Fiuggi: Taking The Waters in the Hills
[Regions of Italy]

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If you're in Rome in the spring or from August to November, you can take a wonderful day off and head for the hills south of the city, to the enchanting medieval town of Fiuggi. Originally called Anticoli di Campagna, the obscure conglomerate of stone buildings gained renown as early as the 1300s, when Pope Boniface VIII claimed his kidney stones had been healed by the mineral waters that gushed forth from the nearby Fiuggi spring. Two centuries later they relieved Michelangelo of what he called "the only kind of stone I couldn't love." Soon the miraculous acqua di Fiuggi was being sent in bottles to all of Europe's royalty. Not until the turn of this century did it become fashionable to make pilgrimages to spa towns, and it was around that time that the King of Italy renamed Anticoli in honor of its most celebrated attraction.

Today Fiuggi is a classic Italian hill town, beginning with its layout as two separate towns. Blanketing the slopes at 2500 feet above sea level is the medieval old town, called Fiuggi Città. At its feet is the 20th-century spa town, called Fiuggi Fonte, where you can test the waters for yourself and admire many beautiful façades painted with the delicate Liberty style that was so popular in Italy from 1910 to 1930. The spa building itself is typical of the large, ornate palaces that were erected all over this mineral-rich country to make the hoi polloi feel like the aristocrats who had always ordered their water to go, thank you very much. If you come here now during holidays, or in June and July, you will rub shoulders with many government employees, whose mandatory health benefits include free spa health treatments.
During other months you will have many of the streets and squares to yourself, especially in Fiuggi Città, which you can enter through the picture perfect Portella, the only remaining gate to the medieval burg. One lucky family has made an immaculate home for themselves inside the creamy ochre structure, which includes a panoramic round tower joined to the main building by a passageway suspended over the arched gateway. No need to worry about noisy traffic: most of the old town is for pedestrians only.
In olden times, local residents reached their homes by climbing hundreds of stairs, most of which are still intact. Few towns have more steps than Fiuggi, which offers you the option of ascending by following the impeccably cobbled streets around and around the hill top or by clambering straight up. Either way you are liable to encounter friendly natives, whose sweet dispositions and famed hospitality may be at least partially due to their town's wonderful mild climate.
As you stroll through the lanes, pay a visit to the tiny church of Santa Maria del Colle, and to the church of S. Biagio, which was entirely rebuilt in the 17th century. Ironically, the rather unusual cast iron fountain in Piazza Piave was erected only in 1907, to celebrate the arrival of running water in this town that owes its very existence to the abundant springs running below the hill. At the center of the ancient town is the ornate Palazzo Falconi, surpassed in splendor only by the former Grand Hotel, now the municipal theatre.

An interesting process is afoot these days in Fiuggi Città. You see, in the centuries between 1500 and 1800, this and many nearby hill towns were part of the Papal States. Unlike its neighbors, Anticoli di Campagna provided an excellent source of revenue through the sales of its miraculous waters, and so it was often "bestowed" upon noble families in payment for services rendered. Sometimes these ungrateful aristocrats didn't even bother to visit their tiny fiefdom, but they always sent a delegate to make sure none or few of the profits stayed in town. These upper-class outsiders slowly covered the original medieval walls with the painted plaster we admire so much in the Eternal City, and so they changed almost the entire appearance of the town. Today a very active group of local residents is slowly restoring the stone façades; every one you see represents a small victory of the locals against their former absentee landlords.

Like all Italian spa towns, Fiuggi has loads of great shopping, and plenty of good restaurants serving hearty local food. The most illustrious hotel in town is the Grand Hotel Palazzo della Fonte, one of Europe's best-known grand hotels, with over three hundred spacious rooms, a covered and an outdoor pool, a fitness club, tennis courts and a first-rate restaurant.

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[Regions of Italy]