The boot-shaped country on the Mediterranean tickles people’s imaginations in many ways, but usually, it’s of the pasta and wine variety. The rolling hills are home to more than just vineyards, though, and tucked in Italy’s mountains, forests and beaches are its bubbling natural hot springs that the ancient Romans soaked in. So, make like a Roman and bathe in one of these amazing hidden hot springs, all of which are open year-round.
Terme di Saturnia
There are many reasons to visit Tuscany, notably its sun-drenched rolling hills which inspired Renaissance artists and that are also home to some of the world’s best vineyards. Lesser known is the Terme di Saturnia, a series of multi-tiered natural hot springs near Saturnia, named after the god Saturn who is thought to have taken refuge in the village during his exile. The water, which remains a comfortable 37.5°C year-round, starts from a waterfall and flows past an old mill then splits into a series of brilliant turquoise-coloured pools. The warmest pool is Cascate del Mulino where the minerals in the water are known to have therapeutic effects for those who soak in it.
Laghetto di Fanghi
Accessible only by boat is the Aeolian island of Vulcano, home to its wondrous coffee-hued mud baths – whose smell is more akin to rotten eggs thanks to the high sulphur concentration – hugged by rock towers and with a view of the island’s gigantic crater. Scoop up some of the soft clay from the bottom of the hot spring pool and slather it on your skin – the mud is said to treat rheumatic pains and skin diseases – then wash up with a dip in the ocean.
Fosso Bianco, San Filippo
Another Tuscan wonder by the small spa town of Bagni San Filippo, Fosso Bianco, which means “White Whale”, is an otherworldly sight. The journey here involves a hike through a dense forest to chalk-white limestone formations flanked by tall trees. Fosso Bianco sits further downstream, its calciferous formations resembling a whale’s opened mouth. This is also where water from the hot springs meets cold water from the mouth of a river, the result of which is a striking blue-white milky colour.
Sorgeto, Ischia Island
Descend over 200 cobblestone steps from a near-vertical cliff in the village of Panza – or make a grand entrance by boat – to these bubbling pools encircled by black rocks on Ischia Island, otherwise known for its colourful seaside houses and medieval castles. The different pools, warmed by volcanic activity, vary in temperature from the coolness of the sea up to about 30°C, with some hot enough to cook eggs, potatoes and seafood in them, which is what the locals do.
This integrated luxury resort and spa high up in the Italian Alps might look different to what it did over 2,000 years ago when the Romans bathed in the hot springs hidden inside caves, but the idea remains the same: to simply kick back and relax. Leonardo Da Vinci took a dip here in 1493 and travellers can enjoy the same panoramic views of the Bormio Valley from one of the many glistening outdoor pools naturally heated by the surrounding hot springs.
Lake Garda Hot Springs
Filled with summer holidaymakers jet skiing on the lake and imbibing wine in waterfront cafés, Lake Garda enjoys a quieter vibe during its off-season. The so-called secret is the collection of hot springs at the edge of the lake hugged by forests and caves. The ancient Romans bathed in Lake Garda’s hot springs over two millennia ago and the tradition continues today with locals bathing in hot springs of varying temperatures with some thermal pools boasting temperatures as hot as 42°C.
Bagni di Petriolo
The waters in these hot springs nestled in a Tuscan forest are a divine 43°C year-round, making it perfect for soaking and sunbathing, especially during the winter. Like many historic hot springs in the region, Petriolo has an interesting story: it sits just beneath the ruins of a Roman bath that dates back to the 13th century and is believed to be the only ancient fortified bath left in Italy. Noble people, cardinals and popes are said to have bathed in these magnificent waters, too.