This review of Bagni San Filippo in Val d’orcia, Italy is part of the series 100 Baths, my search for the world’s best spas and public bathing rituals. Read more and see the list here!
Me: “Why is this hot spring so good?”
My friend: “Free!”
It’s an in-joke we’ve been using on North American road trips for years. And now, my friend and I are in Italy together, cracking up in a shallow sulfur pool covered in mud. Because on our hunt for hot springs in Tuscany, we’ve hit that sweet spot of a great time that costs zero dollars.
Bagni San Filippo is the kind of off-the-beaten path local experience I’m always hoping for when travelling. No, it’s not going to make a list of “top 10 things to do in Tuscany.” I don’t even recommend it for everyone who loves hot springs. But it was absolutely a highlight of my trip. If you have a lazy day to explore and enjoy the pleasures of wild, natural thermal waters, it’s a lovely place to unwind…for free!
Why you should visit hot springs in Tuscany
Italians have been bathing in hot springs for health and wellness since Etruscan and Roman times. Tuscany in particular is blessed with natural hot springs rich in sulphur and other minerals that are considered good for easing sore muscles or lowering blood pressure.
Luxurious thermal spa resorts abound in Tuscany. They exude la dolce vida, but they are pricey.
On the other hand, free sites like Saturnia, Bagno Vignoni and Bagni san Filippo are like going to a public beach — pack a picnic, your own towels, find yourself a spot, stay as long as you like.
How to find Bagni San Filippo
Bagni San Filippo is about an hour’s drive south of Siena; a half-hour south of Montepulciano, near a town of the same name. We used Google Maps directions, and they got us there.
The hot springs themselves are hidden in a forest, a short hike from the main road. If there’s a proper parking lot we didn’t see it. We did see loads of cars parked along the road, so we grabbed the only open spot we could find and followed the crowds of families and couples down a steep hill.
I admit feeling a bit giddy as we sauntered through the tree-lined entrance. Something about a mystery, a winding pathway, and the promise of a hot soak!
Soon enough we spotted our first sulphur pool. It didn’t seem very big, considering the number of people arriving. But it wasn’t full, so we dumped our things under a nearby tree and gingerly slid our bodies into the shallow waters. We even had the space to ourselves for a while.
Was it warm? Indeed. Was it relaxing? Not exactly. Was it free? Yes!
DIY Mud Baths
If you’ve never dipped into a natural sulphur pool before, you should know that it’s squishy. There’s mud under there! We took advantage to scoop up handfuls of the mineral-rich deposits and slather our faces. It’s nature’s mud mask.
You should also know that sulphur has a smell. Some people say it’s like rotten eggs. I say it’s like…sulphur. This is the smell of a natural thermal hot springs.
Like I said above, this isn’t “relaxing” the way a fancy spa setting pampers you. But it is very good for your skin and your muscles and we felt quite well taken care of by mother nature when we got out.
This is when realized we had just seen the tip of the Bagni San Filippo!
Fosso Bianco, aka Instagram’s White Whale
So it turns out all those other people walking past us were headed past that first pool, around the path and down the hill where there are many more spots to soak.
Bagni San Filippo is a series of small pools and waterfalls all along a rough forested pathway. At the bottom is its most picturesque spot, a calcium formation known as Fosso Bianco (“the white whale”). It’s pretty impressive, a rock face shimmering with white calcified mineral deposits, surrounded by white-blue waters. You shouldn’t walk on it, but it’s very popular for selfie backgrounds.
Yes, chase these waterfalls.
Now that we scoped the whole scene, we were more interested in going back into the waters beneath one of the small waterfalls. But visitors to Bagni San Filippo seem to camp out in their spots for a while. With a bit of patience waiting for turnaround, we did eventually get a chance to laze under the rushing waters and pose for silly photos. It felt so good. Also…free!
If it’s not obvious yet, this spot does not have amenities. The pathways are wild, with tree roots and rocks, and can be slippery when wet. Choose your shoes accordingly.
There are bathrooms, but only at the entrance at the top of the hill. And these are basic. No showers. No lockers. You probably don’t want to visit on your way out to dinner.
Bagni San Filippo is a perfect place to practise slow travel like a local. It’s not near any other major attractions. It’s a hike to get to a good spot. And you’ll need to pack your own picnic or any supplies. And when you’re done and feeling all chill, it’s a long, slow walk back to the street (and in our case, our car at the top of the hill). But what you get for it is an opportunity to bathe like the Romans. And did I mention it’s free?
Know Before You Go
You will need a car. Public transport to this area is limited.
Open 24/7, year-round. We went in the heat of August but it’s equally popular in winter. The hottest temperatures are apparently 48 degrees celsius.
Arrive in your swimming outfit and bring everything you need – water, food, sunscreen, towels, etc. There are some restaurants and ice cream shops on the road nearby but nothing for sale inside the hot springs area.
Be patient, and and polite. It can get crowded!
Want more spa inspiration? Lonely Planet’s Wellness Escapes is a lovely hardcover filled with eye candy photos of hot springs, saunas, spas and other wellness resorts from around the world. These are expensive and often remote destinations, but even if you never get there, you can use this as a starting point for researching dream trips.
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