Benessere: The Art of Feeling Good in Italy

A sign in the shape of a blue cross hangs on the side of a building indicating a pharmacy.
Italians place a high priority on good health.

Italians are on a perpetual crusade for both comfort and beauty. It is only fitting that a country with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world should have beautiful people as well, and that the pleasant climate should be matched by a general sense of benessere (well-being).

This ideal state of mind and body involves eating right, staying trim, keeping skin flake-free and well-tanned, and, above all, keeping stress at a minimum. The nation’s fitness centers offer so-called relax rooms, with soothing colors and music for a post-workout calm.

Nothing in the world, however, can compare to Italy’s spas, where stressed-out city slickers get massaged and soak up sulfuric waters. It is a tradition dating back to antiquity, when Roman soldiers would go to Tuscan springs for “the cure” after defeating a legion of Goths or the like. The mountainous peninsula is loaded with thermal springs, concentrated mostly in central Italy and the Alps. A weekend retreat often includes mud baths, massages, and aromatherapy. Some hotels even propose bathing in wine or hay.

The search for good health begins at the supermarket, where herbal treatments line the aisles. Food magazines regularly include recipes using such greenery as birch leaves and witch hazel to deliver softer skin and improved circulation, or to cure kidney ailments and gout.

If this all seems too newfangled for Italy, a country previously associated with rotund, mustachioed pizza chefs feeding roly-poly mammas and their pudgy kids, you must remember that Italy revised its diet long ago, following the French lead of nouvelle cuisine and these days its eating habits are among the healthiest in Europe.

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