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Montecatini Terme

Montecatini is a quiet and aging town that seems to long for its heyday as a "ville d'eau" where the wealthy came to "take the waters." It is still a mecca for well-heeled seniors who like to do a bit of shopping to unwind after drinking mineral-laden, laxative waters, getting radioactive vapors steamed into various parts of their body, and generally lying about doing nothing. This town's on permanent riposo, and its nucleus is the Parco delle Terme, a long park of neoclassical temples each expanding over the sources of various underground hot springs and vaporous crevices.

The oldest is Terme Tettuccio, Viale Verdi 71 (tel. 0572-778-501), written of as early as 1370 and visited by the high-strung merchant of Prato, Francesco Datini, in 1401. The spa wasn't really exploited until Grand Duke Leopold I took an interest in developing the termi of the town in the 1700s. Reconstructed from 1919 to 1927, the neoclassical facade opens onto the 20th-century ideal of a Roman bathhouse, decorated with murals, ceramics, and statues by Art Nouveau Liberty masters, like Galileo Chini and Ezio Giovannozzi. Drinking the waters here will supposedly do wonders for the intestines and liver you've been rotting with all that Chianti Classico: A ticket to imbibe the waters morning and afternoon costs 14€. Tourist visits (after 11am) cost 6€.

The Terme Leopoldina, Viale Verdi 67 (tel. 0572-778-551) at the park's entrance goes so far as to dedicate itself as a neoclassical (1926) temple to Asclepius, the god of medicine, as if its mineral mud baths could cure all ills. These and most of the other spas are open Easter through October only, but one remains open to the ailing, aching public year-round: the neo-Renaissance-meets-modernism Excelsior, Viale Verdi 61 (tel. 0572-778-511). It costs anywhere from 22€ to 115€ for thermal baths, mud soaks, ayurvedic massages, and more serious treatments. Tickets for all the spas, and a brochure with details of Montecatini's various treatments, are available at the Società delle Terme office, Viale Verdi 41 (tel. 0572-7781; www.termemontecatini.it). An open-air thermal pool, like that at Monsummano Terme is scheduled to open by 2013.

Perhaps most interesting for younger visitors is Montecatini Alto, reachable in the summer via a funicular railway (tel. 0572-766-862; www.funicolare1898.it), which makes a 10-minute trip from Viale Diaz every half-hour daily from 9:30am to midnight. It costs 4€ one-way and 7€ round-trip (2€/4€ for children aged 6 to 10). For a bite to eat, stop by La Torre, Piazza Giusti 8 (tel. 0572-706-50; closed Tues), built around a medieval tower, where you'll find reliably tasty but (like everywhere else here) slightly pricey food: primi cost 10€ to 12€, secondi 14€ to 18€, and the cover charge is a steep 3€. The Old Town offers fine views across the Valdinievole, and makes a pleasant break from the languorous, wallet-draining hedonism and general flatness of the modern spa town below. It's also a base for short hikes, especially to visit the stalactites of the Grotta Maona caverns nearby (tel. 0572-74-581), open April through October Monday to Saturday from 9am to noon and 3 to 6pm. Admission is 6€ adults, 4€ for kids 6 to 12. The surrounding complex includes a bar that becomes a disco some evenings.

Monsummano Terme

One of the eeriest spas in Italy lies just south of Montecatini at Monsummano Terme. In 1849, the Giusti family discovered on their lands a series of stalactite- and stalagmite-laden caves with a sulfurous lake at the bottom and hot mineral-laden vapors permeating the air. By 1852, they had built a spa around it dubbed the Grotta Giusti Terme and converted their adjacent villa into a luxury hotel.

You don't have to stay at the inn to visit the spa at Via Grotta Giusti 1411 (tel. 0572-90-771; www.grottagiustispa.com), where you can don a white shift and a dun-colored robe -- like a member of some monastic order -- and descend through a series of increasingly hot and steamily dripping caverns named, of course, Paradiso, Purgatorio, and Inferno, after Dante (the scalding sulfur pool below is the Lake of Limbo). It costs 40€ to steam in the caves for 50 minutes, but you can also go in for a massive array of treatments (such as full-body massages, starting at 30€ for 20 min.; or 20€ for a "thermal nasal irrigation"; or 40€ to soak in anti-inflammatory thermal mud). Less serious (and more fun, especially if you're traveling with kids) is the outdoor thermal pool, where you can soak and splash in the 95°F (35°C) waters, whatever the weather, looking out at the wilderness. All-day pool entry costs 20€ on weekdays, 24€ on weekends (13€/11€ for kids 12 and under). There's a few euros off in low season, and after 2pm on weekdays adults pay just 13€. The terme are open from 10am to 6pm (mid-May to mid-Oct closes 3pm Wed).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.