Three days at rejuvenating Tuscan spa resort

By Laura Scheiber
Photos by Matthew Harris

Tuscan countryside surrounding Adler Thermae

The Tuscan countryside surrounding Adler Thermae

As if the idyllic Tuscan countryside was not enough reason for my husband and I to visit the Val d’Orcia region of Italy, we could not wait to enjoy the natural thermal waters in the town of Bagno Vignoni, recognized for their healing benefits since Etruscan and Roman times. With thermal waters in mind we spent three wonderful days at Adler Thermae Spa & Relax Resort in Tuscany, Italy. With access to the local thermal springs, and couched between Pienza, a Tuscan medieval town specializing in pecorino cheeses, and the town of Montalcino, home of Brunello wine, the resort was ideally located to take advantage of many Tuscan delights.

For us, the highlights of Adler Thermae Spa & Relax Resort were the views of the breathtaking scenery, the consistently friendly service, and the endless opportunities to relax and rejuvenate. By the time we left, we felt mentally and physically recharged. Promising ourselves that we would return to this family-friendly haven, we have since recommended the resort to several friends and family members in search of a restorative getaway.

Brunello wine, Montalcino

Brunello wine from Montalcino

Arriving on a sunny hot day in June after an hour’s drive from Siena, we checked in at the front desk, where Federika, one of the friendly receptionists, gave us an overview and map of the facilities, keys to our room and information on how to pick up our spa towels, size appropriate robes, flip flops, and a beach bag to be used throughout our stay.

The bellman escorted us to room 328, a 35 square meter room facing the pool area, with excellent views of the Tuscan countryside. The air-conditioned room was comfortable and pleasant. Had there not been so many wonderful facilities to explore, we happily would have kicked our feet up and relaxed in the sun-filled room, which had two twin-sized beds pushed together to make an oversized bed, and a small sitting area with a couch, tea table, arm chair, desk and chair.

Enjoying complimentary cocktails on the outdoor patio of Adler Thermae, Tuscany

We enjoyed complimentary cocktails on the outdoor patio

After settling in, we went to the bar area for a complimentary welcome drink. Taking in the unobstructed views on the outdoor patio, I drank a refreshing fruit juice while my husband enjoyed a mixed drink made of Prosecco and Martini rosé. Since we had been steadily eating our way through Italy for the previous four days, I decided to take advantage of the indoor gym before dinner. Just like our room and the bar lounge, the most delightful feature of the well-equipped indoor gym was the fantastic view of the Tuscan countryside.

A bike ride through the Tuscan countryside

A view of Pienza while riding bikes through the countryside

The next day we were anxious to explore the landscape, so we reserved some of the complimentary mountain bikes the hotel offered. The receptionist gave us safety helmets and a map of several nearby bike routes. Within minutes we were on a secluded trail, surrounded by open fields of wheat and cypress trees swaying in the breeze, all beneath a perfectly blue sky. After conquering a few small hills, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Pienza, atop a hillside 17 kilometers from Adler Thermae. Though we wanted to cycle to the peak we conceded to the 95 Fahrenheit degree heat and headed back to the resort for some pool time.

The outdoor spa area, Adler Thermae, Tuscany

The outdoor spa area at Adler Thermae

After napping on the white loungers next to the 25-meter sports pool, I decided to take a dip in the outdoor thermal pool, sourced from one of the local thermal springs. I had read that the minerals had positive health benefits for joints and bones so I slipped into the 98.6 degree Fahrenheit water and made my way over to one of the areas where a row of thick iron rods served as a lounging seat. Water shot out of the side walls in twenty minute intervals, providing a massage of sorts. I laid my head back to take in the Tuscan sun and slipped into a wonderful state of relaxation.

On our last day at Adler Thermae, we wanted to take full advantage of the resort’s many facilities. I began with some laps in the outdoor 25-meter sports pool at a refreshing 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Although tempted by the 30-minute hydro bike class (one of six daily exercise classes offered by the resort during our stay), I opted for the outdoor treadmills just a few steps away from the pool area. Even after three days at the resort, I still marveled at the beautiful scenery and understood why the Val D’Orcia region of Tuscany was made a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Outdoor treadmills at Adler Thermae, Tuscany

Outdoor treadmills at Adler Thermae

After working out, my husband and I visited the sauna and steam rooms in the garden area of the spa. Located in a serene outdoor space of the resort, several humidity rooms surrounded an attractive thermal water pool. We visited the Olivae, a Finnish sauna, made from terracotta and olive trees, and the Grotta de Filosofo, a Turkish steam room with refreshing scents inside a hillside cave. Neither bathing suits nor bathrobes were allowed in the facilities, but guests had the option of wrapping up in a towel if they desired. There were pegs immediately outside the rooms where we hung our swimwear and bathrobes. After an afternoon alternating between 15-minute sessions in the humidity rooms followed by a cold shower and then a lie down on one of the single waterbeds in the neighboring relaxation room, I felt as if I had reached a new dimension of harmony. While my body was relaxed, my mind felt calm yet alert.

What stole the show for us at Adler Thermae was the beauty of the surrounding countryside. The thoughtful design of the building allowed us to enjoy outstanding views virtually anywhere in the resort. We also appreciated the many exercise options. This suited me well because I like a holiday that combines some type of physical exercise interspersed with opportunities to unwind. Just as important were the friendly and professional staff, who seemed dedicated to pampering guests and ensuring a relaxing and healthy getaway. We left rested and re-energized, with plans to return in the future.

Phuket, Thailand hotel offered luxury amenities, beach access

Room at Twinpalms Phuket

The bedroom in a three level suite at the Residences at Twinpalms Phuket

Tasty and attractive appetizer plate

A tasty and attractive appetizer

When one of our team members was in Phuket, Thailand recently she spent time at Twinpalms Phuket, a luxury adults oriented hotel on the west side of the popular island. She liked the ultra private and luxurious accommodations in the Residences building including a three level suite with a rooftop pool and a shared concierge.

Catch Beachclub was right on the beach

The beach

Palm Spa Reception

Palm Spa at Twinpalms Phuket

Thinking of traveling to Phuket or just curious? Visit the Thailand page of Simon & Baker Travel Review to read a dedicated property profile about Twinpalms Phuket and Palm Spa, the property’s in house spa.

The Breakers, a Florida icon

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The Breakers Hotel

The Breakers Palm Beach

This family owned and family friendly resort in tony Palm Beach Island in Florida’s east coast made fans out of us. There are many reasons to like the 140-acre property such as its handsome Italian design interiors and pretty rooms, beachfront location, two 18-hole championship golf courses, ocean facing swimming pools, spacious spa, boutiques and multiple restaurants. Our favorites: the manicured look pervasive throughout the resort including uniformed staff and the high level of service, often friendly and helpful, wherever we went.

Fountain at the Breakers

There were many comfortable areas to relax and enjoy the property

We enjoyed a midweek stay just as the season was closing and although the weather did not cooperate as much as we would have liked (there was a constant lifeguard red flag during our stay) we appreciated the calm environs. We particularly enjoyed massages at the resort spa, a sunset dinner at the The Flagler Steakhouse and a molecular gastronomy tasting menu dinner at L’Escalier, the resort’s gourmet restaurant.

Elaborate cuisine at L'Escalier

Cuisine as art at L’Escalier

Another favorite was a day at Beach Bungalow 17, one of several day rental cabanas fronting the adult relaxation infinity pool and facing the beach beyond. The bungalow provided quiet space aside from the crowded pool area and the private area with a concierge made our time under the sun especially relaxing. The 150-square foot indoor area plus a segregated patio was stocked with some complimentary amenities and plenty of pool towels. For sun time the patio had three outdoor lounge chairs and an umbrella.

A pool bungalow at the Breakers

Beach Bungalow 17

Inside the open air space had a ceiling fan and a tower fan, lanai, armchair, rectangular wood table, private outdoor shower, water closet and sink, binoculars, house brand toiletries (body lotion, bathing gel, shampoo, conditioner, liquid soap), blow dryer, tissue paper, WiFi connection, LG flatscreen television with satellite connection, Zenith DVD player, fruit bowl, ice bucket and mini refrigerator stocked with house brand purified complimentary water. There were also four types sodas and snacks in our bungalow for purchase (Snickers, Skittles, Reese’s, M & M and PowerBar).

A private getaway at the Breakers pool

Our view of the pool and ocean beyond from inside the bungalow

Krissy, our concierge

Krissy, our Bungalo concierge, made sure we had everything we needed with a smile

Although the resort facilities and amenities were within easy reach it was nice to know we did not have to do anything or go anywhere if we did not care to. Even lunch was easy.

We selected Florida Fish Tacos, Turkey Club Wrap and a side order of Avocado Fries from the Ocean Grill menu in our bungalow and placed our order with Krissy, a uniformed concierge who checked on us regularly. Within minutes our food arrived. In case we were still peckish around 3:30 p.m. she brought a styrofoam plate of frozen grapes. We wrapped up our day feeling lazy and relaxed and ready for dinner at Echo, the resort’s offsite Asian eatery a short shuttle ride away in downtown Palm Beach. Click here to read about our experience at The Breakers Palm Beach, The Spa at The Breakers and L’Escalier.

Duck wraps from Echo

The duck at Echo was served with flour wraps and crisp vegetables

Regina Isabella, a seaside hotel and spa in Ischia, Italy

Photos by Gary Cox


The distinctive rock Fungo is just offshore of Lacco Ameno

The ferry to Ischia

The ferry from Naples to Ischia

Earlier this year, one of our teams visited the island of Ischia near Naples best known for its thermal springs and spa facilities. While in Ischia, our team stayed at the well known Albergo della Regina Isabella in the tiny town of Lacco Ameno on the island’s northern coast. The seaside hotel had a large health spa and in house dining options including Ristorante Indaco, a gourmet restaurant (see A surprisingly delicious dinner at L’Albergo della Regina Isabella). Click here to read about their stay at Albergo della Regina Isabella and their spa treatments at Terme Della Regina Isabella, the hotel spa.

Regina Isabella water view

The Regina Isabella sits right on the water in Ischia

Local chef in Ischia

Chef Pasquale Padamaro, a native of Ischia

Pretty Johannesburg boutique hotel, spa in quiet residential neighborhood

By Elena del Valle and photos by Gary Cox

The Fairlawns pool

One of the first things we noticed on arriving at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa in an upscale residential neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa was the scented saringa flowering tree at the entrance. Once cleared through the obligatory guarded gate we were surprised to find a quiet property dotted with manicured gardens. In addition to spacious and luxuriously appointed one-bedroom suites, the growing hotel (a new building was under construction) had meeting rooms, a work out area, a swimming pool, a restaurant and spa on site.

Reception and the restaurant were in a single story main building. Within a two-minute walk several separate two-story buildings housed the spa and fitness area and guest suites. After checking in we were led past the restaurant and central gardens to our respective suites within one of the two-story new looking buildings. Our ground floor one bedroom suites, suites 13 and 15 named for Emily Hobhouse and Nelson Mandela respectively, were spacious and handsomely decorated, each one with a different interior design style (during a second visit we stayed upstairs in the Oppenheimer Suite).

Living area of the Emily Hobhouse Suite

Living area of the Mandela Suite

The suites were well appointed including complimentary WiFi Internet access and spotlessly clean. My favorite, suite 15, was divided into three distinct areas, a living area, a sleeping area and a bathroom. Decorated in an Africa theme it had animal print accents and a comfy sofa facing a fireplace (underfloor heating kept my suite toasty too). For the media minded there were two television sets, including a large flat screen television and DVD player across from the king bed in the bedroom.

The Jacuzzi bathtub in the Mandela Suite

The bathroom too was spacious with marble counters and floors, twin sinks, shower, water closet with bidet, and Jacuzzi bathtub. Tall built-in closets with an ironing board and electronic safe took up one entire wall opposite the sinks.

Additional amenities included fresh flowers, complimentary fruit bowl, complimentary in room sherry, Irish Duke and Forsyth travel size toiletries (conditioning shampoo, shower gel, body lotion, nail kit, shower cap and soap) and, at turn down, a small bottle of water and a nougat. The ambiance was serene although there were meeting guests at elegant hotel, owned by John and Anna Thacker.

Inside the Fairlawns Spa

The spa building, across the lawn from our building, had a work out room accessible at guest convenience with the electronic room key. I was pleased to be the first to arrive, at 6 a.m., for an early work out although I was soon joined by others. The spa itself was mostly in an adjacent walled garden area next to, and separate from, the swimming pool. The shady spa garden was filled with private corners and treatment rooms. In spite of our arrival in the late afternoon (spa treatments were available until 5 p.m.) we were in time to enjoy side by side massages in one of the loveliest and largest treatment rooms in the far corner of the spa garden.

The breakfast buffet at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa

While were were there we sampled a couple of items from the room service menu and dined in the outdoor area of the restaurant. Mornings were my favorite meal time at the Fairlawns. There was an ample breakfast buffet with cereals, fruits (fresh and dried), cheeses, deli meats, cold fish, and varied delicious homemade pastries to compete with the made to order breakfast menu. Sitting in the restaurant patio under the shade of large umbrellas we enjoyed the placid view of the nearby pool and flower filled gardens. We look forward to revisiting the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa, Alma Road, Morningside Manor, Ext. 6, Sandton, Johannesburg,, +27 11 804 2540/1/2/3,

Sedona, soothing for the soul

Article by Elena del Valle, photos by Amparo Cadavid

A hot air balloon near Sedona

A hot air balloon near Sedona

Outdoor dining at L'Auberge de Sedona

Outdoor dining at L'Auberge de Sedona

The pool area at Sedona Rouge

The pool area at Sedona Rouge

Sedona, a small town in northern Arizona known mostly for its red rocks and energy centers or vortexes, proved to be as pretty as we had heard. Although it is a highly touristy area in the low summer season when we were there its natural charms easily outweighed the drawbacks of a tourism driven area.

When we were there it was quiet, serene, uncrowded and pretty. Its magnificent red rocks were reason enough to draw us there and its lovely setting, crime free and clean environs made fans of us eager to return. We liked the accommodations at L’Auberge de Sedona and Sedona Rouge.

A mermaid at Sedona Rouge

A mermaid at Sedona Rouge

Guests at L'Auberge de Sedona had access to Amara Spa

Guests at L'Aubege de Sedona were welcome at Amara Spa

On our way from Sedona to the Grand Canyon

On our way from Sedona to the Grand Canyon

Among our favorite activities were hiking the rocks, discovering the creeks, listening to flute players such as Jesee Kalu, a midday meal at the ChocolaTree (especially the guacamole), creek side dining at L’Auberge de Sedona restaurant, and early morning time at our L’Auberge de Sedona cottage outdoor deck.

We also enjoyed time at the Sedona Rouge Spa, a day long train ride to the Grand Canyon on the Grand Canyon Railway, a dosha type session by the Buddha Stupa, a dawn balloon ride with Northern Light Balloon Expeditions and a fun and thought provoking astronomy session with Dennis Young hosted by our hotel. Click here to read more about our visit to Sedona.