Saturday, October 9, 2010

The fitness scene in Italy

For those of you who are planning to travel to Italy for any length of time, or perhaps are considering a second home there, or might even (gasp!) move there, you will be pleased to find out that the fitness scene in the country is hopping (sometimes literally.)

From the Alps to Sicily, gyms are hot. Despite Italy's ancient traditions in sports and wellness e.g. the Romans and their baths, the Italians have decided- as in so many things- to conform to American customs. They refer to fitness by its English name (pronounced "feet-ness"), and also speak of il personal trainer, il wellness, lo stretching, and so on. The courses offered are indistinguishable from those found in an American gym: zumba, yoga, pilates, aqua, aerobic and resistance classes, spinning, and many others. They have high tech cardio machines, including stationary bicycles, stairs, treadmills (and here they usually use the French, tapis roulant), ellipticals. They sometimes have pools, indoor and/or outdoor. They have locker rooms, showers, sauna, steam rooms, and something intriguing called a doccia emozionale (emotional shower.) They sometimes offer spa services, to include massages and all sorts of prettifying activities. Many have a cafe' or full-fledged restaurant, often concept restaurants. One Milan gym offers its clients the possibility to order sushi at the reception desk upon entering, to be delivered to them at the gym post-workout.

Just as we do here, they have smaller, boutique-type studios or specialized gyms. There are many small yoga studios, offering the various yoga types, from hatha to ashtanga. Some centers specialize in only one activity, such as tennis or fencing (I actually used to go to the fencing gym in Vicenza in the 70's, and it's still there.) As you might imagine, they offer various retreats located in fabulous settings.

Many hotels, especially high-end establishments, will have their own pools and fitness areas. This is especially true of hotels in spa towns, of which there are many in Italy. There are golf courses, but not as many as in the US. And if you already have a gym membership in your own country, you might want to check out the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association, which offers a "passport" to some gym members to use at foreign clubs. Sometimes a fee is required at the foreign center.

To get an idea of a fairly typical Italian gym, take a virtual tour of the Palestra Ricciardi in Florence, which conveniently has an English version of its site. To find a gym or studio where you're planning to travel, search by using the keywords palestra (gym) plus the name of your destination in Italian, or search under specific terms such as yoga, plus destination name.

(in the photo, an Italian doing something trendy at his palestra)