If you read my last blog post you probably remember that I wrote about the two days we spent in Pienza, Tuscany and that I promised to write about a peculiar town with a pool instead of the main square and the thermal baths from my dreams in my next post. So, here it is. We departed from Pienza in the morning, heading to thermal baths Luka just discovered the night before on the internet. I wanted to visit Bagno Vignoni, intrigued by Frances Mayes’s description of the town, and the prospect of dipping our feet (and maybe even bathing) in the stream leading down from the town. When Luka said he found something possibly even better, I got excited- because when he is planning it’s something either good or peculiar or both.
The road leading from Pienza to Bagni San Filippo is a very scenic one- this is Tuscany as seen on the postcards, and in the morning we had the road all to ourselves (and it wasn’t even that early!). We had to stop our car a couple of times because the road was passing through Unesco World Heritage landscape of Val d’Orcia valley, and we couldn’t miss the opportunity to photograph pretty haystacks nested in the undulating fields. I find them quite beautiful, and each time I see a field with haystacks, I inevitably think of Monet’s paintings of haystacks and inevitably wonder if there is still a place in the world where the hay is stacked by hand in those even prettier conical shapes.
When we got out of the car in Bagni San Filippo, a strong sulfuric smell gave away the presence of the thermal springs nearby. Once we descended the forest road leading to the site, I was bewildered- it was, in fact, a landscape I thought only existed in my imagination/Goonies. The thermal springs formed calcium formations here, cascading down the hill- a series of small waterfalls, white pools filled with turquoise water, and steep white calcium rocks. The early-birds already occupied a couple of pools- some were bigger, and could take in a number of people comfortably, some were perfect for families, and some for only one to two persons. We took a walk down the path and found a spot with a pool under a small waterfall- by dipping ourselves into different pools on that spot, we found out that each had a different temperature! While ones were hot as a perfect bubble bath you make yourself at home, the others were refreshing, and there was even a thin waterfall resembling a natural shower where I washed off all the white mud that was left on my skin. I noticed a couple of Italian ladies rubbing that mud all over their bodies- they said it was good for the skin! Anyhow, that was our first day in Bagni San Filippo. We loved it.
After the baths, I felt lightweight and clean, and there was a certain smell on my skin that I liked. It was still morning when we left Bagni San Filippo, energized and in the mood for wandering. We came to Bagno Vignoni before noon, just in time to take a walk and have an early lunch as those waters made us hungry as well.
The thermal springs here have been known and used since Roman times, then in the Middle Ages as a stop for Pilgrims on Via Francigena on their route to Rome, and in the 15th century as a favorite retreat of the famous Renaissance personalities such as Pope Pius II and Lorenzo de’ Medici (the Magnificent). The main square of the town is, in fact, a large rectangular basin (approximately the size of an Olympic pool), built in the 16th century. It has its own source of water that flows out here at around 49 °C, but swimming in the pool has been forbidden in the seventies as the number of visitors started to grow. You can, however, take a swim in the Parco dei Mulini park just below the town. A quick research of the town’s architecture brought up the name of Bernardo Rossellino again, whom I’ve been mentioning in my previous post as the architect of Pope Pius’s II ideal Renaissance town of Pienza. It seems that he had built another palazzo for the Pope on the main square of Bagno Vignoni (next time I visit, I plan to buy a book on town’s history so I can double check all these information floating around the internet).
We spent most of the time in Bagno Vignoni wandering around the basin and taking in the reflection of the surrounding stone buildings in its green waters. There was a herbal store with teas, essential oils, soaps, and natural potions right by the square, and I can never miss a good opportunity to wander into a herbal store- if only to smell all the balms neatly stacked on pretty wooden shelves. Just behind the main square, we discovered a deli shop with a shaded terrace and a leafy storefront with charmingly painted doors. One look at the showcase filled with local cheese, cold cuts and vegetables sott’olio (in oil) convinced us to sit there for lunch. The thing I love about having lunch at deli shops is that you got to mix and match the food freely- we chose local pecorino (of course!), salumi, olives in oil and herbs, fresh goat cheese covered in chives, little peppers filled with tuna, and the best thing of all- the germogli d’aglio. I fell in love instantly with these garlic sprouts in oil- crunchy, oily and garlicky at the same time. With a glass of fresh white wine, it was a perfect lunch.
We returned to Pienza that afternoon, but there was going to be another visit to Bagni San Filippo just because it was one of the most exciting travel experiences we’ve ever had. We woke up earlier the next morning and decided to have another dip in those dreamy pools before our drive to Rome (that was split in two by a quick stop for the best porchetta sandwiches in Orvieto). The day before, Luka noticed some people adventurously climbing the slippery rocks above our little pool, and not returning down for quite some time. When we came back the next day, he decided to look into it- a couple of minutes later he was enthusiastically waving from above, signaling that he’s coming down for me and our stuff. When I finally climbed the slippery rock myself, the most beautiful little pool (or rather a natural bathtub) with balmy water and a view of the woods and cascading pools below was waiting, for us! We soaked in for an hour(s), unnoticed by other bathers below, taking in the sun, the splashing sounds of water, and the views of the surrounding treetops. We couldn’t believe this place was real.
Now there are so many places to be discovered in Italy, let alone world, and I have already written about returning to the same places we’ve been to even if that means missing out on some places we haven’t been to. This fall, there are plans in the making of us making a road trip in Northern Italy, Germany and France (nothing is booked yet) so we won’t be revisiting the Tuscan baths, for now. However, we will be returning to this place, I’m sure. Even if it means missing out on something else.
What about you, any travel plans for this fall? I’m all ears.
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