There are roughly 300 thermal and mineral spas across Italy offering such therapeutic treatments that they’re prescribed by the national health service. Yet, in spite of this, thermal cures continue to wane in a pharmaceutical-dominant culture. One medical organisation, however, has seen this as an opportunity to develop a new business model.
GVM International, which owns over 50 private hospitals, first got into holistic wellness in 1998 when buying a dilapidated Fascist-era thermal water facility and hotel in Terme di Castrocaro, just a few miles from Mussolini’s birthplace in Emilia-Romagna. It was only at the end of 2018, however, that it committed to a €30m (US$33.5m, £26.2m) refurbishment project of the former state-owned facilities with a view to also overhauling a connecting clinic to create a top-league integrated health, wellness and aesthetics centre to rival the likes of Sha, Lanserhof and Chenot – but with the added benefit of mineral water cures.
“GVM realised that the future world of health and wellbeing will be played out in prevention, high-end technology and high-performance therapies,” says Lucia Magnani, a bio-chemist who developed the new wellness concept and is now CEO of the three interconnected properties: a traditional terme, designer hotel and the new Lucia Magnani Health Clinic.
Long Life Formula
Magnani’s 28-room medi wellness clinic officially launched in 2019 and industry consultants bbspa helped to bring the concept to fruition (see p81). But it’s taken her 10 years of rigorous research with a team of doctors and professors to establish its Long Life Formula, the term by which the healing philosophy here is known. It’s based on the scientific understanding of cellular ageing and oxidative stress and aims to slow the ageing process via state-of-the-art medical diagnostics and interventions, thermal water procedures, postural alignment and nutrition – plus traditional spa and aesthetic treatments.
Since fully reopening the medi wellness clinic after lockdown on 28 May, Magnani has added two new programmes to the nine pre-existing ones spanning detox, relaxation, weight loss etc. “They’re aimed at strengthening immunity and re-educating breathing activity,” she says, adding that these have attracted most enquiries in recent weeks. “Guests are more interested in prevention and acquiring the know-how around good health that they can take home and follow as a real lifestyle.”
All programmes start with a consultation with three doctors, specialists in internal medicine, thermal medicine and posture and nutrition, and are adjusted accordingly. While the minimum stay is three days, programmes extend to seven, 10 and 14 days and those on longer programmes will usually have blood and stool tests for further health analysis.
The already-personal service is even more keenly observed when it comes to new government health and safety requirements following COVID-19 such as ventilation in treatment rooms, full room cleaning between treatments, compulsory mask-wearing and hand sanitiser dispensers throughout. Sauna use is only permitted with private bookings and the clinic’s pools can be used for prearranged water treatments, but the terme itself is closed. There is also now only one point of entry for the entire site where, following a temperature recording, each guest is given a bracelet to wear throughout their stay.
While guests coming specifically for a Long Life Formula wellness stay make up only a small percentage of business, Magnani says it’s attracting greater visitor enquiries if not, yet, greater numbers post-virus.
“I admit I didn’t appreciate the strong healing power of mineral waters until I came here, but I predict there’ll be a revival because the benefits are excellent and match a growing attention to nature,” says Magnani who’s made the thermal cure a pillar of the Long Life Formula, thanks to insights from Marco Conti, a physical medicine, rehab and thermal doctor. All programmes include several hydrotherapy sessions and often use the ‘velvety soft’ local mud, extracted and sun-dried in the same way that it has been for the last 100 years.
Castrocaro’s salso-bromo-iodic, sulphurous waters, springing from a nearby hill, are especially effective for musculoskeletal, gynaecological and digestive disorders. They can also aid the sinuses and vocal chords, hence vapour inhalations are at the core of a unique Voice programme for professional singers which will launch this year.
The unusually green waters follow an eight-month journey from source to facility where they’re pumped into the public terme for use in pools, baths, showers and inhalations, as well as the clinic’s own underground spa in a range of pools and immersive experiences including Aqua Reborn, a transformative watsu-like treatment.
Posture and nutrition
Postural alignment is another strong element included in the Long Life Formula on the understanding that it effects so many aspects of our overall wellbeing.
“Posture is the first business card of a human,” says Marco De Angelis, a doctor with a degree in sports medicine. “It’s a reflection of our lifestyle, physical strength, mood and eating habits.” He teaches guests how to walk for comfort, for balanced weight-bearing and for efficient positioning of internal organs. “It takes three days to reverse postural patterning. When it’s correct, we face our problems in a positive way,” he says.
De Angelis also advises on nutrition, drawing up bespoke meal plans which outline specific portions for each food group. He’s an advocate of five small meals a day, combining deliciously prepared dishes and snacks, each with protein, cereals, vegetables and fruit. His food philosophy aims to keep metabolism and the Glycemic Index at steady levels for optimum energy.
Unlike many European health centres, the 8-hectare Castrocaro site is an icon of art deco style and has been faithfully renovated to honour its original designer, Tito Chini, who was one of Italy’s leading proponents of mid-century style. Both the clinic and hotel are full of exemplary paintings, furniture and artefacts of the period.
In summation, Castrocaro is a new addition to the canon of Europe’s five-star health properties, with the added benefit of mineral water cures, its own wellness philosophy and splendid architecture, in a quiet, rural region of north Italy.