Take the waters at a spa in Tuscany
The pleasures of a trip to Tuscany taken out of season make up for the lack of summer sun, says Natasha Langan.
Many Britons think of Tuscany as the perfect location for a summer holiday, relaxing in an olive grove under the hot sun sipping chilled Chianti, but they're missing out on the seasonal beauty of autumn and winter when its verdant valleys are shrouded in mist. The ideal base is Fonteverde Spa in the picturesque Val d'Orcia valley, next to the medieval village of San Casciano Dei Bagni, renowned for its natural thermal spa and large pools of mineral-rich waters bubbling up at a balmy 42C, making outdoor bathing comfortable even in the depths of winter.
The main building of Fonteverde is the historic former property of Ferdinando I de' Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, originally commissioned in 1607. Extended over the years and fully refurbished in 2002, the grand exterior is orientated to overlook the valley, with comfortable interiors that reflect the history of the building without guests feeling like they're staying in a museum. There are two restaurants, the Ristorante La Corte, serving delicious breakfasts and lunches, and the Ristorante Ferdinando I, serving refined versions of traditional Tuscan dishes.
Autumn is of course the start of the prized white-truffle season and the hotel can organise a truffle-hunting session with a local licensed hunter, Gianni Barzi, accompanied by his dog, a Lagotto Romagnolo, specially bred and trained for truffle hunting. We visited a local truffle reserve in uncultivated and protected woodland, as truffles can only be collected by those with a licence. The woodland was in the Radicofani area, a Unesco World Heritage site famed for its beauty and the legend of Ghino di Tacco, a legendary 13th-century outlaw and popular hero, Tuscany's very own Robin Hood. After a refreshing few hours scrambling after the dog, who does all the work, you get to taste your finds with your guide and take them back to the hotel where the truffles are shaved over your dinner.
The main reason for a stay at Fonteverde is to take the waters, which are packed with minerals and trace elements bubbling up from the aquifer of Mount Amiata and have been famed for their therapeutic properties since Roman times. The spa has a selection of indoor and outdoor pools, including one with a waterfall drawing water unfiltered directly from the aquifer. After a few hours of floating in the steamy pools, my skin felt amazing. They also recommend you drink a glass of the mineral water daily to aid digestion it certainly helped with all the truffles, pasta and wine.
Natasha was a guest of Fonteverde. Nightly rates start from €198 (£152) per person. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 00 39 0578 572333.