Image: Jay Yeo
October 15 2011
Part: 1 | 2
“Chiara Lungarotti has wine in her blood. She literally lives and breathes wine.”
I’m midway through a pilgrimage into Italy’s gorgeous wine regions, en route to Assisi; and the spa junkie in me had clocked Le Tre Vaselle, the Lungarotti family’s inn that has been open for decades but has just recently opened the only spa in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it medieval town of Torgiano.
“Chiara Lungarotti inherited the winery from her father, Giorgio , widely regarded as the man who put Umbria on the winemaking map,” says the receptionist as I’m being led through a maze of ancient stone-walled, low-ceilinged halls and passages so complex I fear I may need my GPS to find my way back to the front door.
“It was a very brave move using his inheritance and land to grow grapes on what was previously farmland, but the risk paid off and it’s become one of the most important businesses in Umbria,” continues the receptionist. We arrive at my room, and she opens the wooden shutters to reveal perfect, bucolic countryside.
The Lungarotti winery looms large in this small and beautiful region; it’s credited with earning Umbria its initial fame, thanks to its pioneering wines and ambition to promote local culture. Having achieved renown in the 1980s with its signature red, Rubesco (considered by many to have been the Umbrian wine of its time), it now – like so many other cool Italian heritage brands – appears to be breathing new life into its image, with some fabulous new vintages, and a new spa brand: BellaUve.
Who would have thought that barrels of cheap plonk, dried grape leaves and kernels could be put to such great use? Vinotherapy is hardly a new idea – Les Sources de Caudalie is credited with its inception in the late 1990s. However, a few new kids on the block have ensured that this is not just an Asian flush. Olavie’s Le Vin and South African-produced TheraVine are making their mark at prestigious hotel spas such as Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the Shore Club in Miami and the Camps Bay Retreat in Cape Town.
Vinotherapy has also inspired a generation of winemakers; many now include spa facilities in their product offerings in an effort to convert day trippers, “just here for a wine taste”, into the more lucrative weekend stay-overs. “We wanted a world-class spa experience; our vision was to create one of the most beautiful destination-spa-on-wine-estate products,” Tanya Mackay-Davidson at Laurence Graff’s relatively new estate Delaire Graff recently told me when I called to book my upcoming stay in Stellenbosch.
However, it seems that not many winemakers are actually creating their own spa products and product lines, which makes the Lungarottis’ venture unique. Could Vinotherapy boost the ailing fortunes of the local wine regions in Europe?
“Our spa was designed to look like a bunch of grapes,” my therapist says as she guides me to my spa suite. The floor is painted bright green, the walls are red and the treatment rooms are round-ish/oblong-ish shapes, meant to resemble individual grapes. There are graffiti-style accolades to this, the greatest of all fruits, on the roof.
“Is the Sangiovese good for you, madam?” she asks as she carefully presents the bottle to me.
“Sure, the 2007 suits me fine.”
What a welcome change from the usual spa induction of circling and ticking questionnaires detailing such a vast array of illnesses that if you weren’t tired and depressed before, you are after reading them. No, today it’s very simple: just choose one of the earthy, leathery Sangiovese blends that Umbrian wines have become known for.
I’ve booked their signature wine scrub, bath and massage. “I’m very pleased to see you are creating the scrub from scratch,” says my therapist. I explain that since my stay at Landaa Giraavaru, the Four Seasons property in the Maldives where they pick and prepare your poultice and treatments in front of your eyes, “I’ve become very interested in the freshness of my products and would like to see more spas adopt this freshly-prepared-on-the-premises approach.”
And rightly so, I think; the skin is the body’s largest organ and absorbs up to 60 per cent of the products we lather it with, so it’s high time to start checking the label. Most of us would be aghast to hear what questionable and controversial substances some manufacturers put in your daily routine, such as parabens (used as preservatives), sodium lauryl sulphate, used in 90 per cent of foam products, and PABAs, which are found in most sunscreens. These are just a few of the substances that, with prolonged use, can damage your skin’s immune system and which some scientists believe may contribute to cancer. She nods and concurs: “We like to keep it very simple. All the products are sourced from our vineyards and our olive groves and created naturally.”
She blends together a mixture of Lungarotti’s own branded extra virgin olive oil (which is just as delicious in your salad as it is on your skin), coarse sea salt, crushed grape vines, leaves, and general wine debris to create the scrub. After 20 minutes front and back, it’s into the hamam at 50 degrees for 10 minutes of steaming.
Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.