When travellers dream of Tuscany they fall in love behind the shadows of the Renaissance, wage battles with the history of the Romans and wander through the rolling hills and quiet of the countryside. Tuscany attracts wine connoisseurs, artists, lovers, cyclists and everyone else under the Tuscan sun. But Tuscany is also home to the one thing, besides Italian cuisine, that can bridge these diverse groups, and lure travellers away from their explorations into the past, love and adventures.
Two words: hot springs.
The natural world blessed this central region of Italy with a plethora of naturally occurring pools of water heated by the Earth’s very own crust. And actually, Tuscany is home to the most thermal centres in all of Italy. These Earthly gifts can be found nestled within Tuscany’s natural mural of curving country and cypress trees or the region’s villas built upon the soil of centuries and centuries of history and tradition. Just as Michelangelo’s ‘Statue of David’ or Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ line the halls of Tuscan lore, hot springs also provide a mirror into the times of Romans, and even the Etruscans. The Etruscans believed the springs to be sacred and built their temples in proximity to the heated waters, while Romans saw the potential in healing within the warm depths and aimed to harness the power of bathing and spas. Still to this day, hot springs are not only seen as a means of relaxation or fun but also a therapeutic experience for various ailments, diseases and wellness needs. See the Roman Empire wasn’t all bad! And now it’s your turn to bathe in history and Italian tradition after a day of a wine-tasting at Avignonesi or wandering through Florence’s architecture and masterpieces or even hiking all the way to Monte Forato.
But where to go?
The choice is yours.
Acqua Borra is quite a way outside of Siena in the remote hills woven with greenery and farmhouses. This hot spring is located on a farm stay that offers the complete Italian experience for any outdoor lovers. With a quaint farm stay, a local restaurant and kitchen, cooking classes and of course, a small hot spring to soak away your worries as you smell the fresh Tuscan air under the setting sky.
Bagni di Pisa
From a royal spa residence to a luxury resort spa, not much has changed at Bagni di Pisa since it was built in 1743 for the Grand Duke of Tuscany. While this hot spring has a price tag, it is also world-renowned for its collection of pools and thermal treatment rooms, wellness facilities and culinary offerings. Bagni di Pisa goes beyond just a retreat as any patron can find themselves marvelling over the 18th-century history found in the frescoed ceilings, floral gardens and views that may capture the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the distance. It’s even been rumoured that Mary Shelley, the real mastermind behind Frankenstein and her husband have walked the halls of the original villa.
Bagno Vignoni is a mecca for hot springs with its oldest and most famous centred in the middle of town situated 50 kilometres south of Siena near the picturesque Val d’Orcia. Although swimmers can no longer submerge themselves in the icon of the town square, this medieval thermal pool used to be a much-anticipated pilgrimage stop along the Canterbury to Rome route in the 16th-century. Now those seeking a place to rest their feet from a long day of exploring can venture off to find Parco dei Mulini for a free hot spring in the middle of the wilderness or feel solace in a guaranteed mineral soak at Terme di Bagno Vignoni, Hotel Adler and Posta Marcucci. Each private spa offers outdoor and indoor pools, accommodation and restaurants. But first, be sure to meander through Bagno Vignoni to experience the past quite literally bubbling up from its quintessential hot spring!
Bagni San Filippo
Another free spring found in the Val d’Orcia, Bagni San Filippo is harder to find, but you know what they say: nothing worth having comes easy. Imagine stumbling upon this outdoor oasis in the height of fall, when the leaves are turning bright hues of orange and red to complement the turquoise of the thermal waters. It’s an Instagram dream. But at Bagni San Filippo, no hot spring is quite the same. If you follow the path within the forest, skip the first few pools so you can see the calcium and waterfall hybrid that created the massive formation known as the “Balena Bianca” or White Whale. The Balena Bianca often changes colours and formations because of the ever-changing water flow coming from the waterfall. Continue towards the base of the waterfall, to see where locals built man-made pools. This is the best place to go for a free spa treatment because of the rich deposits of thermal mud. So, do as the Italians do, and cover yourself in mud, lay back and enjoy during any month of the year because the water is always warm!
South of Siena and a short distance from Bagno Vignoni, a Chianciano experience is a family affair with a wide array of thermal baths and services for everyone. There are seven baths in total that are fed by the Sillene thermal spring. The baths sprinkled throughout the complex are filled with water rich in carbonic anhydride, calcium carbonate, bicarbonate and sulfates that aid in what Chianciano is known for: health and wellness, specifically with regards to muscular properties and the skin. The spa treatments offered at this facility are no joke – it adheres to strict Sistema Sanitario Nazionale, also known as the National Health Service, guidelines. Hydroponic cures, hepatic mud and water therapy, arthropathic water and mud treatments and medically guided physio-kinesitherapy can all be found at the terme di Chianciano. Spend an entire day relaxing, treating yourself, listening to the live music, letting your kids participate in on-site activities and soaking in the history of the Theia pool that is an ode to Etruscan mythology.
Cascate del Mulino
Cascate del Mulino is one of the most southern and popular hot springs in all of Tuscany, and for good reason. It’s free, open all-year-round and positioned in the middle of Siena, Rome and Florence in Saturnia. This natural hot spring is expansive with rolling falls of silky water that rival the deep hues of blue found in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon. And in typical Italian fashion, it also has a place among the vast history of this European country. According to Roman myths, Cascate del Mulino in Saturnia was created when Saturn sent a lightning bolt to calm warring humans. Come here during the summer for the best water temperature but avoid crowds when you travel during the winter months.
Similar to Bagni di Pisa, Fonteverde Spa has royal roots as it was first built by Grand Duke Ferdinand de’ Medici in 1607. This converted 5-star resort and spa resides in San Casciano dei Bagni with picturesque views overlooking the expanse of the Val d’Orcia. It literally is positioned over a UNESCO Heritage site – your eyes and cameras aren’t ready. And your mind and body aren’t ready either because of natural springs rich in calcium, sulphur, magnesium and fluorine feed Fonteverde’s therapeutic pools above 40 degrees Celsius. Western and Eastern approaches to medicine are combined to give guests, worldly and diverse health and wellness experience. And if you aren’t already feeling yourself relax, this luxury spa welcomes furry friends! Also, if you need any further motivation to visit this Italian staple, it’s known as a “Leading Spa” of the world and also boasts the World Travel Award.
Just south of Siena, the thermal springs of Petriolo have been offering relaxation and therapy since the 11th century. The Medici family, popes, cardinals and nobles are no stranger to this natural hot spring surrounded by hiking trails and beautiful landscapes, but it’s still considered a way off of the well-worn traveller’s trail. You can visit this bubbling spring any time of the day at any time of the year because of its 43-degrees celsius water that is rich in hydrogen sulphide. Juan Ponce de Leon may not have found the Fountain of Youth, but the Petriolo hot springs may be the closest thing to it with its therapeutic properties.
San Casciano dei Bagni
Soak in this smaller hot spring found at the base of Mount Cetona in the province of Siena. And relax as the water rich in calcium, fluorine and magnesium laps at the Roman age stone as you look beyond to the pasture of green that compliments the very water you are submerged in. What else could you want? Visit San Casciano dei Bagni during the cooler shoulder seasons to feel the warm embrace of the waters that reach 40-degrees Celsius or 104-degrees Fahrenheit.
Terme Tettuccio is a different kind of hot spring experience for both Italians and tourists. It’s a spa in Montecatini Terme, a town in northern Tuscany, famous for allowing its guests to “take the waters” or drink water from the four different springs. Each spring has different chemical compositions. The Leopoldina Waters are known for helping chronic constipation. The Regina Waters are useful for bladder disorders. The Tettuccio Waters aid in the functioning of the liver and can even reduce cholesterol levels. And, the Rinfresco Waters essentially rehydrate and restore saline levels after prolonged sports activity. With a day pass to the park, you can “take the waters,” utilize the spa, marvel at architecture and art, write in the writing room, see a doctor, walk the trails or shop. A whole day is essential to fully experience Terme Tettuccio.
When the beauty of nature crosses path with the overwhelming expanse of history, travellers will find themselves at Venturina. A thermal spa and resort along the west coast of Tuscany, Venturina offers modern spa treatments, while paying homage to its past marked by both the Romans and Etrucans. You can find Venturina on the Costa degli Etruschi, an Italian landmark rich for archaeological discoveries of the Etruscan past. Come here for the mud treatments, massages, baths and beauty treatments. These therapies, in addition to the simple properties of the thermal waters, are effective in nursing illnesses associated with breathing, the ear, nose and throat, bones, joints, rheumatism and the gallbladder. Stay here for the culture, and the proximity to the refreshing waters of Il Calidario Lake. If you are already feeling your shoulders relax and craving the warm sensation of Earth’s properties soothing your body and mind, then book the Italian holiday you deserve.
Tuscany is a jack of all travel trades, and you won’t want to miss out. And if it’s your first time visiting an Italian hot spring, here are some tricks of the trade to make your soaking all the more relaxing. Don’t wear your favourite new one-piece because the sulfur smell that bubbles up along with Earth’s sweet elixir will ruin the new fabric. Pack a Merenda, an Italian food traditional also known as a light snack. The Tuscan way of doing it involves a lot of Tuscan breads, and then you can choose between a classic sandwich, cured meats or a delicious tomato rub and olive oil! While resorts will usually have restaurant options or proximity to towns with other choices, the wilder (and usually free) hot springs will probably lack the nourishment you need to fuel a day of hot spring hunting.
The best times to visit these hot springs for peace and serenity usually don’t involve the crowds of summer. So, try to go in the early morning, evening, during the week and throughout the shoulder seasons if you can manage it!
And to get the most out of the Tuscan region, it is probably best to rent a car – a small one.