Secret Tuscany – The Thermal Baths of Saturnia

Locals Only

A few years ago some Italian friends told me about some natural thermal baths in Saturnia, Tuscany.  They explained that there was a famous spa one could go to, but that there was also a natural occurring, free version very near the expensive spa, “IF you can find it!”

You see, the trick was that the locals will not tell outsiders how to find the natural thermal baths as they don’t want the natural baths overrun with tourists.

Since we lived In Italy I figured we qualified as locals of sorts. I was determined to find the free thermal baths. Unfortunately, at that time, the natural baths were not part of the standard GPS menu. The only information that we had was that they were near the famed Terme di Saturnia Spa and Golf  Resort.  Armed with an old fashioned map, American grit and a stubborn streak, we set out to explore.

It was not easy to find. There were no signs and there are a multitude of country roads to chose from. I am nothing, if not persistent though, and eventually we found it.

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The kids and me in the front pool – Cascate del Mulino

After visiting Cascate del Mulino, I can see why the locals want to preserve this special place. Until now, I have never written about the baths out of respect for the local’s wish to keep it secret and special.  Today, good or bad, what the locals feared has come to pass and one can input the location on your GPS. Back then it was such a local secret that when we asked our hotel for directions and they gave us some vague instructions about the general direction to go. Today they advertise the baths on their website.

Two Very Different Experiences

Luxury

If nature is not your thing, rest assured that one has choices when visiting the thermal baths. The resort, Terme di Saturnia Spa and Golf Resort, offers golf, spa treatments, yoga, massage, restaurants and accommodation in addition to thermal baths. It looked amazing and relaxing. The atmosphere is pure luxury. Room rates start at 300 Euros a night.

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Photo Credit: Trip Advisor

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Photo Credit: Premium Europe

Rustic

In contrast, the natural (i.e. free) baths, Cascate del Mulino, just down the road, are the complete opposite. At the time that we visited there were no signs and we drove down many a dirt road searching for the mill.  The area is unattended by any staff.  There were no parking attendants, lifeguards or wait staff serving cocktails and sparkling water.  The area was unpaved and dusty. Nearer the mill and falls, it was quite gravely and the actual pools and falls were quite slippery. Water shoes are a must. 

The Legend

According to Italian lore the gods Saturn and Zeus were arguing about mortals’ penchant for fighting each other.

At some point during the argument, Zeus threw a lightening bolt (or a thunderbolt depending on who you ask) at Saturn (or at the mortals depending on who you ask).

The power of this lightening bolt went straight into the Earth and resulted in warm water gushing out, overflowing and enveloping the mortals. Essentially, Zeus gave the mortals a warm bath to calm them down. And it worked, the warm hot springs calmed the mortals, healed their ailments and generally made everyone happier. And it still works today.

The Healing Properties

Who wouldn’t want to heal themselves in waters divined by the gods?  These thermal waters have been in use by local Italians since the Etruscan and Roman period.  Natural pools have formed out of travertine as a result of 3,000 years of flowing water. The pools are perfectly formed and comfortable. The pools are so perfectly formed and smooth that my husband did not believe that they were naturally made.

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The water is a consistent 37.5 °C/99.5 °F which may seem like it would be too hot, but trust me, it is not. It was oh.so.nice. We visited in the spring and I couldn’t help thinking that visiting on a crisp autumn or winter evening would be heaven. 

The thermal water contains a myriad of minerals that offer healing powers.  A few of the minerals are sulfur, sulphate, sulfide, carbon, bicarbonate, hydrogen, alkaline, thermal plankton, and 2 gasses – hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide. The gases give off a rather pungent smell similar to hard boiled eggs.  We did not mind the smell, but I was told some people do not like it.

The minerals in the water have been used as a natural therapeutic spa since the the Etruscan and Roman periods. The waters were so revered that the Romans built thermal baths in many of the little villages surrounding the falls. Some of those baths still remain.

What can be cured by soaking in the thermal baths? All kinds of ailments including eczema, psoriasis, respiratory infections, and rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few.  The water is also said to detox the body, and improve circulation, cell oxygenation and immune function. For me, the simple relaxation it provided was enough. And an added bonus, the minerals left my skin feeling soft and supple.

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Monte Amiata.  Photo credit: gps-tour.info

The source of the incredible healing water begins at Monte Amiata. Monte Amiata is a dormant volcano, which despite its dormant status, still pumps in excess of  800 litres/211 gallons of water a second from its depths into the falls. The water begins 200 meters/656 feet below the earth and is heated by the thermal activity of the dormant volcano. I am not a geologist. I admit that I don’t understand how a dormant volcano is still generating this much heat and hydraulics, but, who cares why. I am just glad it does. 

Practicalities

  • Parking is limited.  Many people park along the road and in fact that was how we ended up finding the place. There is one small car park at the end of the access road, however, it was jammed packed with cars so don’t count on finding a place.
  • Never leave valuables in your car.
  • Water shoes – you must take water shoes. Not only for your comfort on the rocky shore, but for safety in the slippery pools.
  • The usual bathing suits, towels, a sun umbrella, and sun screen, but you may also want to bring a change of clothes as your bathing suit will smell of sulphur after you get out. Changing occurs under the cover of your towel – again, this is a no frills natural spa and it is Italy where people don’t get hung up about changing on the beach, etc.
  • Food – bring a picnic, snacks, fresh water, etc. as there is only a tiny snack bar that sells things like ice cream, but not a full service restaurant or store in the area. Also, what a fantastic place for a picnic!

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Accommodation

There are many hotels and B&B’s in the area. We stayed at the darling Relais Ciavatta in Maremma and I cannot recommend it more.

Relais Ciavatta offers beautiful Tuscan grounds,

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rooms with traditional Tuscan country decor,

an inviting pool,

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Photo credit: www.czemplik.com

a delicious restaurant on site, Osteria la Frasca,

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and amazing, friendly staff. One staff member in particular was very attentive and sweet. Luigi, the Jack Russell. 

Our day at Cascate del Mulino remains one of my most treasured memories of living in Italy. I like that we had to work to find it. It made it feel like a treasure at the end of a hunt. Like we had made it into the elite club of locals.

Cascate del Mulino is such a unique place that my heart is torn. I want to share it with others and yet, I really hope it does not end up developed and overrun with people. I am hoping that because the baths are a bit off the beaten path, the majority of tourists will not make the trek and the natural thermal baths may retain their natural allure. 

While I totally appreciate the spa with its services and luxurious treatments, for me, soaking in ancient, naturally carved pools, with the sound of waterfalls that have been flowing for over 3,000 years, the incredible Tuscan countryside all around me, was an experience of a lifetime.

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41 Comments

  • Reply C Kelly Collins May 15, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    I want to go to the natural bathes! Shelley, you are amazing with the thoroughness of your coverage. You absolutely answer any question that one could imagine and the pictures are fantastic!! Amazing.

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 15, 2018 at 8:22 pm

      Thank you Kelly. You are the best!

  • Reply Sarah May 15, 2018 at 11:04 pm

    One of the first places I visited in Italy! I loved seeing it so well-described here, but shhhh!!!, let’s keep it a secret 🙂

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 16, 2018 at 6:10 pm

      Thanks my friend!

  • Reply Paola May 17, 2018 at 8:30 am

    I want to go! Thank you for this informative and inspiring post!

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 17, 2018 at 9:04 am

      It is really a special place.

  • Reply Maike May 17, 2018 at 8:38 am

    These thermal baths look so amazing, it makes me wanne go to Italy instead of work today 😀

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 17, 2018 at 9:04 am

      you and me both!

  • Reply Joy Generoso May 17, 2018 at 9:40 am

    I think this is no longer secret anymore since you already shared it to us. Hehe. I’m glad you did because we discover new place to visit in Tuscany. Thanks for all the tips and heads up.

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 17, 2018 at 10:26 am

      As I said I had not written about it for years out of respect for the locals, but now its out there – available on GPS and the hotels all advertise it so . . . It is so nice.

  • Reply Bangali Backpackers May 17, 2018 at 10:24 am

    I miss the thrill of using paper maps to find a place instead of relying on GPS and I can totally imagine your happiness at having found these beautiful hot springs. With the beautiful Tuscan countryside as the backdrop, what more can anyone ask for!

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 17, 2018 at 10:26 am

      It was kind of fun searching – an old fashioned treasure hunt. 🙂

  • Reply California Globetrotter May 17, 2018 at 11:58 am

    I discovered this many years ago in one of my daily calendars and have saved it ever since, but to finally read more about it is so awesome! So glad that it’s still really a locals things. Have pinned a pic for later! #FarawayFiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 17, 2018 at 12:17 pm

      It is worth it!

  • Reply TheGreatAmbini May 17, 2018 at 11:58 am

    It is kind of sad that this place has been lost from locals only and word of mouth, to the world of the internet. But I would also love to explore it further and it does seem a gem. I hope I get to return to Tuscany and explore the thermal baths. I also miss the fun of exploring with a map!

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 17, 2018 at 12:17 pm

      I am hoping that because it is not a super touristy area it may retain its locals only charm.

  • Reply Kate May 17, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    These are beautiful. – what a find. Isn’t it kind of sad that it isn’t just word of mouth anymore – and that instagram ruins secret places 🙁

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 17, 2018 at 12:19 pm

      I know. I was torn writing about it really. I am glad we got to visit it before it was on GPS and the internet. I always like a local experience over the super touristy spots.

  • Reply Sarah May 17, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Wow, how special that you found this place before it was “discovered” on Google! It must have been such a special experience. Thank you for sharing!

    – Sarah @ http://www.our21stcenturyodyssey.com

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 17, 2018 at 12:50 pm

      I am happy we went before it was on GPS. I am sad that is is getting to be more known, but that is the way of the world these days.

  • Reply Annalisa F May 17, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    What a coincidence! I was there two weeks ago, cursing myself for forgetting to bring water shoes! I agree on all your recommendation, it is a special and sacred site!

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 17, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      Was it your first visit? I am wondering if the crowd size has increased over the years now that its all over the internet. Oooh I want to go back!

  • Reply carolyns absolutely fabulous events May 17, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    Tuscany is so fabulous anyway almost seems unfair they have thermal baths too. Thanks for sharing on
    #farawayfiles

  • Reply Annabel Kirk May 17, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    Wow, those falls look and sound amazIng. Let’s hooe most people want the luxury experience! #FarawayFiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 18, 2018 at 12:29 pm

      Right! 😉

  • Reply SecretMoona May 17, 2018 at 8:14 pm

    What a lovely secret place! I never knew Italy had thermal baths! Well you learn everyday. I’m parking this for later and thank you for the tips 🙂

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 18, 2018 at 12:33 pm

      It is really nice. Super relaxing.

  • Reply C-Ludik May 17, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    Love hearing about new place like this especially when It’s a bit off the beaten path ! I’ve never been to Tuscany but I would love to visit this hot spring. I really love these series of rock pools that have been turned white by the minerals in the water, which falls in a succession of cascades into the pools. It’s so beautiful & relaxing !

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 18, 2018 at 12:30 pm

      It was a little slice of heaven.

  • Reply Alexis Rae May 18, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Its always a bummer to see a local spot overrun with tourists, but I can see why people would want to go here! I’ll admit, I’ll probably be looking this up on my GPS when I head back to Italy too.

  • Reply Niche Travel Design May 18, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    I know. I was torn writing about it. It is off the beaten path which may help

  • Reply Clare Thomson May 18, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    This looks absolutely wonderful! I love secret places, that other people haven’t discovered and this looks as though it might be really helpful for my husband’s eczema. Thanks so much for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 19, 2018 at 1:56 am

      Doctors in Italy will often prescribe things like “you need a change of air” and they’ll send you to the mountains or sea. I can imagine they also prescribe the thermal baths. It is a wonderful excuse to go!

  • Reply Lydia May 20, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    Tuscany is my dream destination which I soon plan to explore, but I really didn’t know that I can find natural thermal baths there. This place seems awesome and I would love to spend at least a day there. When’s the bet time of the year to go there?

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 21, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      I think it is good all year as the water is warm. I think summer would be the most crowded though.

  • Reply oregongirlaroundtheworld May 23, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Rustic all the way. Love the beautiful cascading pools! Relais Ciavatta looks like the perfect base. I completely get your feeling of wanting to save places like this from over tourism. So beautiful. #FarawayFiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 23, 2018 at 11:08 pm

      It was a dream come true. One of those days when I kept pinching myself for my good fortune in life. #farawayfiles

  • Reply Four Acorns / Quatre graines de chêne May 24, 2018 at 11:59 am

    As a recent convert to wild swimming (we live in Ireland), finding a place like this for a dip is like a dream come true. How incredible!
    #FarwayFiles

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 24, 2018 at 10:33 pm

      I hope you get to go and swim (ok, soak) wild!

    • Reply Niche Travel Design May 31, 2018 at 10:36 am

      It really was incredible. Almost felt like being on a movie set. Thanks for reading. #farawayfiles

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