy facials and herbal wraps. The resort also caters to a limited number of children at a time (aged four and up) with family suites and a kids programs. While guests tend to be European, almost everyone-staff and guests-was fluent in English.
Best of all, the Hotel Adler Thermae immerses guests in Tuscan culture and cuisine. Half board rates (our choice) included an expansive breakfast buffet; an afternoon snack of fresh fruits and more; and dinner. Seasonal menus incorporate fresh-from-the-fields produce, locally-raised meats including the acclaimed Chianina beef, and regional cheeses, all complemented by renowned Tuscan wines. And after a day of exploring the countryside, dinners were never so delicious-or guilt-free! www.italiantourism.com

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