To Bikini or Not to Bikini: That is the (Surprising) Question

Last week, as one of our daily field trips, we drove an hour South to the town of Rapolano Terme, home to a mineral water spring of supposed healing properties. That Melisa and I would seek out a spa is not such a surprise. The surprise is that we took the kids.

We wouldn’t have thought to do it, if it hadn’t been recommended as a great place to go with children. I know, seems unlikely. And in hindsight, I’m realizing the mom in question has three girls (I’m sorry but that HAS to be easier), AND they are older than our kids. Still, no one (including our hostess Mimma) seemed to think there would be anything wrong with taking our brood.

I’m not sure what I was expecting—maybe something like a water park, with slides?—but it wasn’t what we found. The Spa San Giovanni looks like a real spa: quiet, peaceful, painted cool colors, spa music (you know what I mean) playing in the background.

Your mineral water experience, which apparently can heal all sorts of skin ailments, rheumatism, and respiratory issues, starts in a kind of domed sweat room, with one large circular pool surrounded by chairs, and mineral waters spouting out of the mouths of gods. It’s pretty warm, that one.

Looks nice, doesn't it?

A small water walkway and cave leads outside to the other pools, which get cooler as your graduate down the terraces. The kids loved the cave and spent some time there, pretending they were bears. I have to say I wasn’t too excited to get into hot water on a 97 degree day, but once in (Jasper said I needed the full “tour”), it was relaxing.

The outdoor pools vary in size and are surrounded by pretty chaises and umbrellas, on the patio and out on the lawn, all of which is surrounded by the rolling Tuscan hillside (vineyards, olive groves, little umber towns perched on hills, you know the drill). It’s pretty good.

The last pool was my favorite. It’s the largest, and the coolest (i.e. lukewarm). The bottom of the pool is covered in some sort of thick white mud that is naturally created by the springs. This is the other thing the kids loved about the spa: making mud pies and smearing mud on themselves as they saw the other adults at the pool do. How often does that happen? Grown-ups smearing mud all over themselves? Woo-hoo!

Your whole m.o. here is to float. Or smear yourself with mud in one of the little beaches on the edge of the big pool where you can lay half in and half out of the water. All in all pretty relaxing (even with Jasper and Magnolia saying every two minutes, “mommy! More goo!”).

There’s a cafe overlooking the pools where you can get a sensible lunch (and we did) or an espresso. The locker rooms have nice showers for rinsing off the mud.

Final ratings: a 10 from both kids (mud pies, bear cave), a 7 from me (not sure it was worth 13 euros a piece) and a 6 from Melisa, who was expecting effervescent bubbles in clear pools, and not mud.


One of my favorite things about our vacation is swimming every day. It’s a rare treat.

Between here and France, Melisa and I have both noticed that every woman, REGARDLESS OF AGE/SIZE is wearing a bikini. And sometimes topless. At the beach, or at the spa, they are out there.

When you are spending as much time in the sun as I have been, it’s hard not to think of the benefits of the bikini. It’s cooler for one. Your tan lines that disappear a little easier under clothes. Dries faster.

I haven’t considered really putting a bikini on since I was 26 or 27, but I’ve considered it on this trip.

The kids in their European suits. Me in my American one-piece.

The day after the mud baths, we took the kids into Siena. My favorite trip so far! So cosmopolitan after all our sweet little towns.

Il Campo, in front of the Torre (and with a little friend)

The kids loved it, too: they ran through shell-shaped il Campo like the horses at Palio, begged to climb the Torre del Mangia (400 steps!), and thrilled to the huge doors, old wells, flags of the Contrade, and castle-like homes.

The sales are on here in Italy, and I couldn’t help but notice all the bikinis on sale, for little girls and big. Magnolia was all over it, too. We wandered into a tiny shop and she immediately started pulling out the sparkliest, spangliest, gaudiest, tart-iest tiny bikinis she could find. Luckily, the worst of the lot were not in her size. Here is the compromise:

"Perfecto" says Magnolia

I looked too—at a couple of stores—but I could never quite get around the skimpy factor. Maybe I’m too American. Maybe I’m just too modest. I left, bikini-free.

Magnolia wore her bikini top (over her clothes), the rest of our time in Siena.

Siena's world renowned Duomo. Oh yes, and also Nola.

She got home, and would not put on her floaties when we went to the pool, for fear of ruining her look. (BTW, where did she learn that pose? We are in so much trouble). Still, by the end of the afternoon, she was swimming across the pool by herself. The floaties are gathering dust.

One afternoon in a bikini, and she’s swimming.

What would happen to me if I took the bikini plunge? Would I try a strapless dress? Write the first chapter of a novel? Cook lobster? Fry soft-shell crabs? Walk out of a boring meeting?

There’s still time. Stay tuned. 


7 Responses to “To Bikini or Not to Bikini: That is the (Surprising) Question”

  1. 1 PAT PARKINSON July 16, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Great stories!! I’ve seen that bikini pose before……. just have to find the photo!

  2. 2 Rebecca July 16, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    OMG! Get the damn bikini! You are both gorgeous women. And if not now while you are surrounded by women of every conceivable shape when?

  3. 4 Katie July 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    I’m with Rebecca. Get the damn bikini, sister! You and Melisa both! And ps – do you remember me wearing my favorite nightgown over my clothes because I thought it looked like a pretty princess dress?? Someone takes after her Aunt Katie…

  4. 5 Roz Parr July 18, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    I so love that Nola learned to swim because she wasn’t prepared to compromise her fabulous new bikini with water wings. Go bikini power!

  5. 6 Michiko July 19, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Love that M learned to swim because of her bikini. I think I need a skimpy Italian bikini as well…

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