Six weeks ago massage therapist Dana Laven was working at Paul Labrecque, unknotting the backs of a Gossip Girls’ starlet and a pop icon who’s biggest hit is about breathwork, as in every breath you take. Her intense deep-tissue work and warm, engaging personality has translated into a uniquely A-list clientele. So if Laven was going anywhere this summer, it was most likely to set up shop in the Hamptons.
Then she got an unusual invitation. Vittorio Cambria, the charismatic owner of a 14-room villa in Tuscany called Villa Ferraia, asked her to create and run the ultimate locavore spa. (She’d met Cambria several years ago at a yoga retreat. And I’ve known Cambria for many years since we both studied public baths—me for a book; him so he could painstakingly recreate the ancient Roman version).
Pretty much overnight Laven found herself in Tuscany’s wild boar country, assembling a spa treatment menu from sheep’s milk, raw local honey, and essential oils distilled by Cambria himself, who’s the sort of sparkling Renaissance man rarely found in this century.
“I’ve always wanted to live in Italy. So this is a dream,” says Laven via Skype from Villa Ferraia’s huge kitchen. “And, I get to create something professionally on top of that.” Still, paradise aside, Laven misses her NYC routine. “There’s no big gym, no Juice Generation, and I find myself Jones-ing for the city. But then I take a deep breathe and remind myself where I am.”
To be certain, she’s in the most over-the-top villa you can imagine. Cambria transformed a 700-year-old villa on 200-acres into a small luxury inn with organic gardens, which supports the produce-heavy Italian cuisine, and keeps herds of animals—sheep, pigs, donkeys, horses, and goats.
Then for good measure, he added a stunning swimming pool, soaking tubs, a sauna, and a spa. (The truly epic Roman bath remains under construction.) For evening entertainment? In addition to a movie screening room, there’s a stand-alone astrological observatory with a telescope so powerful that scientists from Siena come to borrow it.
But back to the spa.
“The hot honey massage is off the hook,” she says. Laven marries her signature deep tissue with raw, warm honey mixed with a few drops of essential oil. She’s also hand mixed brown sugar scrubs and salt scrubs that use grape seed oil and olive oil from Villa Ferraia’s own trees. “I’ve always given deep tissue massage with Biotone lotion. Now I only use olive oil which takes some getting used to, but I can’t imagine using anything else here!” And for the ultimate local treatment, which requires two days notice, she gets organic sheep’s milk whey from a neighboring shepherd and gives warms baths in it, followed by the olive oil aromatherapy massage ($195).
Although she’s scheduled to come back in the fall, Laven says, “I’ll stay as long as they need me.”—Alexia Brue
Villa Ferraia, Monticiano (Siena), Tuscany, Tel. +39 0577 757102, www.villaferraia.com. Overnight rates, including breakfast, start at $359. Well+Good readers get 20% off in the Fall.