Italy is perhaps in the forefront of most peoples mind when they think of pasta, pizza, designer clothing and cappuccino. And while Italian wines have been popular for years it is only recently that more attention has been drawn to Italian golf. Largely fueled by the emergence of some excellent Italian players like Edoardo Molinari, Francisco Molinari and Matteo Manassero, people are taking notice of Italian golfers and golf courses.
In Two Good Rounds style I decided to go in search of an ultimate Italian golf experience. (The combination of a great golf location and libation destination). Tuscany, specifically Saturnia, did not disappoint. While Florence is home to the oldest golf course in Italy, founded in 1889, the Florence Golf Club Ugolino which offers spectacular golf, Saturnia is four hours south of Florence by car. Most people tend to travel to Chianti and Siena a less traveled beautiful hidden gem is Saturnia. A two hour drive north of Rome this southwestern corner of Tuscany is surrounded by iconic groves of olive trees, vineyards and medieval hilltop villages.
Nestled in the valley below the ancient town of Saturnia is the Terme di Saturnia Golf & Spa Resort. As you enter down the long drive to the resort you pass the golf course on the right. The courses seamless design allows one to believe that the lush fairways were always a part of the iconic Tuscan landscape. This 18 hole golf course was designed by Ronald Fream and opened in 2007. Assistant Pro Giuseppe Sabbatino greeted us at the clubhouse a beautiful stone building that sits atop a small hill allowing for one of the most pristine 19 hole views. Sipping a cappuccino or lemonchello tastes that much better from the clubhouse porch.
The first hole is a dog leg left off an elevated tee with water running along most of the hole. You are rewarded at the green with another spectacular view that makes you realize Diane Lane’s decision to stay in Tuscany, in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, was a logical one. The course has a mix of topography and endless views of the hills, vineyards and olive groves one associates with Tuscany. This eco-friendly championship golf course beckons you to take a walk with your sticks through the Tuscan countryside and rewards you afterwards with seductive and invigorating thermal springs.
The Terme di Saturnia hotel and thermal spa is one of the premier thermal locations in Europe. The hotel does an excellent job of mixing old with new as some of the stone structure dates back to ancient Roman times. The hotel rooms and spa are in an L shape around the natural stone hot spring pool. This is by far the main attraction and visitors are greeted as soon as they arrive by thepungent smell of sulpher. Perfectly warm to match the body’s natural temperature, 98 degrees, the hot springs flow from the natural mineral laden water arising from the deep cracks in the local hillsides. The flow of water through the hotel pool is 800 liters of water per second and has been gushing for over 3,000 years.
The hotel provides all the modern conveniences one would expect for a five star hotel and the spa is state of the art with treatments that can only be found there given the proximity to the natural spring water. These baths were known to be used during the Roman times as soldiers would stop off after battle to relax before heading back to the capital of Rome. It is easy to understand why this incredibly therapeutic soak was as popular then as it is now.
The hotel often hosts food and wine tastings on Friday evenings allowing guests to savor the local flavors. While Tuscany is known for its red wines, it was the discovery of great white wines that was surprising. The vineyards around Scansano and Pitigliano are known for producing the best white wines in Tuscany. A favorite was one from the Viognier vineyard, a white wine made from vitigno grapes. Pitigliano, a beautiful ancient town 20 minutes from the hotel, is steeped in history has a long relationship with wine and winemaking. Here you will find an ancient cellar that has been used for over 500 years to produce and store wine. A few miles outside Pitigliano in route back to the hotel is a beautiful family winery, the Villa Corano vineyard. Stefano Formiconi, the patriarch of the family winery takes great pride and does an excellent job of blending tradition with technology. Villa Corano produces some delicious wines including a classic Tuscan red, Acheo. The real treat is their desert wine, Gaudium, made from Malvasia grapes that is pressed and bottled by hand in the traditional wine making tradition. Alas these wines tastes that much better savored in the back of the winery seated at a family picnic table under the shade of huge oak tree overlooking the vineyards.
It is tough not to fall in love with Saturnia as it is the perfect blend of golf and wine under the Tuscan sun. Salute!