Staying at a health spa resort brings wonderful relaxation and inner balance with it. Such a health trip to regain strength in a quiet, salubrious environment has become mandatory after many bigger surgeries and in case of certain health issues. The actual cure phenomenon, however, is much older. A new UNESCO World Heritage Site groups together eleven spa towns steeped in great tradition that remain important to this very day. Named “Great Spa Towns of Europe”, the cultural scope of these institutions lends itself to be discovered and explored throughout Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium, France, and the United Kingdom. There’s even an Italian spa town on this list: Montecatini Terme.
The cure phenomenon during the Habsburg rule
Spa tourism is or has actually been a surprisingly complex phenomenon far beyond health aspects – actually a comparatively minute reason for many health resort tourists for embarking on long journeys – encompassing and stimulating urban, social, and cultural evolutions and revolutions. Even though the cure concept itself can be traced back to the ancient world it blossomed between 1700 and the 1930s heavily influencing the routes of travel parties of the time. The House of Habsburg played a key role during this era, which is also true for Montecatini Terme, this charming town with around 21,000 inhabitants in the Tuscan province of Pistoia.
After the Medici family had died out in 1737, Tuscany was given to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. The region experienced a decisive boost during the reign of Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo (who would later become Emperor Leopold II). He visited Montecatini several times to understand the region’s issues and hardships. Having had them investigated thoroughly, the Grand Duke ordered the demolition of various castles and fortifications, and had the thermo-mineral waters channelled. This created the complex of baths of the restored Montecatini, now the epitome of a modern spa town, that saw several extensive renovations over the following decades. Many a spring was only discovered in later periods adding to the town’s thermal spa variety. Montecatini Terme remains one of the country’s most important health resorts to this day.
The thermal spa facilities of Montecatini Terme
There isn’t just one single thermal spa in Montecatini Terme but an entire network of spa houses and facilities – as it should be for a world-renowned spa town. We have compiled a list of the ten most important thermal spas of the town for you:
- Terme Excelsior: Originally opened as part of a casino building in 1907, the old structure was demolished in 1968 to give way for a new spa modelled after a Florentine Renaissance loggia.
- Terme La Fortuna: This thermal spa building in the centre of large gardens was built around 60 years after the eponymous spring had been discovered in 1853.
- Terme La Salute: A travertine quarry revealed the thermal water around 1860. This institution grew to an impressive 7,250 m² during the interwar period.
- Terme Nuove Redi: Only built in 1920, Nuove Redi was reinterpreted and renovated several times, most recently by the architect Oreste Ruggiero in 2009.
- Terme Regina: This part of the Tettuccio park was founded in 1773 and is among the town’s oldest thermal spas. Extensive conversions added a Neo-Renaissance look.
- Terme Rinfresco: This facility built in 1795 has unfortunately been closed. However, you most certainly shouldn’t miss out on the forecourt mosaic.
- Terme Tamerici: Four striking buildings grace this complex in the middle of the spa park. They were constructed around a spring discovered in 1843.
- Terme Tettuccio: The healthy water flows from a conchiform granite spring at the heart of the thermal spa. Restructured in 1929, this facility wows with its Late Renaissance architecture.
- Terme Leopoldine: Named after the then Grand Duke of Tuscany Peter Leopold, this currently closed thermal spa shows clear signs of interwar period restorations.
- Terme Torretta: The eponymous river runs through this thermal spa supplying it with precious water. Terme Torretta, too, was extensively renovated before the Second World War.
Other sights in Montecatini Terme
A curative stay in Montecatini Terme can be perfectly combined with a pinch of sightseeing. The thermal spas themselves are gripping sights in their own rights, but we certainly have to introduce you to the following highlights:
- Santa Maria Assunta: Seeing as numerous old buildings fell victim to Montecatini’s spa town expansions, this church is fairly new only reaching its final form in 1962. The octagonal building with four lateral chapels unites old and new stylistic influences.
- Villa Forini Lippi: This complex predates the spa boom and existed at least as early as the 17th Created by aggregating several rural buildings, this monumental facility is surrounded by an equally tremendous park. Don’t sleep on the stunning staircase on the façade with its double stone ramp and elegant loggia.
- Grotta Maona: Finally, we send you north just a bit outside the town where this stalactite cave was discovered during quarry operations in 1860. Grotta Maona is the only cave in all of Italy with two underground lakes and likely the country’s only commercial cave with a different entrance and exit. You can visit it as part of approx. 20-minute-long guided morning and afternoon tours between April 1st and October 15th.
The other spa towns of the UNESCO World Heritage Site
We mentioned it in the beginning: there are a whopping eleven cure destinations as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Great Spa Towns of Europe”. Now that you know quite a bit about one of them, let’s just sneak a peek at the other ten institutions:
- Spa (Belgium): Healing powers have been attributed to the mineral water springs in the Ardennes for centuries. Beyond the thermal spa facilities there’s a neat hiking trail connecting the most important springs.
- Baden-Baden (Germany): 13 healing springs, their respective thermal spa buildings, and the expansive spa town infrastructure are all part of this massive UNESCO site.
- Bad Kissingen (Germany): King Otto of Greece, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Richard Strauss and Gioachino Rossini used to take their curative leaves here in charming, leisurely Lower Franconia.
- Bad Ems (Germany): The healing springs for drinking and bathing cures reach water temperatures of up to 57 °C. They are used to manufacture the throat lozenges “Emser Pastillen”.
- Vichy (France): The springs of Vichy rose to fame during the second half of the 17th century when the Marquise de Sevigné supposedly had the rheumatic paralysis in her hands successfully cured.
- Baden (Austria): The Biedermeier town and imperial town became an important spa resort for Emperor Franz Joseph I who, beginning in the 19th century, spent his summers here for almost 40 years and eventually brought the empire’s upper class to Lower Austria.
- Františkovy Lázně (Czech Republic): A 19th century ensemble of buildings in the colours Schönbrunn yellow and stucco white adorns the spa district with its magical healing spring and classic bathhouses.
- Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic): Numerous well-preserved historical thermal spa facilities make the twelve springs of Karlovy Vary accessible to the public. The heavily mineralised water can reach up to 72 °C.
- Mariánské Lázně (Czech Republic): 40 healing springs in town and another 100 in the close proximity draw the water with high levels of mineral salts and carbon dioxide to the surface. It is used for drinking cures, mud baths and treatments against respiratory ailments.
- Bath (United Kingdom): A visit of Queen Elizabeth I in 1574 gave Bath its heyday during a period dominated by healing water and bathing cures. The spa town eventually reinvented itself in 2005 with the “Thermae Bath Spa” complex of baths.
Fascinating cultural scenery, gripping architecture and infrastructure, and some health, well-being and spa indulgence on top of it: Montecatini Terme is one of Europe’s most significant spa towns for a reason. The UNESCO site is always worth a visit and best combined with a bit of a round trip of Tuscany or a city holiday in and around Florence or Lucca. Have fun and to your health!