Part of the Italian Hospitality Collection, Grotta Giusti is a luxurious spa resort situated in Monsummano Terme in the Pistoia province of Italy.
Situated in a centuries old park, the entrance is suitably grand, looking every inch the restored Tuscan villa one would expect.
On arrival the antique lawn furniture makes a stately impression, while the façade has a solid, timeless feel.
But inside, things are less formal.
Classical music floats through the air, but guests are more chinos than suits, giving the hotel a relaxed air.
Indeed, this being predominantly a spa resort, gowns are encouraged throughout the property all day, letting guests disconnect from the outside world and truly immerse themselves in the hotel.
Check in for our two-night stay is quick and painless, and we are upstairs in the high-ceilinged room in no time.
Space is ample, while the huge windows offer views over the manicured grounds outside.
With just 64 rooms, as well as six junior suits, the property is the definition of boutique, with the spa facilities in the west wing and the restaurant in the east.
There are two thermal pools, one is open to the public and has quite a boisterous atmosphere, while the other is reserved for hotel guests and offers a more secluded feel.
Bathers are advised to spend 20 minutes in the waters - which contain bicarbonate, sulphur, calcium, magnesium and a host of other elements - in order to benefit from its healing properties.
Temperatures rise as high as 34°C – which is certainly enough.
During my all-to-brief-stay the chatter around the pool was predominantly in Italian.
“We are open all year round, but the season really starts during Easter,” explains Andrea Petri, cluster sales manager for Italian Hospitality Collection.
“Over the summer it is high season, but there is not much difference for us, as the real season is the weekends. Low season is midweek.
“Our guests are 50 per cent Italian, and they come for the weekend, so we are very popular during this period.
“The public pool is one of the largest in Italy, at 750 square metres, and we work with the local people, so they have a chance to enjoy that.”
He adds: “The second largest market for us is Russia, Ukraine and the countries to the east.
“We are close to Montecatini– which is very famous in Russia – and they have a culture of thermal treatments.
“We see young people coming from these markets that have a culture of bathing, drinking, and enjoying the spa.”
The trophy is proudly displayed in reception.
Branded the “eighth wonder of the world” by composer Giuseppe Verdi during his visits in the 19th century, the award winning grotto is the centrepiece of the hotel.
Discovered in 1849, the underground cave is divided into three areas – purgatory, paradise, and the inferno.
Guests are invited to explore the first two before lingering in the last as long as they can, benefiting as they heat clears their body of toxins.
The temperature increases during the experience, while the stalagmites and stalactites give the cave a ghostly, haunted aura.
It has to be seen to be believed and is like nothing else I’ve ever seen at a hotel.
“We sell it as similar to Turkish bath; that allows guests to imagine the experience they will have in the grotto,” continues Petri.
“The grotto has three benefits, the first two are physical.
“It is good for your breathing, when you come out of the grotto you feel your breathing is refreshed, and this is because you are taking in hot air, enlarging your pulmonary artery – it is good for people with asthma or who are smokers.
“There is a big difference even after one visit to the grotto, though we believe the treatment takes 12 days.
“The second benefit is for the skin – it exfoliates your skin.
“The third, and perhaps most important benefit, is that it reduces stress.
“The grotto is a strange place, you are not connected there with anything, just yourself. There is just silence.
“Here there is only one thing that reminds you of the world, and that is the falling of the drops of water.
“We have seen that many people who arrive from the city, where they are rushing every day, worrying about work and life, their rhythm of life is very fast.
“So, on the first day, they can have problems acclimatising to the grotto – it takes time to reset.
“But, after a time, they come to live at the pace of the drops coming from the ceiling of the grotto.
“By the end of their time in the grotto, they are able to say they have reset the rhythm of their life and they are able to start again.”
Every hotel seeks to offer something unique – and the grotto is certainly that.
I was only able to visit once, but the experience was certainly inimitable; sitting below ground in the increasingly stifling heat with only my thoughts for company, it seems I could not be further from the world above.
Perhaps most intriguingly of all, there is a diving experience in the grotto – in a lake submerged below the floors of the caves.
A specialist team is called from nearby Pistoia, and at night, when the grotto closes, they enter and offer a class to those with a PADI licence.
Guests descend to 14 metres below the grotto, through caves 120 metres long.
“It is a really unique experience. It is like a spa treatment, in the lake, relaxing your body,” adds Petri.
“We have seen people cry because they are so relaxed during the experience.
“This is the only thermal cave with a lake where you can dive – this makes the experience very unique.”
Away from the thermal baths and grotto, there is also an extensive spa offering a full range of treatments.
The hotel is located in the centre of Tuscany.
Within just a few minutes’ drive guests can reach the town of Lucca, and its historic fortified centre, as well as Vinci, birthplace of the famous Leonardo.
Also close by are Pisa and its famous leaning tower, as well as the Renaissance cathedrals of Florene.
Guests are also just 20 kilometres from Collodi, the city if Pinocchio.
Grotta Giusti is a majestic thermal spa hotel that has earned its reputation as one of the most prestigious hotels in Tuscany.
It offers unexpected luxuries for every visitor, with the perfect balance of historical charm and modern aesthetics.
The property launched the Equilibrium Cooking School earlier this year, with classes set to run through the summer.
Find out more on the official website.