Italy’s richness in thermal and mineral waters, combined with the mildness of the climate and the beauty of the scenery, have made it a favourite venue for “health care tourism”. Since the last century hotels with extensive facilities have grown up around spas, which have established international reputations. Abano, Salsomaggiore, Chianciano, Montecatini, Fiuggi and Ischia are just a few names among the many which are known throughout the world and which attract millions of visitors every year.
In this field Italy has taken up and developed a practice which has been widespread through-out the peninsula since the time of the Romans, when thermal waters and baths were already a typical feature of town life. Interest in the Italian spas is not exclusively for health care reasons. Their proximity to great centers of art makes the spa resorts excellent bases for cultural excursions. In addition the splendid parks surrounding the most famous spas, and the infrastructure which has been created for leisure activities, make them ideal holiday resorts in their own right. Italian thermal spas are not only those which exploit hot water resources (as the literal meaning of the word “thermal” might suggest) since mineral water springs are now also generally included in this category.
The determining factor in the presence of hot water or mineral springs is the geology of Italy, a relatively young country, which is rich in volcanic phenomena and permeated, in every sense of the word, by a dense network of groundwater channels. In north-eastern Italy many spas have developed on the slopes of the Euganei Hills in Veneto, volcanic highlands where numerous hot water springs gush out. The main form of treatment is mud therapy, recommended for rheumatic illnesses and problems of the respiratory organs and the female genital organs. Abano Terme alone has almost two million visitors a year, half of whom come from abroad.
Moving further south, there is a series of thermal resorts in Emilia-Romagna on the foothills of the Apennines. There are about fifteen localities, including in particular Tabiano, Salsomaggiore, and Castrocaro, all of which have the word “Terme” (Spa) as part of their official names. The springs have chemical properties which are all very similar ( predominantly sulphurous, or containing sodium chloride, iodide or bromide). They are recommended for a wide range of afflictions: metabolism disorders, problems of the respiratory system and the vascular system and skin diseases.
Another Italian region with a high concentration of spas is Tuscany. The exploitation of this resource also has a long tradition here. A number of springs which were already in use in Roman times are still popular today, including Saturnia, Roselle, Chianciano and Chiusi. In this century the Tuscan resorts have changed from being exclusive meeting places and holiday locations. Montecatini and Chianciano have acquired ever greater importance and the statistics confirm the reputation which they have built up. Montecatini has 1,700,000 visitors a year (a quarter of them from abroad) while Chianciano counts 1,860 000 (180,000 foreign).
The spa resorts in Latium are linked to the volcanic activity which has shaped the morphology of much of the region. Bagni di Tivoli, on the outskirts of the capital and Fiuggi, further east, are especially well known. Fiuggi waters are especially noted for the treatment of renal calculus and their fame has led to the development of 250 hotels.
In southern Italy the numerous spas forming an arc around the Gulf of Naples are extremely important. This is one of the most active volcanic zones in Italy with heat bursting through from a supply of magma underground. which is very close to the surface. Ischia has 2,400,000 visitors a year (about 700,000 of whom are foreigners); oral treatment, baths (including steam baths) and mud treatment are recommended in particular for rheumatism, arthritis, obesity and metabolism disorders.