After a visiting friend from New York spent her first ten minutes at a Tuscan spa, being massaged by a ten-foot-tall cascade of steaming, sulfurous water, she limply raised her head and with a beatific smile said to me, “I haven’t been so relaxed since the womb.”
Tuscany’s hot springs, famous since ancient Roman times, tend to have that effect. Even today, the healing mineral waters of the region are thought to alleviate ailments of the nervous system, the respiratory tract, even heart disease and diabetes—along with everyday muscle and joint pain. In the past decade or so, the renewed interest in wellness has made them even more popular.
Clustered around the volcano of Monte Amiata—a wonderful looming giant among Tuscany’s gentle hills—most of the area’s hot springs fall into two categories: the wild, natural, free ones; and the cultured spas with amenities and treatments. Do try to visit at least one; you might just be reborn.
Hidden in the bucolic countryside of Maremma, these giant natural pools of swirling milky water draw visitors from all over Italy. A village of resorts and spas has grown around them—some quite luxurious—but the favorite way to take the waters here is to visit one of the two fabulous natural waterfalls formed by the springs: Cascate del Mulino and Cascate del Gorello.
This jewel of a hamlet built around a Roman vasca, or community baths. There are two main places here for partaking in the thermal waters—the Hotel Posta Marcucci, which has long been popular with locals; and Hotel Adler Thermae—newer, with chic architecture, magnificent views, superb pools and endless spa options. I spent a week at the latter last year, and didn’t want to leave.
San Casciano dei Bagni
Hidden deep in Tuscany’s southeast corner is this perfectly charming, lovingly cared for medieval hill town—home to the refined Fonteverde Tuscan Resort & Spa. Built in the 17th century by the Grand Duke Ferdinando, this calm sanctuary has vast gardens, lovely views, and several spa pools (along with day-spa packages for those staying elsewhere).
San Filippo and Petriolo
These are the “wild ones” of Tuscany’s hot springs. San Filippo, hidden in the woods of Monte Amiata, has an enormous white mineral wall, and natural pools of frothy, steaming water (where temperatures are over 100 degrees). Petriolo, near Siena, isn’t quite as hot—but it’s every bit as lovely, with a series of small natural pools, cascades, and a half moon-shaped pond.
In this classic Italian spa town, you can soak, veg out, eat like a king, then shop until you drop in classy boutiques. There are more than a dozen spa hotels here, ranging from quaint to space-age, as well as lots of lovely gardens and winding streets to stroll. It makes a great day trip if you’re staying in nearby Montepulciano.