In the Italian medieval town of Torgiano, the ancient culture of wine is being put to new uses for health and beauty in a local wellness spa.
At the Bella Uve SPA, stressed-out visitors can enjoy massages with ointments made from grapes and herbs, and a Cleopatra-like bath in crushed grapes in a wooden tub. The bath is accompanied by a goblet of wine from the region.
Winemaking in central Italy's Umbria region dates back to antiquity. Using wine for wellness is also traced to ancient times, says Teresa Severini, one of Italy's first female oenologists. She helps run the family business, Lungarotti Winery, the biggest in the region.
The Italian region of Umbria is known as the "green heart" of the country. It is covered by miles and miles of vineyards.
"Many centuries ago, you can find recipes to have good skin, good health. And still today, if you go into the country you can find people immersing their legs in the wine when they are tired, or doing massage on their scalp because of the good properties of wine," Severini says.
The town looms over gentle hills, lined with row after row of vineyards. On the lower
slopes, succulent white grapes — pinot grigio, trebbiano, and chardonnay — are waiting to be picked. Reds such as sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and pinot nero glow lusciously on the higher slopes. This is the home of many fine wines, including Rubesco, whose name derives from the word "blush" in Latin.
The spa has revived the ancient use of grapes and wine to make unguents, perfumes and soaps — applied with modern massage methods. Every treatment uses a specific wine for
foot massages, facials and body peelings.
Masseuse Emanuella Menella fills a wooden tub that looks like a wine cask. She adds 3 liters of sangiovese red for the treatment, called "the Wave of Bacchus."
"We start the wine therapy with a scrub, massage with cream with wine, and after, a bath in wine," Menella says. "After the bath in wine, you feel energized because wine activates circulation. It is an antioxidant, and relaxes muscles."
Many of the treatments available at the spa derive from what in centuries past were known as "books of secrets" — documents filled with beauty aides and remedies for everyday ailments written by women for other women.
"We all made wine more or less the way the Romans did until the Second World War. It all changed with modern machines and technology," she says.
Visitors can see Etruscan urns with scenes of funeral banquets, reflecting the belief that wine accompanied the soul on the long trip to the afterlife.
There are small jugs from the ancient Greek region of Attica of the fifth century B.C. They were traditional gifts for children during a festival honoring the god Dionysus and part of a rite of passage in which wine played a central role.
The displays alternate between the sacred and the profane, including ceremonial bronze pieces and glassware from ancient Greece, alongside medieval and renaissance winemaking tools.
At the spa, Menella says all the treatments are just modern versions of what Cleopatra and others of her time would have enjoyed.
"She did the bath in wine, the bath in milk, for moisturizing her skin. So we take the old treatments," Menella says. "Here in Umbria we have all natural products, why not use that?"