After all that wine touring it’s time for some R&R and a detox! We are headed for the natural hot springs at Bagni San Filippo, just a 30 min. scenic drive from our home base in Montepulciano. These wild hot springs, named for the Florentine hermit who retreated here in the 13th century, are truly one of Tuscany’s hidden gems … and are absolutely free!
The drive up the volcanic peaks of Monte Amiata, Tuscany’s tallest mountain, is an adventure in itself. From the rolling Tuscan hills we suddenly found ourselves immersed in a dense forest, climbing higher and higher …. eeek … welcome to the Val d’Orcia (Orcia Valley).
The road through Bagni San Filippo is one way and there is parking along the side of the road just before the town. There’s a big sign on the right side of the road which marks the entrance to the park where the hot springs are located.
A lovely five minute walk through the woods and along the river will get you to the first of the hot spring pools.
A few more minutes down the path and you’ll arrive at the Fosso Bianco (white hole). Here you’ll find, immersed in nature, the warmest waters and most suggestive natural pools. The thermal water is rich in sulphur, calcium and magnesium giving the pools their white colour and 48° temperature.
Time for a soak in the “original spa”!
The real thrill though, is climbing the Balena Bianca (white whale) aptly named for its resemblance to the mouth of a great white. The higher you climb, the hotter the water, 52°. We took our cues from the locals and covered our bodies with the white clay that lies at the bottom of the pools. Not only does it offer a natural exfoliant for the skin but has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and myo-relaxing properties for joints and bones as well as anti-catarrhal and anti-microbic properties for the respiratory system. All I know, is that we are feeling very relaxed.
But all good things come to an end … mostly because I’m hungry … again! It’s hard to stop thinking about food and wine when you’re in Italy, so we take to the roads again for our next adventure, lunch in what I call, Tuscany’s cutest village!
Montichiello is a treasure. The 24 km picturesque drive to this ancient mediaeval village in the heart of Tuscany, is nothing short of breathtaking.
Documents date the original village in and around 973, but Montichiello was officially under the political influence of Siena in 1175. The town’s most dramatic historical event took place in 1944 during the partisan strife for liberation from Mussolini and the Germans. The Partigiani (rebel forces) camped in the countryside around Montichiello and with the assistance of the villagers, forced the fascists to retreat. The next day German soldiers penetrated the homes of the villagers and forced them out to the main gate walls for what was feared to be a mass execution. The massacre was avoided thanks to Irma Anghebeni, German wife of a landowner of Montichiello, helped by the local priest.
Today, Montichiello is one of the jewels of the Tuscan countryside. It only takes an hour or so to walk the village, view the ancient towers and visit the Gothic Church of Santi Leonardo and Cristoforo, dating back to the second half of the thirteenth century. We absolutely loved how the houses were all kept so meticulous and every façade bursting with flowers!
With a population of just over 100 inhabitants, Montichiello is eerily quiet in the middle of the day. But then again, this is siesta time in Italy and everyone is eating or napping. We enjoy the peaceful surroundings in the towns mediaeval square complete with the original water wells.
Trip Advisor suggested we stop at the excellent La Porta Restaurant for lunch, but it was 32C and the idea of a big lunch was out of the question. We opted instead for La Guardiola (the guard room) situated at the entrance gate to the village, with a beautiful little shady terrace overlooking the Tuscan hills below.
A glass of Tuscan wine, fresh and very creative salads and fresh baked bread …. must I say more? Salute! (to your health)
ps Ask for salted bread when in Tuscany. Their bread is traditionally made without salt and to our taste buds it is, well, tasteless. We were told something about Florentines not wanting to pay salt tax to Pisa, who had control over the sea port (and thus the source of salt), or the Pisans refusing to allow salt inland – so the Florentines preferred to stubbornly stick to making bread without salt.
Stay tuned as we head for the mediaeval city of Siena on our next Road Trip in Tuscany!