Whilst the hotel above may be pretty, when it comes to Grotta Giusti, the world below is like no place I’ve ever been!
Last month I travelled to Tuscany on a collaborative press trip with The Italian Hospitality Collection of hotels, splitting my sunny days between two of their quintessentially Italian hotels Grotta Giusti & Bagni Di Pisa.
It’s so often believed that for those truly amazing bucket list trips, we have to pack up our entire lives and book out weeks at a time from ‘the real world’. Well for those of you whose adventures extend to metres below with a tank on your back I’m happy to tell you that your best adventure may be yet to come and the great news? It’s only a short plane journey away from London!
I’ve spent the last few years travelling the world and as of next week I’ll have explored 50 countries, whilst I love nothing more than the turquoise blues of the Indian Ocean, the vast expanse of the US and the amazing wildlife of Africa if I’m looking for a quick escape to somewhere beautiful Italy wins every time!
Having explored a number of cities in the romantic Mediterranean country I have to say Tuscany is definitely one of my favourites. There’s something so magically understated when it comes to the beauty of where the country side meets the old cobbled towns, there’s an authenticity that just travels through the city and a every corner turned seems to unravel another story and Grotta Giusti has all the Italian charm you could ask for in a luxury hotel located in Tuscany.
For me though, rustic beauty and wonderful hospitality aside the real wow factor of the residence (clue’s in the name) is the Grotta itself. Discovered completely untouched 200 metres below ground, the cave emanates natural hot steam that is said to ‘melt your stress away’ and is beneficial for both your physical and mental health. The hotel’s natural steam bath can be enjoyed by guests for 50 minutes at a time and the deeper into the thermal spa you enter the hotter and steamier it becomes!
As well as the natural sauna/steam the Grotta has it’s very own thermal lake. The beautifully warm waters also have their own naturally rejuvenating properties that are unique to the Grotta. The minerals within the water are said to trance guests with ultimate relaxation and the whole underground discovery is famed as a natural medi-spa in which guests can come to relax and enjoy the soothing anti inflammation properties of the Grotta whilst also participating in mediative practices to fully enhance blissfulness.
Whilst simply wandering through the cave has it’s own health benefits you can also book in for a floating therapy session in the thermal lake which is what my fellow journalists opted for during our stay, each of them reported back how amazing the experience was and how the described feeling of weightlessness that the treatment boasts really is a truth. If, however, you are a certified diver, a whole new kind of ‘med-magic’ and mystery is available for you to discover. Luckily for me, I’ve been diving for ten years now so the chance to discover a new (though technically old) world below was an offer I jumped at!
It was, without a doubt, one of the best things I’ve done in all of my travels and the most unexpected! The Grotta just so happens to be the largest thermal cave in all of Europe and the only place in the world where you can scuba dive in an underground cave. The network of passages lie deeper than the lake’s surface will first reveal and if you can master the unique style of diving the caves cavities lead the way to a ‘once in a lifetime’ path of discovery.
Booked in for the dive I didn’t really know what to expect but before suiting up, as a group we were given a lengthy a thorough briefing (complete with powerpoint presentation) about the history of the thermal cave, how it was created, the discovery and exactly how we were to move around down there! Unlike traditional diving you don’t go down with fins, instead just a pair of ocean shoes or trainers. The whole concept of breathing is the same but the rest of the dive is a brand new skill you must develop whilst down there.
Walking down into the Grotta itself has it’s own mystery and magic although with a tank on your back it’s a little more unnerving if I’m honest! You are immediately met with the truth that you are underground and in a very confined space, the walkways are small and slight and the fact that you are about to dive in the tightest space you’ve ever seen (let alone swam in) really starts to sink in as you get into the lake! At the point of entering the water I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared. It’s a daunting experience getting into a pool that’s just metres in circumference knowing you are about to descend metres below. When I ducked in my head the true reality of the dive kicked in, this would be like NO other and boy would it take some skill!
Knowing the difficulties of the dive my buddy and I had a few practice runs of climbing the rocks and navigating through them in a shallower section of the cave before starting the official dive and from the very first exercise of walking between two walls I was hooked! Instead of swimming we were scaling and it, felt, awesome! The spaces between the cavities really did play tricks on your eyes, as you moved towards a new opening you had to really take a moment to think, could I possibly fit through there?! Then as my instructor glided through I knew that despite my sense of space disillusioning me it was in fact possible to go through, so in I followed.
I happily and excitedly picked up the skill of navigating through quickly so we descended deeper and started the ‘real’ dive. Guys, it was absolutely epic! Gliding through an whole new underwater world with just one other person and a torch to guide me (did I mention it was, rather obviously I guess, pitch black down there?!) dramatically added to the drama and intrigue.
The movements from rock to rock and space to space felt like I was walking in space, there was a bizarre feeling of weightlessness and I must have completed the whole hour’s dive with a huge grin on my face simply because of this intergalactic like feeling. They say ‘there’s something in the water’ when it comes to the thermal caves at Grotta Giusti and having the luxury of diving in the warmth and whim of the underground world was a feeling I’ll never forget.
Every now and again we would pop up into a small cave that allowed us to take out our regulators and have a chat about the formations and when we shone our torchlight on the water it was the dreamiest colour of turquoise I have ever seen, it was like every crook and cranny of the cave had it’s own undisputed magic. I finished my dive in total awe of the Grotta and if you are a diver yourself, in my opinion, there’s no better weekend break from London to combine the luxury of a sweet Italian break and an adventure of a lifetime!
Moving back to the hotel, this is what makes the bucket list experience even better as you have the option to really make a trip of it. The grounds of Grotta Giusti are also beautiful above ground 😉 The rooms are large and airy with sweetheart balconies and authentic designs, the food is varied and delicious, the cocktails fabulous and the hotel itself its gorgeously decorated in a impressive and traditional Tuscan style.
Due to having a whole underwater world that’s rich in minerals and healing properties there is also a world-renowned spa within the hotel that has a long list of relaxing treatments for guests to take the usual unwinding route but also, more uniquely and importantly to people travelling from a far, a number of more specialised options and wellness packages that focus on bespoke ways of using the thermal water for inhalation, draining and rejuvenating treatments. There’s also a large outdoor pool which is filled with the natural thermal water so if diving isn’t your thing and the grotta sparks claustrophobic fears you can still enjoy the rejuvenating and anti-inflammatory properties of the water in a wider more accessible space!
Whilst spending time away from home it’s always great to explore and in my own experience every road in Tuscany has it’s own cultural charm! From Grotta Giusti there’s a small town which is just a cycle away and the wheels are provided to guests by the residence so all you have to do is ride on down, grab a gelato and if travelling in summer season enjoy the lush Mediterranean weather!
I left Grotta Giusti with a feeling that, as a traveller by nature and profession I cherish the most, the feeling that I had found somewhere remarkable and special. Somewhere that whenever any one asks me for advice as to where to stay next I would happily offer up as a bucket list European escape!
Watch the dive and full video of my trip to Tuscany here: