Visiting Bagno Vignoni--an ancient village within the commune of San Quirico d'Orcia in the provence of Siena--was an incredible look back into history. Picture a huge shallow swimming pool built around a bubbling hot spring. The bathing pool (100 wide and 160 feet long) was built in the 14th century with both Renaissance and Roman architecture surrounding the bubbling, watery piazza. On cool mornings steam will rise from the pool creating an even more magical ambiance.
I thought Bagno Vignoni was on flat land, but to get there we had to drive up winding switchback roads with breathtaking views of the Val d'Orcia far below. There were amazing views from our car park just at the edge of the Bagno Vignoni hamlet. So many hilltowns! (Will we actually get tired of this the way I got tired of castle after castle years ago in the Loire valley in France?)
A short walk downhill from Bagno Vignoni's formal pool is a more ancient and natural hot springs area with wonderfully cared for paths, picnic areas and even a nice cafe. People have been getting the therapeutic benefits of these hot mineral springs for thousands of years. Unlike other Tuscan hot springs (like Bagno san Filippo), this one isn't warm enough for soaking in the winter but is still a popular place for locals to have a free swim in summer with temperatures as high as 125 F degrees. There are mineral lined troughs and canals that carry the waters along and a large bathing pool at the bottom. There is also a paid resort in the village with all the options and comforts of a chic spa. One interesting historical note: During the middle ages, the thermal springs' water jets were harnessed to provide power to grain mills in the grinding of flour. The year-round regularity of these pressurized water jets gave a unique opportunity to operate mills all year long.
Some thoughts about this southern Tuscan region...
There is so much to see here that I fear we won't have enough time... which leaves a question in my mind about where to go next. By design, our Voyage is part planned, part free-form (follow our noses). There is the nearby town of San Quirico d'Orcia with a castle keep on its Rocca (rocky prominence); Nearby Montalcino offers wine tasting with its famous Brunello; you can meditate with the Greogorian chants at the Sant'Antimo abbey; the legendary Sword in the Stone at the roofless cathedral and Abbey of San Galgano; enjoy the mountain air and views of the 5600 foot tall Monte Amiata; the natural park of the Maremma hills and coastline are to the east; and even Lake Bolsena, a large volcanic lake between the southern border of Tuscany and Umbria. Many Voyagers opt to head toward Florence, Pisa and the northern parts of Tuscany, but we are falling in love with the richness, history and nature of the Crete Sinese and the southern parts--the Off the Tourist Path places. So, when planning a visit to Italy, be flexible... just about everywhere you might go there is beauty, history and many things that will feed your soul. --JF
We walked around a bit, took photos, pondered both the ancient Romans and Popes enjoying their communal baths here--and then we were hungry for dinner...
There were some nice restaurants surrounding the baths, but in typical "we don't need your business" style, dinner wasn't served until 7:30! It was around six. So, they close for at few hours at lunch (so THEY can go home and have THEIR lunch and snuggle with THEIR wife) exactly during the time most tourists want to eat. As my Dad used to say... they are real Lu-Lus! Will we ever get used to the Italian way of doing things? Many restaurants are closed for 3 hours during what Americans consider a peak lunch time period, and many don't open again until 7:30 or 8:00pm, well past Americans' dinner time!
Anyway, onward to find dinner. The sun was getting low in the Tuscan sky. Lucas wanted us to go "home" and cook but we'd have to shop first--a difficult thing to do when not all hilltowns have a supermarket or alimentari that happens to be open when you need something.
(Another mystery: While even most small villages will have an alimentari (grocery stores) and perhaps a butcher, bread baker and other specialty food shops, it's nearly impossible to find out when they open for business. I can't tell you how many times I came across alimentari closed up tight with their metal garage type doors at all times of the day.
So, even if you find a small grocery or food shop with its hours posted, that won't help if you're just passing through a town. My suggestion is to take advantage of such shops when you see them open, buying supplies like bottled water, cheese, bread, snacks, etc. ahead of time. Don't wait until you need them. A small foam cooler in your trunk will help keep things fresh while on the road.)
We pointed Tommy to take us to a medieval walled town--Buonconvento--I had already entered as a favorite destination. Within a half hour or so we were parking outside the old town walls.... appetites ready to go.