La Dolce Vita

by Rona Berg

Wellness, Italian-style, with mineral-rich mud baths and thermal waters in Ischia, on the Bay of Naples.

Ever since childhood, I’ve loved to play in the mud. Most children do. Little did I know that getting dirty is not only fun, it strengthens the immune system and benefits the skin microbiome.

By now, it’s well-established that good health depends on a flourishing microbiome in the gut--and on the skin. Research has shown that childhood exposure to outdoor microbes has been linked to lower rates of asthma and allergies, while children raised in excessively clean environments, deprived of exposure to pathogens, don’t build up as strong a natural immunity to germs. Overuse of soaps and hand sanitizers (with triclosan) has been associated with chronic skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and allergies, and may even lead to antibiotic resistance. Our current fetish with super-sanitizing everything in the US is not only annoying, it can actually be bad for our health.

As an avid spa-goer, with a natural love of mineral hot springs and mud baths, imagine my great joy upon visiting the glamorous Hotel Regina Isabella in Ischia, with its renowned Terme della Regina Isabella Spa. The Spa offers an extensive range of face and body treatments based on the mineral-rich mud and thermal waters native to the geothermal region, not far from Mount Vesuvius. Therapeutic mud treatments are taken very seriously at Regina Isabella, where a team of doctors supervises each comprehensive wellness program. 

The 128-room five-star hotel, perched on a private beach overlooking the Bay of Naples, was opened in 1956 by Angelo Rizzoli, the Italian film producer and publisher. Rizzoli loved the island’s thermal waters, dating back to the Ancient Romans, and the gorgeous setting. The hotel has a stylish sophistication and retro Italian charm that makes you half-expect to see a young Marcello Mastroianni or Gina Lollobrigida sunning themselves by the pool, enjoying an Aperol Spritz, or dining al fresco meal at Indaco, the hotel’s exquisite Michelin-star restaurant

Ischia is also the setting of many pivotal scenes in My Brilliant Friend, the HBO series based on Elena Ferrante’s eponymous blockbuster novels that follow the friendship of two girls who grew up on the outskirts of Naples in the 1950s. This year, the hotel features The Elena Ferrante package, offering guests an opportunity to visit locations from My Brilliant Friend

The warm, therapeutic muds and clays found in this coastal and volcanic region are rich in nourishing minerals that can help remineralize the skin with sodium, magnesium and potassium, soothe aching muscles and joints and more. And it’s easy to get there. (We flew on Norwegian Air, which was named the most fuel-efficient airline on transatlantic routes by International Council on Clean Transportation [ICCT] for several years in a row.) 

After experiencing the delights of these mud baths for myself, I spoke with Costanza Popolano, Spa Manager at Terme della Regina Isabella Spa, about the healing properties of mud.

RB: What are the benefits of mud therapy?

CP: With mud therapy, guests are hoping to achieve a healthy life! The mud relieves arthritis pain, improves muscle relaxation, remineralizes the tissues, repairs damaged cartilage, combats stress, soothes the skin, relieves joint pains, back pain, reduces inflammation of the tissues and boosts immune defenses.

What is unique about the mud at Regina Isabella?

The mud here is unique due to its humus (the organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by soil microorganisms), volcanic material and microorganisms like seaweed. The geothermal activity in the subsoil of the island has a great impact. Climate also plays an important role. 

Also unique is the final process of aging the mud, which needs many months of staying continuously immersed in the outdoor pools in running thermal water from the selected water source at 56° C.

What is the history of the mud treatments here?

Our thermal mud therapies have been backed up by research at respectable Italian universities with the participation of our Scientific Director, Dr. Valerio Galasso, a biologist and nutritionist. 

Why do guests need a physical examination before they can start the treatments?

Before starting a mud therapy, it is necessary to have a physical examination because the mud is considered a medicine, indicated for therapeutic use for various disorders. The treatment is personalized based on the general health condition of the patient or guest.

How long do most guests stay and how many treatments are recommended daily?

The complete cycle is 12 mud applications with a temperature around 42°- 45° C for 15 minutes, with daily frequency. They can be done in 2 cycles of 6 sessions during the year. A short stay will let you discover the thermal “world” and the benefits of the mud therapy gives immediate results.

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