We would fly back to Italy just to return to Adler Thermae Spa Resort near the medieval hamlet of Bagno Vignoni, in the heart of Tuscany.
The healing properties of Bagno Vignoni's thermal waters have long drawn travellers: the Etruscans, aristocratic Romans, medieval pilgrims travelling the Via Francigena and now, international health and rejuvenation seekers.
It is a spa resort like no other, at least none I have discovered on my worldwide travels. Nestled in the green, tranquil Italian countryside, Adler Thermae is a haven of relaxation, which my mother and I craved after touring Italy's bustling cities and overindulging our tastebuds.
As expected, it was ideal for a health and wellness fix. Unexpected was Adler's luxury and stellar service, the range of facilities, services and programs, sightseeing excursions and gourmet Mediterranean cuisine.
Best of all, Adler Thermae is nearly all-inclusive, the exceptions being spa treatments and personal training, some tours (nominal charge), lunch (with buffet breakfast and afternoon tea, our bellies decidedly said no) and beverages.
In short, it is heaven.
We began our quest to de-stress with a long soak in the sprawling, steaming, mineral-rich, outdoor/indoor pool, open year-round.
Located in a park-like courtyard between the hotel's two-storey guest room wings and main building housing the spa, reception, bar and terrace and dining room, Adler Aquae is the resort's centrepiece.
The thermal pool, with waterfalls and bubbling massage beds, is flanked by a 25-metre freshwater infinity lap pool, a circular wild river channel and a children's thermal pool. An underground Dead Sea salt grotto is booked privately (nominal fee).
Plenty of sun loungers dot the grounds.
Happily ensconced on loungers outside the terrace of our ground-floor superior double room, we gazed at the golden Val d'Orcia stretching over the undulating conical hills and the iconic row of tall, slim cypress trees dissecting the horizon. This entire agricultural valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site, as is the nearby historic town of Pienza.
Afternoon tea called for Adler's white robe and slippers, the acceptable all-day dress code. Bar manager Marco served the perfect cup of tea, having just returned from earning his tea master certification in Sri Lanka.
As Day 1 melted into Day 2, Adler's near-inclusive setup invited indulgence. Why not partake in all the things to do and sample all the facilities?
A circuit of the sauna park tested our heat tolerance: a steam sauna with Tuscan herbs, an Etruscan sauna with salt steam, an olive-wood Finnish sauna on a lake island, and our favourite, the Philosopher's Cave Turkish steam bath in a grotto dripping with stalactites and stalagmites, reached by a boardwalk crossing the lake.
Afterwards, we took to the loungers and water beds of the two-storey glassed-in relaxation area overlooking the lake.
Of course, trying Adler Spa's exclusive treatments with Tuscan ingredients, such as the grape facial, is a must. And, with so much included, it was easy to justify spoiling ourselves with lovely treatments and a bottle of Italy's finest at dinner.
Getting dolled up for evening dining -- four or five "light" courses of Tuscan specialties -- was a highlight. The first night we were shown to our table in the enchanted, elegant Starlight Roof Restaurant, thus named because the roof retracts for warm-weather dining.
Saddled with a wine list rivalling an ancient tome, I asked for help. From then on, we enjoyed the charming attention of tuxedoed maitre d' Manfredo Venditti and the ministrations of the all-male waiters, impeccable in starched black and white. And, yes, we enjoyed a little flirting, too.
For four days, we luxuriated in this Italian utopia.
No wonder Adler Thermae was awarded the world's best relaxation and spa hotel in the 2011 TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice awards.
We wanted to never leave. We can hardly wait to return.
For more information, see adler-thermae.com
-- Postmedia News
TRAVEL TIPS FOR WOMEN VISITING ITALY
-- Do not drive in Rome or on the Amalfi Coast's cliffside road. Hire a driver or take a taxi or bus.
-- The Naples train station is a zoo and downtown traffic is crazy. A driver, arranged in advance through our hotel in Positano, was a godsend.
-- Trains: We found train travel challenging. Pack one light bag.
There is no luggage rack just inside the doors. You have to hoist it to a rack high over your seat. Also, some stations have stairs.
-- Train stations in cities, such as Rome, are chaotic. The departure boards indicate on which track your train will arrive. Each car is numbered. If you reserved a seat, the car and seat number will be on your ticket. Sometimes the cars are numbered sequentially front to back, sometimes back to front, which makes getting to the correct car a challenge in the few minutes the train is stopped.
-- Train stations are not announced except on the Eurostar high-speed train. Read the platform sign as you pull in. Some towns have two stations with the destination name, except one will be followed with centrali (central). This is likely the one you want.
-- If you buy a multi-day pass, read the fine print. You must write the date each time you use it in the tiny boxes on the front, even with a validation stamp and a seat reservation. I forgot once and was fined 50 euros (about $70).
Money and security
-- Do not buy traveller's cheques, even in euros. Most hotels (even four or five stars) will not cash them. Even a bank refused. Money changers charge a hefty commission. You're better off to use your ATM card.
Ensure it can be used internationally with a PIN that is a maximum of four numbers.
-- The biggest problem for women is theft. Try not to carry a purse. Use a money belt or put money and credit cards in a pocket that's not pickable.
-- If a bag is a must, do not put it under or on the back of your chair in restaurants. Three women I know had their purses opened and wallets and cameras stolen.
In cities, choose a centrally located hotel, especially if you or your travel companion is older. It's nice to return for an afternoon rest and then go back out for the evening. The centre is usually busy at night and safe.