Nothing is under control. That might seem like an unlikely motto for a refined spa hotel. Yet, it’s an oddly comforting concept. Nothing is under control. Instead of being a cause for panic, it’s a good excuse to slow down, step out of the rat race for a few days—or more—and take some time to treat yourself to much-needed rest and regeneration.

Such is the promise of Terme di Relilax Boutique Hotel & Spa, a luxury hotel and medical/thermal spa in Montegrotto Terme (Italy’s northern Veneto region). The hotel is set near Padua, the city famous for being the final resting place of St. Anthony. The faithful visit the massive 13th-century Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua to view the saint’s tomb and leave photos of their missing or sick loved ones nearby, as he’s a protector of the sick, and the patron saint of lost things. The pilgrimage church sees five million visitors per year, and for devout Catholics around the world, it’s one of the most important places of worship in Italy.

At Montegrotto Terme and neighboring Abano Terme, there is another ancient entity that draws faithful visitors. Relilax, like virtually every hotel in the “spa zone” of the two towns, touts a secret ingredient that is said to aide in everything from muscular aches and pains to digestive disorders and symptoms of menopause—it’s even said to speed along weight loss. And that magic cure-all is not the blessing of a 13th-century saint, but instead the product of millions of years of erosion, shifting tectonic plates, and water seeping through layers of rock and sediment to make…mud.

The healing mud of the Euganean Hills has been prized for its curative properties, at least since Roman times. It is first harvested as clay near the foot of the hills, and then mixed with natural thermal water and left to percolate for at least two months. This is when an anti-inflammatory algae forms. At Relilax, vats of the hotel’s patented formula of Fango Vivo (living mud) is cured on-site, and then the mud is applied in a variety of treatments.

A Unique Approach to Treatments

As a medical spa hotel, the approach and treatments at Relilax are different from a more conventional spa facility. Each guest meets with the spa’s resident physician (an MD who specializes in homeopathic medicine) before any treatments begin. Current and past health issues are discussed, as well as the expectations for what the guests hope to achieve for their health and wellness during the stay at Relilax. The physician then prescribes a targeted mud treatment, as well as massages and/or other therapies that he/she believes will provide healing, or relief of symptoms. A short-term treatment plan stay at Relilax (three or four days, for example) might involve mud packs, massages, inhalation therapies of the spa’s mineral-rich thermal waters, sauna sessions and a range of other possibilities. Guests staying a week or more will have daily mud treatments, additional restorative therapies and perhaps a detox diet or weight loss regimen for the duration of their stay, depending on the goals.

The approach at Relilax may not be conventional, but that doesn’t mean the experience is not pampering. The 5-star property offers rooms and suites that are spacious and modern; a restaurant and bar; and a thermal area with wet and dry saunas, aromatherapy showers and a grotto-like hydro-massage pool. A large indoor pool is heated to a temperature between 36-40C (97-104F) degrees, and features zones with whirlpool jets and massaging showers. It connects to what (in this writer’s opinion) is the most splendid part of the entire facility—a massive, lagoon-style outdoor heated pool. The thermal water is infused with magnesium chloride and potassium, which softens the skin and avoids the negative effects of chlorine.

But back to that mud… Mud therapy sessions take place in individual treatment rooms, each dimly lit and cozy. Rather than a mud “bath” or full immersion, 20 kilos (44 pounds) of hot mud is packed onto various parts of one’s body, per the doctor’s orders. Most often, treatments target shoulders, lower back and large joints the most subject to inflammation. Once an attendant applies the mud, clients are wrapped in a warm, wet compress and left to relax (and snooze) for about 30 minutes, and enjoy the pleasant cocooning sensation while the mud works its magic. While one mud treatment is soothing to tight or sore muscles, it takes several sessions to really reap the longer-term benefits.

An Affordable Wellness Vacation Option

Relilax is a five-star hotel and spa. In Italy, as in most places, those five little stars tend to designate great big prices when it comes to the room rates, dining, and especially spa treatments. A pleasant surprise of Relilax is its affordability. While it’s not a budget vacation, the prices are much more accessible than those of other spa hotels of the same category. This makes it much easier for guests to stay a little longer, and take advantage of a wider range of treatments. Available beauty and health treatments include calcium and collagen facials; lymphatic drainage and Ayurvedic massages; and manicures and pedicures. Those seeking something a wee bit more invasive can have bio-stimulation micro-injections on the face and body.

For guests who want to venture off-property for half-day or full-day trips, Padua is just 20 minutes away. Guests can take a regional train or bus, or the hotel can arrange for transfers to and from the city center. Farther afield, Venice is 50 minutes away via train from Padua; Bologna is 90 minutes away; and Ferrara is reachable in just under an hour. Breakfasts and dinners at the hotel restaurant are included with most rates, but there are also a number of excellent restaurants in Padua. Guests who dine on-site will find a daily menu of well-prepared entrees, with a focus on healthy eating.

A holistic, medically driven health spa might not be everyone’s cup of matcha tea. But at Relilax, we found what we were looking for—a few days of total relaxation, and a little refreshing of mind and body. After all, if, as the hotel says, nothing is under control, a brief respite from reality might be just what the doctor ordered.

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