September/October  2007 

 

 

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“Today’s spa provides a dizzying array of treatments in 70 treatment rooms. These include cranial-sacral therapy, pressotherapy for circulation, kinesiology, inhalatory crenotherapy, yoga, osteopathy, Shiatsu, Tui-Na, a variety of anti-aging treatments, Wat-su, hot- and cold-stone massage and a number of dermatological treatments for face and body. Guests can also enjoy manicures, pedicures, wraps, electrotherapy, peels and injection treatments, swimming in the thermal waters in one of two large pools, Qigong, and a variety of different thermal and thalassotherapy water treatments and traditional physical therapies.”
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he volcanic island of Ischia, Italy, located 30 minutes from Naples by hydrofoil, has been a place of healing for over two millennia. Its thermal waters have been reputed to heal many ailments; the best known is female infertility. The Greeks first came to experience the waters, but it was the Romans who made Ischia into a health mecca of the Northern Mediterranean. Mineral-rich water pours into the pools and soaking tubs, and therapeutic mud comes out the pipes from underground at the perfect temperature for treatments.

The Regina Isabella Spa and Resort has had a fascinating history of its own since it was built in 1951 by film producer and publisher Angelo Rizzoli. Audrey Hepburn, Charles Boyer, Charlie Chaplin, and Sophia Lauren are just a few of the many famous people who stayed there. The year the hotel opened, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were there while filming part of Cleopatra. The elegant medical spa connected with the hotel caters not only to resort guests but to many of the people of the island and of Italy in general.

Formerly a hospital-like spa and a series of separate hotels, the Regina Isabella has been transformed into a high-end resort by owner Giancarlo Carriero and his crackerjack staff. They treat guests like royalty, in keeping with its name. “The spa was here before the hotel - a medical building alone.” said Carriero. “When Angelo Rizzoli built the hotel, he attached the spa.” Ahead of his time, Rizzoli had added beauty services to the medi-spa.

Carriero and his family have been in the hotel business since the 70’s and began the transformation of Regina Isabella in 2000.The hard work has paid off: The Regina Isabella is a jewel in the crown that is Ischia.

About half of the people who come to the resort come mainly for the spa (Italians are entitled to twelve free health spa treatments per year as part of their national medical program). The others come for a relaxing and luxurious vacation. “During July and August more people come for a holiday. During the rest of the year they come more for the spa,” Carriero explained.


The Spa: Termae della Regina Isabella

The Termae della Regina Isabella is a labyrinth in which no one would mind getting lost. (It’s not really possible with the network of assistants around who are responsible for ensuring easy transitions between treatments, and often escorting clients to the next venue, but it was worth a try.)

The spa contains the colorful tile floors that appear in every hotel room and public area, varying widely in color and pattern. The two-story building is very clean and the staff is always eager to please the client. The statue of mother and child in the foyer pays tribute to Ischia’s historic reputation for restoring fertility.

Today’s spa provides a dizzying array of treatments in 70 treatment rooms. These include craniosacral therapy, pressotherapy for circulation, kinesiology, inhalatory crenotherapy, yoga, osteopathy, Shiatsu, Tui-Na, a variety of anti-aging treatments, Wat-su, hot- and cold-stone massage and a number of dermatological treatments for face and body. Guests can also enjoy manicures, pedicures, wraps, electrotherapy, peels and injection treatments, swimming in the thermal waters in ischia-4one of two large pools, Qigong, and a variety of different thermal and thalassotherapy water treatments and traditional physical therapies. There is a large fitness center, sauna, pool with thermal waters, and personal trainers available who aid and instruct guests in yoga, Feldenkrais, Pilates, circuits, body rolling, and other exercise regimes. There is even a four-hands massage under the thermal waters.

“It is a large space, but never enough” said spa manager Constanza Popolano. “We have about 40 people working in the spa – 45 with the secretaries and other staff. There are times (even during the low season) when none are free.” Popolano said that there will soon be the addition of a Turkish bath, a couple’s room for Wat-su, and relaxation rooms other than the lobby and garden areas already available.

On our tour of the spa, Popolano escorted our party into a room filled with inhaling apparatuses, the Nebulizer room. The nebulizers, with thermal water, can help with allergies, smoking, and bronchitis.

High season for the spa runs May to early September. The thermal pool and the Fitness Center are open from 8:00 AM until 7:00 PM, with the Fitness Center closing for lunch.

Medical director Paolo Magrassi, M.D., a graduate of Harvard Medical School, has led an exciting life – practicing medicine in war-torn countries and on four continents including the Congo, Angola, and in the Amazon. His specialties are neuropathy and cardiology, but he sees a large number of patients through the spa with a variety of needs from stress release to serious illnesses. He joined the staff in 2001 and helped to make it into the high-quality modern medical spa it is now. “We added the dermatology and a lot of osteopathy… The people appreciate very much the medical attention.”

That’s understandable. They even offer pediatric osteopathy. I’ve never seen such a collection of experts in such a variety of fields of health in one place. For example, my Tui-Na therapist had a doctorate in Chinese Medicine and had studied at Shaolin Temple!

“The spa’s history goes back to the Greeks and the first water treatments. The Romans refined it,” explained Magrassi. “Therma medicine became very popular again during the Italian Renaissance.” In 1588, Dr. Guilio Iasolino studied the island and found that different springs have different properties that heal different things. His findings stood the test of time. “(They were found to be) incredibly true with indications and contraindications, and this was the 16th Century! Now ‘therma’ medicine is taught as a specialty in the medical schools.”

Foreign visitors come to the spa from all over the world, especially from Russia and Germany. “We have a high rate of return”, says Magrassi. Some come back for 30, 40 years!”

The therapeutic waters are from three wells and are carefully tested and regulated by the Italian Ministry of Health.

Guests of the spa undergo a full medical exam, and a painless dermatological examination that checks several variables including pH balance, fat content, hydration levels, and elasticity. Every client receives a treatment schedule designed exclusively for them. My schedule spanned three days, and averaged six treatments, 10-60 minutes each.

ischia-5Each day I participated in an invigorating circulatory treatment, Vasche Kneipp, which uses hot and cold thermal waters from the hotel’s springs of therapeutic water. A physical therapist was present to oversee my stepping into a long thin pool of very warm water up to my hips, emerging on the other side, and entering into a cold pool to return. Railings on either side aided in my stepping lightly on the pebbles which lined the bottom of both pools. These provided a reflexology treatment in addition to the circulation treatment. The cycle was repeated for fifteen minutes per session. When I toweled off I was impressed with how energetic I felt and how incredibly smooth the skin on my legs was.

I also enjoyed a detoxifying thermal mud wrap. Two buckets of mud were piped from deep in the ground – a pure grey creamy mixture – and poured on the wrap on a treatment table. I was encased from the shoulders down in soft relaxing warmth that melted tension from muscles sore from sitting for hours on an airplane. To gain solid benefits from this treatment, it must be repeated more than once. The first day I noticed I felt great and drank a lot of water. The second day of my treatment, I noticed I perspired a bit all day while my body cleansed itself. The third day was fabulous: I sweated profusely (for me) during the treatment and for a few minutes after, but afterward felt clean as a whistle, and my skin looked fabulous. I also felt great.

Each 20-minute mud treatment was followed by my therapist hosing me clean, and then I popped into a warm soaking tub bubbling with the thermal waters. I felt strong and healthy all over. The mineral waters removed every final trace of mud, and I felt very relaxed.

ischia-7In addition to my daily treatments I had a facial, a Shiatsu massage, and a Tui-Na massage. I also visited the osteopath who treated me for a torn tendon in my finger. She did two excellent lymphatic sessions that helped to bring down the swelling dramatically.

My facial once again utilized the thermal water and therapeutic mud Ischia. Instead of using a pre-created regime, it was designed especially for me by dermatologist Antonio Parisi, M.D., based on the results of my dermatological exam. My therapist began with a gentle cleansing for my sensitive skin. I then received five minutes of soft gentle steam from the thermal waters, which was especially lovely. It not only opened my pore, it nourished my skin. Extractions followed, and then a slow relaxing massage and masque. Last, she moisturized my skin with a light cream that left my skin glowing and healthy.

The Chinese bodywork was a real treat. My 60-minute Shiatsu massage was a fast-paced energy treatment that left me feeling both relaxed but animated and able to focus, not ‘post-massage floppy’. It took away the jetlag and I bounced out happy. Shiatsu is a fabulous treatment for moving the body’s energy, helping it to flow evenly from head to foot. A note to clients from the United States used to the laws that require draping at all times: Many massages in Italy are applied with both male and female clients topless, and sometimes no cover sheet. These treatments are delivered as any medical treatment, and work muscles like the pectorals with which many Americans have trouble.

Tui-Na, a 5000-year-old form of Chinese therapy, was performed with me in a bathing suit on a soft mat on the floor of the treatment room. The treatment is designed to aid the flow of Qi through the whole body, sometimes concentrating on the body holistically and sometimes addressing one or more problem areas. I was asked ischia-8what kind of music I wanted to hear, and what my goals were. Without hesitation I answered, “Relaxation.” The hour passed so fast I couldn’t believe it. Again I felt centered and energized, but relaxed.

Because the medical exam and dermatological evaluation establish the best regime for the client, treatments are often booked after the client arrives; however, clients can book ahead of time if they wish. Hair appointments, manicures and pedicures can, of course, be booked in advance.

Packages with multiple treatments range from the Relaxation package with three treatments for 120 Euros, to the Springs and Wellbeing package with over 35 treatments, medical exams and lab work for 950 Euros – a very reasonable price considering my recent 2-minute blood test was (with help from insurance) over $100. Individual treatments are also available. Visit www.reginaisabella.it to get more information.


The Hotel

The Regina Isabella’s accommodations are a celebration of Italian hospitality. The four buildings that make up the hotel are linked, so no one need go outside if they choose not to.

The entire facility includes a large bar/lounge with live music and dancing, two restaurants (one for lunch and the other for breakfast and dinner dining), numerous beautifully decorated lounges and relaxation areas, a business center and game room, conference room, a garden, and three swimming pools, two of which are fed with sea water and the one in the fitness center a hypothermal pool.

My beautiful hotel room, the Sophia Lauren room, overlooked the bay and the marina. The balcony alone was a treat – a large space with table and chairs, and a lovely little ‘plunge pool’ (hot tub) of the thermal waters. Nothing was nicer than sitting there with a cup of tea in my cozy robe and slippers (provided by the hotel).

The room was decorated with original artwork, and the floor was covered in the bright tiles. Lovely wischia-10ood furniture, a comfy sitting area, wood accents, a chandelier, and a large television/Internet station made up the whole. The television could be set up for English using the remote, and English programming was available. Everything was well lit by a variety of lighting choices, and my bellman offered me a two-minute tutorial on all of the light switches in the room. There was also a work station at a desk. The closet was spacious and the bed one of the best I’ve slept on in any hotel.

The bathroom was a sort of resort in itself. It had a stunning – but private – view of the bay from a big circular window above the bathtub. It contained his and hers sinks, a deep tub, and a separate step-in rain shower. The products in the room are from the spa’s own line: including shampoo and conditioner, shaving lotion, bath gel, face cream, body lotion, two kinds of bar soap, and a loofa sponge to enjoy them. While soaking in my luxurious bath I discovered the ultimate – a television built into the wall.

Rooms begin at a very reasonable 100 Euros per night up to 2,500 Euros for a royal suite. Prices depend on time of season.


Cuisine

ischia-6If you’re ready to be cared for by a talented staff of loving Italian surrogate parents you are ready for the Regina Isabella’s dining areas. Nothing pleases the Regina Isabella wait staff more than to see the guests eat heartily.
 
Guests can come to the sumptuous breakfast buffet (served from 7:30 until 10:30 AM) in their spa robes and slippers. The guests’ attire for the restaurant may be informal, but the uniform-clad wait staff, the decor and the cuisine are anything but!

The buffet covers the entire foyer of the restaurant and includes dishes for every appetite and diet. You have a choice: go healthy with the dozens of fruits and veggies prepared in a variety of ways with hearty cereals, or indulge in the mouth-watering meats and piles of sweets. There are hot dishes, cold seafood, more kinds of bread than I could count, and just about many choices of juice and hot beverages.

Used to American buffets, I assumed the fresh eggs in the big basket were already hard boiled: The waiter ran to my table just as I was about to whack the egg in half with my knife. He gently removed it from my hand. “And how would you like your egg cooked signora?” Oops!

ischia-9Lunch is served in a glass-encased dining room that hovers at the edge of the water. The view is gorgeous – as is the view out of every window in the hotel – and the summertime afternoon sun can’t reach in. There is a lunch buffet as well, but if you are feeling lazy and want a real treat, ask the waiter for his/her preference of both food and wine. I never ordered a thing off of the menu during my stay, and every dish was fabulous!

The shellfish was so flavorful it requires little or no seasoning, and the fish melted like butter in my mouth. A little lemon juice and fresh pasta and you have a classic Ischian meal. The menu also includes a variety of other seafood, beef and some vegetarian dishes. The chef is welcoming to guests’ special requests.

The lunch buffet costs 30 Euros, pasta runs from 8-30 Euros, Entrees 20-40 Euros, and the kids’ lunch menu is 20 euros.

Dinners are more formal, and are served at the same venue as the breakfast buffet between 8:00 and 10:00 PM. Dinner usually extends into the 10:30 hour, but they don’t take new parties after 10:00.

Beware the dessert tray with its huge array of chocolaty tortes and layered pastries crammed with creams! But my serious weakness was the signature of Italian after-entrée dining, the basket of little piped cookies and delectable meringues: I rather think I awed the waiters and my fellow diners with my seemingly bottomless consumption of these little delights. (They kept send more of them back to my room with me.)

No Italian dinner – or lunch for that matter – is complete without wine, and Ischia has a wine for everyone. Prior to its tourism boom, Ischia’s economy was based in the wine industry. The two best vineyards on the island now produce a special label exclusively for the Regina Isabella. Refer to the wine list, or ask your waiter to make a selection.

At dinner I noticed a few of the spa staff, and almost every night, Dr. Magrassi, circling the tables and greeting guests, asking how they were feeling. Now that’s therapeutic in itself.

 

 

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