Holy hot springs of the Terme di Saturnia


Holy hot springs of the Terme di Saturnia

29 June 2016

Formed by the gods and enjoyed by mortals, the Saturnia Hot Springs are a peaceful and relaxing wellness break in the less-touristy area of coastal Tuscany, Maremma.

The village of Saturnia lies in southern Tuscany among dense forests, olive groves, and vineyards. Judging by the peaceful quiet in this town that is essentially still in the medieval ages and whose origins go back even further, one would never guess it harbors a hidden destination that was the wrecking grounds of the Roman god Saturn.

A Tuscany destination off the beaten track

Terme di Saturnia Terme di Saturnia - © Take Click Snap

The destination is not exactly hidden, because thousands of Italians and international tourists enjoy it every year; but it still remains one of Tuscany’s best-kept secrets: the Terme di Saturnia, or Saturnia Thermal Baths. Legend has it that the Roman god Saturn grew angry with the constant war-mongering ways of the people below, and in a rage he struck the land with lightning bolts. The earth split apart to form hot springs that flowed in warm waterfalls and into pools to pacify the people. Looking at the beauty of the area and its natural surroundings, it almost looks like they were made by a deity. The sulphurous waters course over a scattering of slippery rock pools, forming natural areas for bathing. The two main falls, Cascate del Mulino and Cascate del Gorello, stand out amongst the white waters of the many cascades tumbling over the rock lips. The land around the springs is pure Maremma: smooth hills of grain, dark patches of dense forests, and rows of vineyards grown with sangiovese for Morellino di Scansano or, closer to the border with Lazio, a myriad of white grape varieties for Bianco di Pitigliano.

Magical properties

The waters remain at about a steamy 37.5°C (99.5°F), and have been used for centuries for their therapeutic properties as much as they have been for relaxation (in itself an effective therapy!). Ancient Etruscan and Roman ruins clearly attest to this. After being largely forgotten for several centuries due to a razing by Siena and population decimation from malaria, the once-swampy land around the springs was drained in the late 19th century. Holiday-goers and locals took to the sulfurous healing waters again. Terme di Saturnia, waterfalls Terme di Saturnia, waterfalls - © Aurelio Candido

The waters remain clean, pouring out about 800 liters per second, and that rotten egg smell is a natural characteristic of sulfur. Don’t be afraid to smear the mineral-rich mud all over your skin. In fact, lumps of dried mud were once sold to locals, and shepherds used it to cure their sheep of various diseases that afflicted them. Although the therapeutic properties of sulfur waters sometimes elicit a raised eyebrow, studies have shown some benefits in specific medical areas. After all, both European and Japanese cultures have believed in balneotherapy,—partaking in hot mineral baths as a natural treatment for ills and diseases—for thousands of years. As Livestrong notes, the natural heat and minerals relieve pain from sore muscles, arthritis, and even fibromyalgia, boost blood circulation, and may even help clear up skin problems. Lifehacker’s Vitals takes a closer look at many studies and concludes, “Go for the possible benefits, stay for the stress relief.” And really, who hasn’t taken a good, long soak in the tub and come out feeling calm and rested?

Tips on visiting the Terme di Saturnia

Terme di Saturnia, sulfur waters Terme di Saturnia, sulfur waters - © Luca Di Ciaccio

The springs are free to splash around in and enjoy, but if you’d like more privacy and the cleanest, clearest waters that bubble up directly from the source, head to the Terme di Saturnia Spa and Resort upstream. There, for €25 a day, you may partake in the healing sulfur waters. The resort also offers massages, Roman baths, golfing, and more wellness activities, plus two restaurants, one of which is Michelin-starred. Elisa Scarton Detti, an Australian who has lived near the springs for half a decade, gives some great practical tips on her website Maremma Tuscany for visiting the hot springs of Saturnia. For example, while the Terme are not completely overrun by tourists, there are peak times when they arrive en masse. You’ll have better luck at finding a rock pool all to yourself during mealtimes or right before (noon to 2 pm and 6:30-8:30 pm). Also, the recommended amount of time to safely soak in the hot waters is just twenty minutes; anything over that, and you’ll risk overheating. Another important rule: do not wear jewelry, expensive sunglasses, or even your favorite bathing suit, as the minerals can and will damage them. Check out Elisa’s insider guide for more useful tips before visiting the springs.