Mon 24 April 2023

After double knee surgery two years ago, I made a promise to myself: In one of those stressful moments waiting on the next pain med, I said, “If I heal from this, I will do incredible things with these new knees.” So when the time came, I started walking with great purpose and adding more distance. Then I got into hiking, adding ever steeper climbs and looking for new places to explore, to move. Soon, I felt a profound urge to get stronger and healthier all over, any way I could. So I googled “world’s best spas,” and the first one that popped up was Palazzo Fiuggi, in central Italy. Never heard of it. Usually when I think Italy, I think pasta. Specifically, cacio e pepe. Not self-improvement or discipline.

Palazzo Fiuggi is a wellness retreat located in a part of Italy known for the healing waters that flow from its natural springs. Back in the 14th century, Pope Boniface VIII claimed they healed his kidney stones. Nice endorsement, but what really caught my attention was the spa’s motto: “For a longer life, better lived.” Who doesn’t want that?

I signed myself up. And because I believe everything in life is better when you share it, I invited some friends to check it out with me: Gayle, Kirby, Ava...but the big excitement was that our mutual friend Urania agreed to come. Urania hasn’t spent a night away from her family since her kids were born. The first one, my goddaughter Kylee, turns 17 this year. What a joy, seeing someone who always gives and gives to everyone else, give the gift of time to herself.

I’ve been a lover of spas since my early 20s, long before I could really afford them; in those chaotic days of trying to make my way professionally, I found it sanity-saving to take some time, get centered, and feel cared for over a precious hour. Since then, I’ve done it all—relaxed and retreated, deep-tissued and shiatsu’d, woken up with the birds for yoga and cardio, starved, meditated, cleansed. But never have I ever experienced anything like this.

Palazzo Fiuggi is a medicinal spa, and the biggest dose of anything you’ll get there is attention and care. First I met with an endocrinologist, who took the full measure of the physical me: blood pressure and bloodwork, a body scan to measure my vitals, an ultrasound to see how my organs were doing. Then a personal trainer customized a workout for my specific needs.

This was followed by some of the most relaxing spa treatments I’ve ever experienced, starting with a four hands massage—two perfectly synchronized therapists working me over at once. There were mud baths in a heated water bed, and a hot stone massage on a sand bed accompanied by a sound bath. We floated in a mineral-enriched salt pool (our salt pool full of laughs, as we called it). But our number one favorite was the Welcome Hammam foaming salt scrub atop a warmed marble table. (“Calgon, take me away” doesn’t even begin to describe it.) Whew! At the end of each day, we were walking happy noodles, comparing treatment notes as we rejoined the world.

I wanted to try cryotherapy, which plunges you into a bracing deep-freeze inside a sci-fi-sounding “cryochamber.” Unfortunately, the doctor doesn’t recommend it for folks prone to high blood pressure, which includes me—high blood pressure runs in my family. (When I arrived it was a textbook 130/80, down to 110/70 on discharge, which tells you something about the effect this place can have.) But Kirby gave it a go. "It was minus two hundred degrees Fahrenheit for a full three minutes," she reported. "I had a burst of energy afterwards and it even helped reduce my knee pain!"

Not surprisingly, the meals, created by three-star Michelin chef Heinz Beck and his team, were delightful. With multiple menus customized to support guests’ wellness journeys, the food is about longevity, weight loss, restoration, and, of course, deliciousness—who knew a pureed chickpea soup could taste so rich.

I took incredible memories with me from Palazzo Fiuggi but also some important lessons, including: Even with all the water I drink, it’s still not enough. And that my lower body is strong from all the hiking, but my upper body? Not so much. That’s something I need to focus on, along with increasing my flexibility, since I plan on walking my dogs, lifting friends’ babies, and harvesting vegetables from my garden for years to come. I also have to stay on top of my numbers—for cholesterol, glucose, thyroid panel, muscle mass, and, yes, blood pressure. It will make all the difference in managing my health as I age.

The biggest lesson? This body, mind, and soul we’ve each been gifted with deserve our loving care. Whether at a far-flung spa or right here at home, we need to find the time and space it takes to rebuild, recharge, and renew. From wellness to wholeness—that’s the journey I wish for you.


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