Architecture trends

Dive in

Kath Hudson talks to Italian architect Emanuele Boaretto about building Y-40, the world’s deepest thermal pool and finds out how the concept could go global, with potential projects in Malaysia, Taiwan, China and Japan


Italian spa resort, Hotel Terme Millepini, created an incredible, and ambitious addition to its portfolio of facilities in June 2014, when it opened a 40m diving pool, Y-40 – The Deep Joy – with the goal of turning the resort into an international diving destination.

Designed by the hotel owner, Emanuele Boaretto, with the help of diving instructor, Marco Mardollo, the facility is the world’s deepest thermal water pool – the equivalent in height to nine double decker buses. It also incorporates four caves, for technical underwater diving and a transparent viewing tunnel, so people can experience the depths without getting wet.

Going to these lengths to boost business could be viewed as extreme, but Boaretto, whose family owns the resort, had nurtured the idea for almost 30 years. In many ways it was a natural progression for the business: the spa’s speciality is thermal treatments using natural resources and this project allows visitors another, more active, way to experience the healing properties of the water.

Y-40 fits well with the resort’s existing hydrothermal experiences: thermal pools, whirlpools, waterfall and heat experiences.

FOLLOWING A DREAM
The resort, near Padova in north Italy, is located in Montegrotto Terme, one of the biggest thermal spa regions in Europe. It’s these waters which made Boaretto’s dream possible, as the 4,300 cubic metres of water needed for the diving pool are naturally heated to 32–34°C. This was crucial because Boaretto wanted the project to be environmentally and commercially sustainable.

“Emanuele had the idea in the 1980s, while he was studying architecture and the family was building the hotel,” explains Giovanni Boaretto, his son and a Y-40 spokesperson. “The hotel is on a hill and seeing the volume of earth being moved gave him the idea for a thermal dive pool.”

People considered it an outlandish idea and so Boaretto didn’t act on it until the hotel started to lose customers to cheaper spas in eastern Europe at the end of the noughties. While other operators could offer thermal treatments for less money, they couldn’t replicate a 40m diving pool.

Emanuele Boaretto says: “Y-40 is unique in its field thanks to the spa water, which cannot be outsourced. We want to open up new medium- and long-term work prospects to try and guarantee prosperity, not only for my company, but also for the local community.”

Because economic regeneration was such an important part of the project, only Italian companies were used. To speed things up, Boaretto decided to privately fund the development, rather than try to get the idea past shareholders. After three years of planning and getting permissions in place, construction only took one year.

HEALING WATERS
“Our water is 30 per cent more powerful than cortisone. It’s highly efficient as an anti-inflammatory, for soothing muscles and regulating hormones, without causing any bad effects” says Giovanni Boaretto. “Diving is another tool to experience the water and this is the message we’re emphasising in our marketing. Repeat visits will be from people who found something harmonious about the pool.”

The original source of the water is the uncontaminated basins of the Lessini mountains, at the foothills of the Alps, more than 80km (50 miles) away. The journey through the calcareous rock, at a depth of 2,000-3,000m (6,560-9,840ft), can take more than 25 years. During this time the water is held at high pressures and temperatures, so when it finally emerges it is enriched with mineral salts, famous for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.

The Euganean thermal mud, which is excavated from the thermal lake in the national park where Hotel Terme Millepini is located, is even more effective. It has a patented ingredient and provides the basis for the spa’s signature services – 14 out of the 24 treatment rooms are set aside for mud therapy. In 2013, the mud received a European licence for its efficacy in treating arthritis, arthrosis and traumas.

SPORT AND SPA
To date yoga and pilates have been the physical disciplines used by most spas to a create a union between the body and the mind. So diving is an interesting diversification, but already it looks likely to gather momentum, as more spas add diving to their programmes.

“We expect there will be more of a relationship between dive and spa facilities in the future,” says Giovanni Boaretto, explaining that 15 per cent of divers come on a dive and spa package. “Y-40 has sparked a lot of interest and Emanuele is now consulting all over the world with architects on similar projects, in Malaysia, Taiwan, China and Japan. Rather than replicate Y-40, he’s looking at how the pool could reflect each location.”

There are synergies between diving and spa, as a philosophy of mindfulness is conveyed through the free diving courses, which combine with meditation, massage and yoga.

“It’s not about pushing people to break records with free diving, but about making a connection with the depth. We teach them how to feel well in the water, which then allows them to have the right mental attitude to go deep,” says Giovanni Boaretto. “In order to free dive, you must have a stable mind.”

Already Y-40 is being sought out as a training location for many athletes, including Italy’s synchronised swimming team, the fencing team and international swimmers. Giovanni Boaretto says they are all coming to work on their mental (rather than physical) training in the water.

FINDING CUSTOMERS
Opening the world’s deepest thermal dive pool has boosted business: visits have increased in the last year. Divers are one market. It’s also ideal for photo shoots and for companies which want to test equipment.
However, the team is realistic that many have visited because it’s new and lots of divers only visit a location once. At E35 (US$40, £26) per session, the pool must be kept busy to pay back the E15m (US$17m, £22.5m) investment, so the pressure’s on the marketing team to deliver the customers.

Different markets are being actively sought, particularly in the US and the UK and free diving and spa packages are being designed, with the aim of keeping people at the hotel for three to four nights on extended stays.

“People won’t spend E700 just to dive here: we’re not the Maldives and we don’t have fish,” says Giovanni Boaretto. “So we’re selling a memorable and holistic experience: pushing the fact that the water offers a joyful, harmonious experience. Our national park is a very calm place to be, the surroundings are beautiful, there’s wine tasting and it’s easy to visit Venice, Vienna and Padova.”

Emanuele Boaretto’s bold move could be the start of a new trend for spas to invest in sports facilities which complement their offering to broaden their market to a fresh audience of highly engaged customers.

Kath Hudson is a former editor at Leisure Media and a freelance health, travel and design writer.

[email protected]

Building Y-40

Architect Emanuele Boaretto has realised his 30-year dream to design and build the deepest dive pool in the world

During: The deep section under construction
During: The deep section under construction
After: Take a deep breath - the dive pool
After: Take a deep breath - the dive pool
Depth counters take divers down 40 metres
Depth counters take divers down 40 metres
The stepped pool shown in cross section
The stepped pool shown in cross section
The shallower sections cater for learners, less experienced divers and swimmers
The shallower sections cater for learners, less experienced divers and swimmers
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Architecture trends: Dive in
Architect Emanuele Boaretto on the challenges of building the world's deepest diving pool