In the hilltop town of Fiuggi, southeast of Rome, I discovered I have a drinking problem. Not with wine or beer, but rather water.
The CNN crew had come here to do a story on what sounded like a veritable fountain of youth -- mineral water drunk by popes and princes for centuries for its rejuvenating properties, and that until a few decades ago you could only buy in pharmacies.
Since I've reached a point in my life where I sometimes feel my spring chicken days are behind me, I was eager to see what effect Fiuggi water would have on me.
The water is most famous for its ability to dissolve kidney stones, and that fame goes back hundreds of years. I confess I don't have kidney stones and had to go to Wikipedia to find out what they are -- "a solid concretion or crystal aggregation formed in the kidneys from dietary minerals in the urine," caused by "low fluid intake and high dietary intake of animal protein, sodium, refined sugars, fructose and high fructose corn syrup, oxalate, grapefruit juice, and apple juice." Beyond that, we'll have to check with CNN's Sanjay Gupta. Anyway, Pliny the Elder (who lived in the first century BC) praised the "healthy waters" here, and we visited a house which still had a functioning cistern dating back to Roman times.
Anna Batisti, Fiuggi's technical director, has worked at the spa for thirty years. She told me the waters cured Pope Boniface VIII (1235-1303) of a severe case of kidney stones. She said that as soon as word of the pope's miraculous recovery spread among the ambassadors to the Vatican, casks of Fiuggi water were sent to Europe's reigning monarchs.
Michelangelo also suffered from kidney stones until he became a habitual drinker of Fiuggi water.
While at Fiuggi I met Father Giulio Albanese, who had spent a good chunk of his life as a missionary in Africa. He said that he had suffered for years from kidney stones, and didn't hesitate to describe the suffering in terms so graphic and disturbing it was painful to listen to and too detailed to pass CNN.com's editors.
That all came to an end when he followed the advice of an Italian doctor in Kenya who told him to go on a drinking binge in Fiuggi.
"I have to be sincere," Father Giulio told me. "At the beginning I was very skeptical. Then I decided to come and I can tell you, it really was a miracle," he declared. "I've managed to expel 41 kidney stones!"
But it's not just kidney stones that Fiuggi treats. Fiuggi's medical director, Professor Renato Del Monaco, told me it cleans the kidneys and is also beneficial to the prostate gland, and "has the effect of keeping us young in every way, even for us men, it helps keep us young."
Indeed, off camera, one of the gentlemen quaffing glass after glass of Fiuggi told me it was the equivalent of "liquid Viagra."
This was confirmed to me by Lucia, a woman of a certain age, shall we say, who told me she came to Fiuggi because of her kidney stones, but her husband joined her because the waters, in her carefully chosen words, "made him more active."
To me, Fiuggi water itself seemed a bit flat. I'm accustomed to the water in Rome, which flows cool, clean and clear -- and free -- from the hundreds of fontanelli (little fountains) around the city (unlike Paris and London, in Rome there is no need to buy bottled water).
But despite the flatness, I figured I must immerse myself in the Fiuggi experience, so of course I over did it, downing perhaps two dozen glasses in just a few hours. For the rest of the day, and on the drive back to Rome, I had to stop every half hour to use the bathroom. I can't attest to its health giving properties, but Fiuggi water will definitely give your bladder a work out. I have to stop drinking like this.