After the day’s activities, we eventually made our way back to our hotel, having made appointments to visit the spa on its grounds. Let me preface this story by saying that I have nothing against spas in principal. I find that they are often frequented by a shallow, sorry clientèle with little else in their lives from which to garner self-worth besides their increasingly artificial bodies… but, really, I like them fine. Anyhow, Liz and I signed up for the wine baths, their signature treatment, so we slipped into our robes and headed down to the waiting room. We had followed direct instructions to have nothing on under the robes, so my natural discomfort at being in an unfamiliar environment was compounded by the knowledge that one wrong twist of the hips and I could be revealing myself to the family of four in the reflection pool. Soon after, a young, reasonably attractive woman called my name and I followed her into a room in the middle of which was a large jacuzzi filled with water. I was a bit confused, having had visions of emerging myself in a barrique of Barolo but I thought perhaps that this was a prelude to the wine bath. The woman then said to me the following: “Please get in the bath and I will come back in when you are ready.” No other instructions were given. So I slipped off the robe and into the oh so crystal clear water. I stifled the embarrassment of being totally and visibly nude in front of a strange woman of comparable age by telling myself that this was their job, they do this everyday, nudity is normal in their profession, etc… She returned and I did my best to play it off like she was at least the 3rd stranger I had been naked in front of that day, with questionable success. Much to my dismay, she proceeded to take a teensie weensie shot glass of wine, pour it into the tub, and turn on the jets. I sat there for 15 minutes trying to calculate how much each second that may as well have been spent in the backyard jacuzzi of a friend’s house at a high school party was costing me. To make matters worse, I noticed a small plastic bag on the edge of the tub which, after opening, I realized was a bathing suit bottom.

Now – what bothers me most is not that I had to endure some public nudity, but that, given the speedo revelation, I could only assume that she thought it was my choice to go skins. I must have appeared to her to be some combination of extremely arrogant and desperately forward to, in her mind, knowingly rebuff clothes and present myself to her to be bathed al fresco. Quite mortifying for me. The subject of countless dinnertime stories for Liz.

Anyhow, after the red faded from my cheeks we made our way to the hotel restaurant, Guido da Costigliole or Da Guido. The interior is truly stunning, located in the basement of the hotel, a converted 17th century monastery. The food is traditional Piemontese which, for me, does not translate well to a fine dining atmosphere. The restaurant has a Michelin star and it seems like it would be better off without it – or at least without the baggage that seems to come along with trying to keep it. Traditional Italian dishes simply taste better without the pretense and pomp that comes along with a high-end experience. Put simply, spaghetti al pomodoro will always be better with fresh basil as opposed to a preserved basil chip. That’s not to say that the food here wasn’t terrific, it was. But if you are in Piemonte and you have to choose between spending your money in a trattoria or a place like this, I can’t see an argument for the latter. Now, if the restaurant is serving some sort of nouveau cuisine that is unlike traditional dishes, then that’s a different story. But in this case, the dishes weren’t original enough to stop me from comparing them to the same flavors, but simpler presentation, that I could have gotten in any number of other local places.

battered soft-boiled egg w/ black truffle

battered soft-boiled egg w/ black truffle

poached bacala, fresh peas

poached baccala with fresh peas

tortellini della nonna

agnolotti di lidia

spaghetti al pomodoro

spaghetti al pomodoro

pork belly

pork belly

cheese plate

cheese plate

the devil's cheese

the devil's cheese

The winner here were the agnolotti since they defied the move towards traditional upscale presentations and came in a very light no frills butter-based sauce. But, again, while absolutely delicious I could have found fresh agnolotti elsewhere. The cheese shown in the last picture was most certainly the product of Satan’s cows. Neither Liz nor I could stand more than the tiniest lick. It tasted like congieled stomach acid. I am completely blanking on the name but, for now, I find that staying away from black cheeses is a safe bet. I still haven’t developed a taste for them.

Summing up San Maurizio: the structure and location of the hotel and restaurant is incredible and we may never have felt so relaxed as when we were lounging around the grounds, but the spa is a rip off and the restaurant, while totally delicious, does not deliver anything beyond what you can get for 1/3 the price in a good trattoria (except for a more extensive wine list and the cool venue).