From culture and history to fashion, architecture and food, Italy amazes you in every aspect. By Lisa M. Starr
Following President Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy earlier this year, it was expected that the two countries would continue to share visitors, and so far that is proving to be true. In 2019, the spending for Chinese tourists to Italy was up 22% from the previous year, according to international payment provider Planet. Almost 2 million Chinese visited Italy in 2018, and that number is expected to grow along with Chinese outbound tourism, which is projected to reach 200 million outbound by 2020*.
It is not difficult to understand the appeal of Italy, a country that, while not immune to the occasional odd labor strike, has managed to avoid many of the mass protests and challenges other European countries have seen of late. Adding to the allure is the natural beauty of the country, the wealth of cultural and historical sites, delicious food, hospitable citizens, and strong travel infrastructure. It’s no surprise that a country with these features is home to many wonderful spa hotel and resort properties. According to Bird & Bird, Italy has more overnight accommodations than any of the other main European countries, including bed & breakfasts and guest houses, and the majority of these are still family-owned, as opposed to large chains. This means that as a tourist, you often feel that you are a welcome guest, rather than a random traveler.
Airports in Rome and Milan are quite modern, and connect fairly easily to the high-speed train network that runs throughout central Italy. Within a few hours of landing in either Rome or Milan, travelers can be checking in to the five-star Grand Hotel Terme Medical SPA, owned by Terme di Sirmione, one of Italy’s biggest thermal realities. The hotel is located in the quaint town of Sirmione, on a narrow spit of land on the south shore of Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy. Situated half-way between Milan and Venice, this is an ideal stopping point when touring the northern part of the country. The elegant hotel offers an outdoor swimming pool and lovely modern hydro-suite area, both fed from the nearby thermal spring discovered in 1898, and overlooking the 13th century Scaligero Castle and the lake.
Grand Hotel, one of the Healing Hotels of the World, has only 54 rooms, ensuring a high level of customer care, and an excellent restaurant with a varied menu that includes healthy eating options, which have been developed in concert with a biological nutritionist. The onsite spa features 10 treatment rooms and offers a variety of medical treatments overseen by medical doctors from a variety of disciplines, including pulmonologists, dermatologists, eye and nose doctors, osteopaths, and nutritionists.
But the real treat in Sirmione is a 10-minute walk from the hotel, the expansive Aquaria Thermal SPA, also owned by Terme di Sirmione. Aquaria offers more than 14,000m2 of wellness, situated directly on the lake. The indoor facilities encompass 3,500m2 of multi-sensory relaxation areas, saunas, steam rooms, hydro circuit, spa treatments, indoor thermal pool, and café. The outdoor areas include one additional thermal water pool, as well as one infinity pool with fresh water, hydromassage, and relaxation areas. Spending the day in this amazing, year-round facility is a real treat.
While visiting some of the fine Italian spas, you will likely be laying on a beautifully crafted treatment table from Lemi Group. The company, based outside Cremona in Northern Italy, was started by Emilio Brusaferri and his cousin Silvio Genelli. Having grown up in a small town, Brusaferri learned skills in many crafts, and began making spa furniture in 1989 upon the request of a local businessman. Today, the company employs 60 people in two factories, and their equipment carries the sought-after “100% Made in Italy,” as well as UL certification. Their wide range of furnishings, from massage and facial tables to nails, wet treatments and medical tables, are entirely bespoke, and orders can be filled in only six weeks.
If you want to imagine yourself as an Italian count, enjoying your beautiful castle in the Tuscan countryside, then the new COMO Castello del Nero is your ideal destination. The honey-colored castle, nestled on 740 acres in the midst of olive groves and vineyards, was the family home of the del Nero family for many centuries before being renovated for use as a hotel beginning in 2006. Christina Ong acquired the property in 2018, and after a more contemporary update to the public areas, the hotel reopened earlier this year.
With only 50 rooms and suites, as with Grand Hotel di Terme in Sirmione, the level of personal attention is very high. The Castello is unique in that all of the rooms are different, created based on the shape of the building, and the public spaces are appointed in a way that makes you feel that you are visiting the home of a wealthy friend, rather than a hotel. The expansive spa includes 10 treatment rooms, a co-ed thermal suite, an indoor/outdoor heated vitality pool, and a 25-meter swimming pool, as well as a beautifully appointed relaxation area. Guests can enjoy COMO’s Shambhala holistic treatments and proprietary product line, as at all COMO properties. The castle also boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant for fine dining, two other restaurants, and access to a variety of activities including hot air ballooning, golf, truffle hunting and wine, and honey and oil tastings, and shopping trips to nearby Florence, among others. Although the rooms are so comfortable, you might just want to rest on your sofa and enjoy video entertainment, including several Chinese-language tv channels.
Wherever you travel in Italy, you are sure to experience their national pride in creating beauty and enjoyment, whether it be fashion & accessories, fine automobiles, architecture or, of course, food. Every meal in Italy is delicious, whether at a five-star hotel or a local trattoria, and the citizens are extremely hospitable and happy to greet visitors to their beautiful country.
*China National Tourism Administration