The luxury of being a nomad is that we can use crazy metrics to choose places to visit. Our next destination was to a place J. had seen a picture of on a Facebook ad. (Very similar to the way our adventure this year began.) We had no idea where the place was, or what it was just that he wanted to sit in the middle of these pools of water. We started googling everything we could think of and finally found the place-the thermal baths of Saturnia. This was how we charted our course for our month in Italy.
Located in Saturnia, in Tuscany, the thermal baths are sulfur pools created by water that flows from a source over 600 feet below the earths surface. They are heated by the volcanic activity of the volcano- Monte Amiata. They are healing waters that are very popular with the Italians. They come en masse to spend a day sitting in the waters, or hanging out around the waters basking in the sun and hills that surround the baths. We had to go!
The problem with Saturnia is that without a car it isn’t that easy to get to. We didn’t know this when we booked our B&B and our train tickets. We were told we could hop on the train and then grab a taxi to the B&B, which is true, but when we left the train station and talked to the taxi drivers we realized that there were some details left out of the directions-mainly the hour and half 175.00 taxi ride from the train station. With no cell service and no other options we agreed to the fees and headed up into the Tuscan hills towards the thermal baths and the town of Saturnia.
I have to admit that for some reason I didn’t do much research on Saturnia. I guess I just felt like it didn’t matter since J. wanted to see the thermal baths. I am glad I didn’t do the research for the surprise of what Saturnia and the surrounding area is was so much better that way.
The taxi drive to the B&B was beautiful. We wound our way through the hills, watching towns appear as we travelled higher and higher up into the hills. The towns were small with homes, castles or churches blending into the landscape. The natural stone from the area was used in building the towns creating this cohesive atmosphere, as if each town popped up out of the hills. We hadn’t seen this since Morocco.
Our B&B was nestled into the side of a hill looking out at a beautiful mountain, and stream. It was heaven. As we checked in J. remarked that it was like staying at your old Aunt’s house, so welcoming and warm, with floral wallpaper, plush carpet on the stairs, and the most incredible breakfasts you can imagine! It really was. We felt immediately at home, as we stepped onto our balcony overlooking the untouched nature surrounding us we both wanted to settle in for a while.
We wanted to head to town for an afternoon snack but found out everything was closed for Resposito (siesta), so once again we were scrounging for snacks in our bags to try to make a meal. One of the downsides of traveling by train is that some of the stations can be pretty small and finding food isn’t always easy so there have been days we arrived in the middle of the afternoon and had to wait until restaurants opened at 8 to eat. You would think we would have learned our lesson from this and started to carry more snacks, but admittedly we just aren’t that together. These are the days I miss my sister. She would take care of all of that ahead of time, making sure we had everything we needed just in case. My fly by the seat of my pants attitude can often result in very hungry days, or unexpected 175.00 cab rides… We also learned that there are only four restaurants in town so it could be very difficult for us to find a table to eat dinner, and no there were no other options. UGH!
Town was up the hill about a twenty-minute walk on a curvy road, with no sidewalks or shoulders. We headed up to try to beg someone for a table. As we rounded the last corner of our walk we headed into the quaintest Italian town I have ever been in. Seriously, this little town has maybe six little lanes, four restaurants, two gelato/bar/cafes, a center Piazza, some ruins in one corner, and then as far as the eye can see hills and mountains. Absolute magic. This is the way I saw it, J. saw it as a very scary place to try to get dinner. However, in his usual way of getting what he wants he headed into the restaurant serving something vegetarian and talked his way into the last table available outside. As we waited for everything to open we sat and watched the children run around without a care, no cars to worry about, no strangers, or anything else bad as a threat. What a life to live. I wanted to grab my whole family and moved them into this safe heaven of a town where we could let go of stress, sit in a bar, watch a soccer game, drink some wine all while the kids run around laughing and playing truly without a care.
I had booked us here for three nights and two days. The first day we spent hanging out at the hotel, trying to recover from the incredible breakfast buffet we had each morning in the cozy basement restaurant, and hiking around the woods outside of our hotel. We discovered small waterfalls, a babbling stream and incredible views of the mountain we saw from our balcony. It was just what we needed after so many weeks touring cities. We ate dinner at the amazing restaurant owned by our B&B owners. It was absolutely incredible. After the night before when we had to walk home by iPhone flashlight the hotel owner took to driving us up and down the hill to preserve our safety (Italian drivers can take the curves pretty fast and pedestrians aren’t really expected on the roads.).
The second day began our crazy adventure. We wanted to go to the thermal baths which didn’t translate the way I intended and we ended up at a Spa where we had to pay a lot of money to get in and everything was set up like pools at a health club. Obviously this was the wrong place but when we tried to explain where we wanted to go the staff didn’t seem to understand. One of them took pity on us and called the luxury hotel next door and they agreed to allow us into their pool area. He walked us over to the hotel only for us to find out it was not what we were looking for either (information on the thermal baths isn’t easy to find). Finally someone realized what we were talking about and explained that it was about one a half miles from where we were. They explained that since we didn’t have a car it would be crazy for us to get there, but we were not going to be stopped, we had come just for these baths. They sweetly refunded our money and we headed out to the baths. Along the way the stream of sulfur water runs through the fields and people can be found hanging out, soaking in them, often with bikes parked next to them.
We made it to the baths, Saturnia Thermal Springs (Terme di Saturnia) where it was immediately obvious Italians love to hang out. The baths were full of people of every age, sitting, talking and laughing while they took in the benefits from the sulfur. It wasn’t quite what we had expected, a lot more people, and a lot less majestic. That isn’t to say we didn’t enjoy it, we did, after we left our stuff on the bank of the river and climbed our way into the water we were able to find a place to sit, right in one of the tiny waterfalls. The warm water moved hard and fast so it really required holding on to stay comfortable. For those of you familiar with sulfur you know it smells, at the thermal baths there was a smell but it was quite subtle. After we sat in the water for a bit we headed up to the café for an espresso and the coolest thing ever, an automatic pizza machine. There was a small group of people gathered as someone put 3 euro into the vending machine and it kicked to life, a fire burned, a pizza dropped onto the oven and cooked for a few minutes, was put into a pizza to go box and popped out. It was absolutely incredible and evidently quite good. I think there is nothing in Italy not having to do with pizza.
That night we made our way down the hill to the local family restaurant where we enjoyed amazing pizza, delicious wine, and the essence of all that is Italy, community, food, drink and quality of life. It is why Italy has our hearts and always will.
We had trouble finding a way to get from Saturnia to the train station an hour and a half away since the few drivers in the area were booked and the bus didn’t get to the station in time for us to catch the train to Lucca, our next destination. Amazingly the owner of the hotel offered to drive us with her family as they headed to a shopping day in the same town as the train. We rode with them down the mountain, making conversation as best we could, soaking up the kindness of the amazing people we meet along the way.
If you are planning a visit I would go during the week to avoid the people if that is your goal. It was fun for us to be around all of the people, but a little frustrating for photos. Look for the signs for Terme di Saturnia. There is a parking lot there and best of all parking and the baths are FREE.