It’s not often I travel to a destination just for the hotel, but every now and then there’s a place so special that I will make the trip just to experience it. That’s what happened a few weeks ago when I stayed as a guest at the luxurious Alder Thermae Spa & Relax Resort in Bagno Vignoni, Italy.
I’ve been to Tuscany before. In 2013, I traveled to its capital city, Florence. I fell in love with the Renaissance art and architecture it’s so famous for, then fell even harder for its flavorful uncomplicated cuisine. Made with the freshest, high-quality ingredients – peppery olive oil, soft young Pecorinos, luxurious truffles, silky prosciuttos – I couldn’t get enough.
But something was missing. Where were the iconic Cypress trees of Tuscany? The rolling hills? The ancient villas? Certainly not in the city.
I knew I would have to return and see the Tuscan countryside, and soon. I started planning before I even got home, quickly narrowing down my home-base choices to two of the best known medieval hilltop towns: Siena with its well-preserved historic center or Lucca with its imposing Renaissance walls. The tiny little town of Bagno Vignoni wasn’t even a blip on my radar. Not until I heard about the Adler Thermae Toscana, that is.
Forty minutes by car from the Chiusi-Chianciano Terme train station, this 5-star luxury hotel and spa resort is set in a splendid Italian villa located on a hilltop in the Val d’Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Its central feature is a lagoon-sized pool naturally heated by warm thermal springs.
An even bigger draw than the thermal waters, at least for a food-obsessed traveler like myself, is the Adler’s reputation for spectacular gourmet Tuscan cuisine.
Five minutes on their website and I knew I’d found my place under the Tuscan sun.
Cuisine at the Adler Thermae
After a long day of travel from Budapest, I arrived at the Adler too late to have dinner in the restaurant. Imagine my pleasure when I found this cold feast waiting for me in my room.
And that was just the beginning. The next three days were a blur of amazingly good food and drink.
I started the mornings with a frothy cup of cappuccino, a heavenly croissant fresh from the oven, eggs cooked to order, and an ample assortment of cheeses and fruits. Lunch featured plenty of tasty antipasti, crisp salads, pasta dishes, and divine desserts. Later in the day, a tempting cake buffet was laid out in the piano bar, (Hello? A cake buffet!) and just a few hours after that, a gourmet multi-course dinner was served in the restaurant.
Each day, the menu was crafted to show off the best hyper-local ingredients: herbs from the hotel garden, gloriously green olive oils, tender cuts of meat from Tuscany’s Chianina breed of cattle, fresh sun-ripened vegetables, and bread made with organic flour produced at the local mill.
Insider’s Tip: Typical Tuscan dishes are identified on the restaurant menu with a sketch of a Cypress tree.
The Best Regional Wines
Cuisine this good should be enjoyed with wine that is just as exceptional.
The Adler’s limestone wine cellar, In Vino Veritas, is filled with the best wines from the nearby growing regions of Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Chianti. Gourmet tastings take place in the cellar every Wednesday and Saturday night where guests can sample selected wines with Pecorino cheese, Tuscan salami, and freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil.
Since I arrived late on Saturday night and left on Tuesday, I missed the cellar tastings. Instead, I took a tour of the new Sanoner Wine Estate where the Adler has begun producing their own organic wines from Sangiovese grapes. I enjoyed the fruity Aetos Rose 2015 and the excellent Aetos Rosso 2015, but the salmon pink Aetos Rose Sparkling 2015 with its fine bubbles and elegant bouquet of fresh red fruit was especially refreshing.
Insider’s Tip: All of the cellar wines, including the Aetos label, are poured nightly in the restaurant. If you don’t finish your bottle at dinner, the staff will store it for you so you can have what’s left the next night.
Delectable Activities & Excursions
The Sanoner winery is also home to a spacious demonstration kitchen. Weekly cooking classes are led by a local chef who shares her tips and tricks for making traditional Tuscan dishes like pasta, focaccia, and tiramisu. The four-hour experience is completely hands-on. Everyone cooks together in the morning and then shares lunch at a communal table overlooking the vineyard. Since the cooking classes take place on Wednesdays, I missed out on those too. Poor planning on my part!
Additionally, the Adler offers guests an exciting selection of guided excursions, many of which culminate in a uniquely Tuscan culinary experience. During ‘Trekking Special’ weeks, for example, guests can walk to San Quirico d’Orcia where they’ll meet a saffron producer and learn about the harvest and production of one of the world’s most costly spices, followed by a saffron-themed lunch. Trekking to Castelnuovo dell’Abate for a Brunello tasting is another option, as is hiking along the Via Francigena to visit a corn mill and enjoy typical Sienese pasta at the castle.
I joined the hotel’s personable guide, Christina, for an unforgettable truffle hunting expedition. Our group traveled by van to San Giovani d’Asso to meet a truffle hunter and his well-trained dog, Luke. After an exciting hour of truffle hunting, we transferred to Chiusure then set out on a 7 km walking tour to explore the Crete Senesi. Our hike ended at a charming agriturismo where we were treated to a light lunch featuring the white truffles we had found during our hunt. I highly recommend this experience. It had been a bucket list item for me for some time and it turned out to be the absolute highlight of my time in Tuscany!
Insider’s Tip: Cooking class menus, trekking themes, and schedules change with the seasons so be sure to check availability with the hotel before you book your stay.
Indulgent Spa Treatments
The pools, with their mineral-rich thermal waters, have some of the most amazing surroundings I’ve ever seen. Picturesque hills, a row of stately Cypress trees, even a timeworn castle in the clouds. This is the Tuscany of my dreams. Still, I managed to pull myself away from the stunning scenery long enough to enjoy some serious pampering at the spa.
The Adler Thermae has its own line of spa products made from local organic ingredients -Sangiovese grapes, olive oil, milk, honey and herbs from the Val d’Orcia – each one designed to restore, revive and replenish.
The Brunello bath with grape seed oil massage was wonderful as was the luxury massage with a velvety olive cream. I also had a facial that was so relaxing I slept through the entire treatment.
Insider’s Tip: Many treatments are intended to be enjoyed without clothing. If you’re like me and feel shy about being seen in the nude, just remind yourself that your practitioner isn’t the least bit fazed by it. He or she sees naked bodies all day long.
The Adler Thermae at Home
I wished my time at the Adler would never end. Fortunately, the hotel has anticipated this type of response from its guests and has come up with a few options to help ease the pain of parting.
First, some of the chef’s best Tuscan recipes (like Raviolo with Ricotta and Sienese Truffles and Tortelli with Ricotta, Cinta Senese Ham, and Dry Tomatoes) are available on the Adler’s website so you can recreate some of your favorite dishes at home.
Second, a careful selection of the finest Val d’Orcia gourmet products used in the recipes (and in the hotel restaurant) are available for purchase in the wine cellar. Cold cuts, extra virgin olive oil, Pecorino cheese, soup mixes, jams, and of course, wine, all make great souvenirs. (Don’t forget to pack these.)
Insider’s Tip: Pick up a package of the soup mix – a blend of organic pearl spelt, pearl barley, and lentils – so you can make a pot of earthy Tuscan soup in your own kitchen. Molto delizioso! The recipe calls for rigatino (Tuscan bacon) but I improvised with some pancetta I picked up at the local Italian market. Ever since Customs seized my refried beans with chorizo sausage on a return trip from Cabo, I’ve known better than to try and bring meat products into Canada.
I can easily imagine myself coming back to this remarkable place over and over again (like many of the European hotel guests I chatted with). In fact, I’m already looking forward to my return to this magnificent valley and the incomparable Hotel Adler.