You know what I like about Italy? The balance. Italians have always searched out thermal springs. Ancient Romans pretty much found them all. So what did the modern folks do? They did like we do in the US, they built expensive spa buildings and funneled some of the healing waters into the playrooms of the rich. But they also left some of the water to cascade down the hillsides so that anyone, rich and poor alike, could access it.
Thus in Italy there are quite a few places in which to bathe in mineral rich waters, often stinking of healing sulphur. Ancient Romans loved the idea of soaking in hot, tepid and cool pools so much they deforested much of the area around Rome for wood to heat their public baths.
But you don’t have to burn wood when the springs are volcanic and exit the earth at searing temperatures. These are the hot springs that pop from the earth at places like Bagni San Filippo in the Siena province of southern Tuscany, shown in the picture above. This area has natural tubs and walls made from concretions of calcium carbonate. The locals call it Cascata Balena Bianca—white whale falls. If you’ve been to nearby Saturnia or Pamukkale in Turkey you might have a bout of Déjà vu.
The thermal pools fashioned out of the calcium carbonate deposits along the mineral rich river are a short walk from the town along a well tended pathway and are free to use. There are also places in town where the thermal spa experience is more luxurious—and far from free—but you get to wash the sulfuric fumes from your hair as soon as you get back to your room.
To get to Bagni San Filippo and the Cascata Balena Bianca, here is the secret map. There is no train station in town.
Bagni San Filippo has a fantastic restaurant named after the particular type of regional limestone used in construction in these parts. Osteria Lo Spugnone offers up regional specialties carefully sourced and crafted—all at a very reasonable price. And…you can walk off the extra pounds you might add by trekking on the slopes of Mt. Amiata, just a short drive away.
A highly rated place to stay in town is the Bed and Breakfast BBBagni
We visited Bagni San Filippo on the suggestion of our hosts at the nearby organic farm with villas in Umbria called Il Fontanaro, where we had a great stay and found the slow life very much to our liking. If you don’t mind the drive, we recommend a stay (and perhaps a cooking class) at Fontanaro.
Free thermal baths and a picnic is all you need for a good, cheap life in Tuscany.