The Spa - Salon Sensoriale in the Terme di Chianciano Spa

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There are moments when you think “it was worth it”.  For me that came as my friend Orla and I linked arms, in our towelling robes, as we headed out of the changing rooms.

There are some people that make any experience you share with them good value.

As we walked into the first of twenty experiences - Walk In The River - at the Salon Sensoriale, Orla showed she was one of these special people.  Walk In The River is a ring of pebbles which you walk over, as jets of water intermittently spray you at thigh height (it’s supposed to be a great treatment for cellulite).  The very informative bilingual (English and Italian) sign at the entrance recommends you enjoy this experience for 11 minutes.  Looking forward to a luxurious sensation Orla walked onto the pebbles and got hit with ice cold water!  Her reaction was priceless (and unrepeatable).  What I love about many of the weird treatments I try is that whether they turn out to be pleasurable or good for you, they are practically guaranteed to be a talking point.

After Walk In The River, which we managed to stay in for a few minutes, (some of the water jets felt warmer than others) we got back to the kind of spa experience we’d been expecting.  First off were the Experience Showers (wonderfully translated as Emotional Showers or sometimes Sensorial Showers).  I loved the hot red rain shower and the cold blue shower which finally turned into mist.

One thing I really couldn’t fault was the amount of information available in English for each experience, including benefits, contraindications (any reason you should not use a particular experience), the amount of time recommended and the maximum number of people advised.  There are also written itineraries depending on whether you are looking for relaxation, energy, rebalancing or purification.  This is especially important as most of the spa personnel do not speak any English.

It’s a mixed spa and swimwear is required for everyone and they’ve also taken the handy precaution of giving clip-on name tags so you know which one of the robes draped on the tepee like robe hangers is yours when you come out of the pool.  Unfortunately this didn’t work for the towels.  On the way in someone pinched Orla’s towel when she was in the shower.  I thought she was just being absent minded - until someone pinched mine (which I’d even hidden under my robe on the hook) on the way out to our massages (which did not make for a good start!)

Anyway, back to the main spa pool (Relaxing Hydromassage Bath).  It’s gorgeous.  Once in the bath you can lie on metal tubes that form a kind of underwater garden lounger and which bubble up from time to time, as well as a waterfall shower and individual jacuzzi seats.  But the best part is the huge section of the pool outside.  Just glide through the glass doorway and you are met by those iconic Tuscan pines.  There is something wonderfully therapeutic about lying in natural spa waters surrounded by that much green.  If you need a little extra stimulus outside you can climb up into the salt water pool (Salt Bath).

With so many experiences (20 according to the brochure) it’s hard to know which one to start with, which is why the itineraries are a handy guide.  There are also different teas available in the relaxation area - I thought the relaxing infusion was very nice but the rebalancing one was disgusting! 

We started following one itinerary but didn’t want to miss out anything so ended up mixing them up!

The relaxation area is one of the nicest I’ve ever visited.  There was nothing that special about it; loungers, herbal tea, a large waterfall feature that was actually natural spa water for you to drink, but it’s the floor to ceiling windows that allow you to drink in the stunning Tuscan greenery that make it so special.

Next stop was the Etruscan Sauna.  This was excellent and the Kneipp Hoses were the kind you’d actually want to use, but I didn’t see any difference to other saunas I’ve visited, except perhaps that the seats were made of marble.  According to the itinerary that I was supposedly following next should have been a 30 degree shower - but I couldn’t find it.  Despite all the wonderful information what would really help is a map!  Then it was into the herbal steam rooms (there is either Energizing Aromatherapy or Relaxing Aromatherapy), we, of course, tried both.  They were nice, but not as potent as the ones at the Thermae Bath Spa, for example, and were a little bit noisy.  The signs recommend 15 minutes - we stayed for about 3!

Another excellent thing about the itineraries is that they detail the exact amount of rest time you should have between treatments.  It’s so tempting to dip in and out, but it is really important to let your body relax in between hot, cool and even aromatherapy sessions.

The spa is split over three levels, with most of the experiences based on the ground level where you enter the spa - there are more on the lower level, with the top floor being massage rooms.

The lower floor is much smaller but contains some of the most fun experiences.  Our favourite was the Mud Bath (Melmarium).  It’s a great big cavernous room which is warm, around body temperature, and in the middle are three huge pots of mud.  Like everything else these are categorised; relaxing, energising or purifying and recommended in the different itineraries.  You choose your mud... and slather it on.  It is helpful to have a friend with you to help with reaching those awkward spots and we just found it hilarious rolling around in the mud.  Once you’re covered head to toe - yes you can rub it in your hair for the complete experience - you lie back on the stone shelves of the room and let it do its work.  The room is just cool enough that the mud will eventually dry and set on your skin which, after a while, I found a bit uncomfortable, so I headed to the showers.  What I hadn’t realised was that between the Mud Bath and the shower room there is a smaller, hotter room, the Calidarium.  If you sit down on the warmer stone shelves in here before long the mud heats up again becoming slippery and rather nice.  There’s also a Kneipp Hose so you can cool down or rinse off.

But be warned... When you finally do hit the showers it takes a lot of scrubbing to get the mud off!  It’s not uncommon for other spa goers to point out the patches of mud you’ve missed!

The other great attraction of the basement is the Energy (translated as ‘Energetic”) Pyramid.  This is not for everyone, but I was delighted to find it empty and crawl inside.  It’s made of blocks of marble with gaps in between, although the impression is slightly marred by the electric cables I could see trailing behind.  It’s quite light and airy... for a marble pyramid.  I decide to meditate for a while and I felt a really strong humming energy and then received the message coming in loud and clear “get out of here and go relax where you can see those beautiful trees.”

One of the biggest draws of this spa for me was the Room Of Interior Silence.  Ever since I’d read about it I felt drawn by this room; white, egg-like chairs with a warm red interior which is said to be womb-like.  I was curious about the egg and also the ethereal music apparently played inside.  What a disappointment.  Despite the fact that for once, I, and all the other users of the room were deeply respectful of silence, the music was a sort of 70s jazz mix, and within the cocoon of the red egg you could hear everything in the rest of the spa; doors closing, people walking past in squeaky shoes.  We didn’t stay long (10 minutes is the recommended time in here).

Still feeling slightly 70s, the Chromotherapy Room (aka Chromotherapy Of The Chakra) was surprisingly relaxing.  You lie down on a comfy bed and enjoy the sound of classical music as the ceiling (which looks a lot like grey egg boxes or crumpled tissue paper) gently changes colour.

This is the one I thought I would pop into for half a minute, but ended up staying in until the music suddenly became the start of the “2001” soundtrack which woke me up.

With about half an hour before our massages we still had half a dozen experiences to try.

The Chromotherapy Pool is a small, deep pool that once again changes colour while you lie back and enjoy the spa waters.  Orla didn’t like it much, so I had it to myself and found that lying backwards and dipping my head underwater I could hear violin music.  I got out after what I thought was 5 minutes, only to find it had been 20!

Many of the other experiences are actually what you would find in any spa, and we’d either used them on our way round or skipped them this time; the Finnish Sauna which was a classic sauna; the Turkish Bath which was a classic steam room; Ice Crash - your standard bucket of ice to dip into when you overheat; I couldn’t for the life of me find the 30 degree shower, but figure it may have been one of the many showers dotted around; Cold Vapour was a cold minty smelling misty shower... and that was about it.  After all of that we were quite ready to shower off and head upstairs for our massages.

Unfortunately, despite some very nice products in the shower cubicles, my mellow vibe was cruelly dashed when someone pinched my towel (which I took a bit personally as I’d carefully tucked it under my robe).  Anyway the nice attendants gave me another one, and we headed upstairs to the massage area only a few minutes later than planned to find the upstairs reception area completely empty.

Our masseuses arrived and, despite the lack of shared language, my massage started off incredibly well.  The bed was comfy, although there was no hole for my face.  I had chosen an Ayurvedic Massage which was very slippery, oily and fast (a lot like a Lava Shell Massage).  Although I had started off with a tiny bit of tension in my shoulder and back, by the time she had reached my legs it was completely gone.  I love this kind of massage where there is very little questioning about what pressure you like or well, anything, and she just got on with it.  There was subtle work on my spine, sometimes long strokes, sometimes patting - it all worked.  And it was the most thorough massage I’ve ever had - no one has ever gone quite so low on my bum!  The work she did on my feet was sensational, every bit as effective and attentive as a reflexology session - at this point I was in heaven.  This really was a full body massage, even though it was only an hour (more on that later) she carried on, treating my breasts, stomach and also my shoulders from underneath.  I love having my shoulders massaged from underneath when I’m lying on my back. 

The massage itself was one of the best, if not the best I’ve ever had, there is obviously some serious training that goes on here.  She finished off by handing me a fresh robe and directing me downstairs to the changing room.

Unfortunately despite the incredible massage I wasn’t that relaxed.  The main problem was that the massage room was located right above the outdoor section of the spa pool, and, in spite of the many signs in the spa asking people to keep the noise down, there was a noisy group in the pool below.  After a few minutes I asked her (as best I could with no Italian) if she could shush them.  Her response was to close the window, which helped a little - but... it was still one of the noisiest massages I’ve had.  I was actually quite peeved, all the time that we’d been in the spa everyone had been whispering and really considerate, but mostly I was annoyed at her for not just shushing them.

My other annoyance was that there was a great big clock on table, and by my reckoning my massage was shorter than the hour I’d booked.  Most places don’t actually have clocks, and if it wasn’t there I wouldn’t have felt any lack because it was a great massage but...

Unfortunately all the relaxation effects were slowly wearing off.  I went down to the changing room and waited for Orla.  Her massage was clearly lasting a lot longer.  Finally, now dressed, I went back up to the massage reception - where I heard someone talking to Orla in Italian as they left the room.  I assumed they were telling her to get dressed in her own time so I went back to the changing room to wait... and wait...

Just as I was about to panic she arrived.  She’d been waiting for me in the relaxation area in the spa. 

While she got changed I attempted to have a slightly annoyed word with the main receptionist - who didn’t speak any English.  It turns out there’s not a lot you can do in this situation, so once Orla was ready we left (me, unfortunately with that little bit of tension back in my shoulder).

This is an incredible spa, and the quality of the massage could not be faulted, but... it does give the impression on the website and when you email that it’s a place where they speak English.  In terms of using the main spa, language is not a problem because of the excellent signage, but there is a lot more that they could do to improve the experience (without expecting them to speak English).  As you know I’ve been to a lot of spas where there’s no English and it’s not really that hard to communicate certain things.  For example, the “shush” is universal - if you are willing to use it, the clock is also universal (if you don’t want people to question the length of a massage then don’t have it sitting on the table!) and all it would have taken for me to have a much more relaxed visit would have been for my masseuse to show me, or just direct me down the stairs to the relaxation area.  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that as I was talking to reception my masseuse was heading past me on her way home.  She was in a rush.  Orla’s masseuse was not, and so she had a much more leisurely journey.

My advice for visiting this spa, if you do have a massage (and I would highly recommend that you do) is to ask for a room away from the pool and, if you are visiting with a friend or friends, agree where you’ll meet - ideally in the insanely beautiful relaxation room, so you can have a few cups of tea or even spa water before you have to finally leave.

Oh, and if you want a massage do book in advance, especially at weekends when apparently it’s packed (we visited on a Friday!)

Just one last thing, the website and the place itself can be a little confusing as there are separate areas, there are clinics where they treat people in a more medical fashion, and lots of other bits, but just head for the Salon Sensoriale and you’ll be fine!


The entrance to the Salon Senoriale in the Therme di Chianciano Spa and Orla

€90 (approx. £80) for 3 and a half hours in the spa (3 hours as our massages were only available at this time) and a 1 hour Ayurvedic massage at the Salon Sensoriale spa:
Weekend break (visiting on Friday): April 2011

Currently the prices only seem to be available in Italian on the website, so I would double check these when you book - but prices start from €38 (approx. £32) for 3 and a half hours in the spa, and packages including a massage are similar to the price we paid.  They have a lot of offers so always good to check what is available.

Parco Acqua Santa,

Piazza Martiri Perugini,

Chianciano Terme (Siena), Tuscany, Italy

Tel: +39 0578 68480

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