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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Spa's Italian Soul Full of Green Heart, Amore

Jasmine covers entire pillars and fences in Castrocaro Terme. It grows in wild clumps on the town’s riverbanks and in the spa’s park.
The jasmine perfumes the air, day and night, nearly everywhere in the small Italian town.
The scent blends with the mountain air of the Apennines and oxygen from ancient pine trees. A medieval castle emerges through those trees.
However, it is not the castle, (1000 years old ), that links the town to a remote past. It is the mineral water that flows from the mountains to the valley in Castrocaro.
A long time ago, the Romans (rulers of the region from about 500 BC to 500 AD ) bathed in that water, and they called the place Salsubium. Even before that, the Etruscans dipped themselves in the suflur-salt-bromine-iodine water. 
Finally in 1936, Benito Mussolini, then dictator of Italy, fostered the building of a modern spa complex, which was inaugurated two years later. ( Mussolini, whose hometown is 13 kilometers from Castrocaro, spurred multiple construction projects in his region.)

Today a warm mist with a slight smell of sulfur fills the room with the mineral water pool at the Centro Benessere ( Wellness Center.)

The bathers emerge from the warm water, then wrap themselves in warm, white sheets. Some of them lie in their sheets on wooden lawn chairs in an adjoining terrace, where a slab of sun fills the space between buildings (photo right).

Elsewhere, patrons expose themselves more fully to the summer sun, lying on rows of lounge chairs on the rooftop, a fifth floor solarium.

Nearly all the women, whether they are young or old, thin or fat, wear bikinis. A few are covered in Castrocaro’s mineral-infused bluish-gray mud.

The patrons are usually laughing or smiling, and so are Salvina, Elza, and the other attendants. It seems to be a normal state of being for many Italians.

I land in that dolce vita before attending the “Blogville” project hosted by the Emilia Romagna Tourism Board. (
Love chakra with Italian heart
I rarely plan a trip, but this time I did because I was heading for a developed country in peak tourist season. After jotting down names of towns on an internet map of the region, I looked up their populations. I chose Castrocaro just because of its small population, 6000.

This small town, popular with Italians, very rarely sees foreign visitors, according to hotel and spa workers.

Last year the town hosted more than 40,000 visitors to its facilities, according to Silvano Verlicchi, the administrator of the privately-held complex that includes the spa, convention halls, medical clinic, and rehabilitation center that uses thermal water to treat illnesses, such as arthritis, chronic bronchitis. The Grand Hotel, also part of that complex, is the only hotel in town with a 4 star rating, or, as Verlicchi points out, “4 Star S for superior.” 
Meanwhile, I am glad to be the town’s Foreigner, and that I can learn to speak in Italian mixed with Spanish and Portuguese.

I use that linguistic mixture when I meet the staff that runs the spa’s entertainment programs.

One staff member, Antonio, celebrates nature every day with other patrons in the spa’s eight hectares ( 20 acres) of park. Inside the “green heart of Romagna” (as the town labels itself ), he fuses an awakening of the senses with oriental healing exercises (photo above).
In his class, Sensazioni in Natura ( sensations in nature), he shows spa-goers how to breathe the jasmine-scented air deeply, the tai chi way. He focuses on chakra dell’amore, chakra of love. With his Italian heart, he tells people to look into each other’s eyes, hug, and say, “Ti voglio bene” (I wish you well.)

Amore al italiano is also part of Samantha’s daily nature walk. When we arrive at a romantic archway of trees, she arranges women and men in pairs; she asks us to hold hands (photo above.)
Warm mineral water pool at Centro Benessere
I am paired off with Roberto, a retired mechanic from Abruzzo. Slowly, we walk to the end of the green arch. Then he asks, “May I kiss you ?” Those are words I now understand in Italian. “Si,” I say, smiling back at Roberto as I point to my cheek.
I continue to enjoy amore, but it is obvious that other foreign visitors are not expected. Staffers at the tourist information booth downtown do not speak English. Posters advertising concerts and festivals are printed in Italian only. Only one of the town’s three banks will permit a visitor to trade dollars for euros.

For now, il cuore verde di Romagna, the green heart of Romagna, remains the domain of Italians.
Story and photos by Carola Reuben, Earthy Reporter, copyright 2012


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