It began with a simple photo courtesy of Pinterest – a cascade of warm water pools and waterfalls with the rustic Tuscan hills in the background. We knew we had to visit the Saturnia hot springs in Italy.
When we set out in our car from Siena, our goal was Saturnia, the mythical landscape we saw in the Internet photo. The Saturnia hot springs have existed for millennia. According to Roman mythology, the hot water spring was created when the god Saturn sent a lightning bolt in an attempt to subdue warring humans.
Prior to the Roman civilization, the area around the hot springs was inhabited by Etruscans and others. It just might possibly be the world’s first vacation destination.
There are no changing facilities at the thermal springs, which makes for an interesting experience in the parking lot. But since it’s Europe, no one seems to pay much attention to the nudity. Like most of the Italian tourists, we changed our clothes in the dirt parking lot standing between the cars.
After changing into our bathing suits, we headed down near the falls and spread out our picnic by the banks of the small river. The wine, cheeses, breads, and cured meats we purchased near our hotel in Siena made a perfect picnic! Eating on the banks of the warm water stream is a fun way to soak up the atmosphere of Tuscany and commune with people from so many different countries.
After our quick lunch, we jumped into the water. Despite the heat of the summer, we weren’t bothered by the warm water. The springs come out of the earth at 37 °C (98.6 °F), so not what you’d call “hot.” Without water shoes, it was challenging to walk through the waterfalls and over the rough stones barefoot, but the picturesque setting and water made up for it.
We spent nearly two hours and were disappointed that we didn’t have more time to relax there. I love geothermal springs and we have visited many around the US and in other countries, from the baths of Budapest, the outdoor natural springs of Steamboat Springs, the dozens of hot springs in Colorado, and even the Vulcano springs and mud baths. Certainly, the hot springs in Saturnia is one of the best!
- Visiting Saturnia Hot Springs
- Where is Saturnia?
- How to Get to the Hot Springs
- Tips for Visiting the Springs
- What to Bring
- Things to Do Nearby
- Where to Stay
Visiting Saturnia Hot Springs
According to local mythology, the springs here stem from when the god Saturn struck his lightning bolt into the ground. Evidently he was a poor aim.
You see, the this isn’t a single spring. It’s several springs throughout the region. This is why several of the luxury hotels as well as the Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort all have springs.
When talking about the area, many of the names are used interchangeably. So, Terme di Saturnia is the spa at the luxury hotel, but is also the name of the springs in that famous picture. If we want to be accurate about it though, the natural hot springs waterfalls are called Cascate del Mulino or Cascate del Gorello. This is the free bathing area, which is where you want to be.
Where is Saturnia?
The little Saturnia town is located half way between Rome and Florence, and a little south of the town of Siena. It is also located due west of the town of Orvieto.
How to Get to the Hot Springs
If you’re wondering how to get to Saturnia from Florence (or Rome), your easiest option is to rent a car and drive yourself. (FYI: In Italy, we use this rental car price comparison website to find the best deals). The roads are good and well marked and we found ample parking at the springs. There’s really no reason not to drive yourself, although there are some tour options.
If your attempting to get to the springs by bus or train, it’s a pretty complicated process. And it seems to change depending on who we talked to. The closest train station to Saturnia is Albinia on the coast. From there, you take a bus to Manciano (buses 41 or 11), where you change buses to Saturnia (bus 17). The bus trip takes about 2:15 and the buses run every 3-5 hours. Yes…only a handful of buses each day.
The trip from Florence to Saturnia is 6.5 hours by public transit and the trip from Rome to Saturnia is 2.75 hours by public transit. You are vastly better off renting a car.
Driving from Rome
There are two general routes to get here from Rome. The main route heads west from Rome to the coast and follows the E80 north to Monalta di Castro. From there take the SP105 inland to the SP74, which leads to the SP10 and right to the hot springs.
The alternate route, which can be considerably longer due to traffic, heads inland and up the E35 to Orvieto, before heading west on the SR71 to the SR74.
Driving from Florence, Siena, or San Gimignano
This winding route heads due south out Florence, heads past San Gimignano, through Siena and ultimately ends up at the springs. The route numbers change a lot, but there are few turns. Take the SS674 to the SS223 to SP64 to the SP323 to the SP10. It sounds far more complicated than it actually is.
GPS and Satellite Navigation
Finally, a word about GPS and satellite navigation in Tuscany. We found cell phone reception to be pretty poor in the little valley where the springs are located. Also, just putting the name “Saturnia” or “Terme di Saturnia” into a GPS is likely to take you to the luxury hotel (or into the town). We recommend using the actual GPS coordinates from the hot springs:
Latitude: 42.648; Longtitude: 11.513
That said, you won’t be able to miss seeing the thermal springs from the overlook on the main road (see photo below).
There are some Saturnia tour options, although technically they are really more like transit options. If you want to leave the driving to someone else, consider this tour option from Rome.
Tips for Visiting the Springs
Here are a few tips to help you enjoy your visit to the rustic springs.
Park in the parking lot
As you drive down the narrow lane called Via della Follonata, you may see some cars parked on the road. Resist the temptation to park here (we saw most of the cars had tickets on them). Instead, drive all the way to end of the road, and then make a right following the blue parking (parcheggi) sign. The lot is pretty good size and you should be able to find a spot.
The area feels safe and there is always someone coming or going. However, be smart and don’t leave valuables in plain sight.
Pack a picnic
Services at the springs are limited. There’s a small bar and a snackbar/kiosk (seasonal) to purchase items. Your best bet is to bring a picnic with you. We went to the grocery store before coming to the springs and had bread, meats, cheese and wine!
Bring water shoes
As previously mentioned, the ground is rather rocky and there’s lots of pebbles. Flip flops will offer only a modest amount of protection and won’t really help you in the water at all. We strongly encourage sturdy water shoes (see below).
Remove all jewelry
The Saturnia thermal baths have a high sulfur content. You should remove all jewelry, especially any jewelry containing sulfur. It is guaranteed to tarnish…badly. Remove all jewelry including rings, watches, earrings and necklaces and leave them in your car.
The strong sulfur and mineral content can also ruin expensive bathing suits, sunglasses, cell phones and anything else that gets too close. If you don’t want to risk having it ruined, don’t take it.
Moderate your expectations
The springs are free, so it is helpful to think of them a bit like your public swimming pool. You’re likely to encounter kids splashing and playing, obnoxious tourists, people hogging the waterfall baths, and other inconsiderate behavior. Just roll with it.
If you really care about privacy and relaxing there are a few options. The springs are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Come early or come late for fewer people. The further you go downstream into the stream bed, you’ll encounter fewer people – and cooler water temperatures.
If you want an even more relaxing experience, you can enjoy the same thermal waters in a private spa environment at The Spa at Terme di Saturnia (part of the golf resort located up SP10, the main road, in the direction of the small town).
What to Bring
There’s one inescapable fact: the springs are south facing. That means you’ll have full sun exposure all day long. There is a minimal amount of shade at the site, so be sure to bring your best sunscreen. Given the natural facilities here, you should be using biodegrable sunscreen to protect the mineral deposits and the aquatic life in the steam below.
It seems strange to bring water to what is essentially a water park, however, the sun and the hot water can be very dehydrating. You should bring lots of water with you.
Things to Do Nearby
While the hot water and thermal baths is one of the top landmarks in Italy and is the highlight, there are a few other things to do in the area.
Golfing at the Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort is very popular. There are also a few tennis courts available there for guests.
The town has some impressive Roman ruins, including the Porta Romana.
Nearby, in the town of Manciano, the Museum of History and Early History of the Valle del Fiora (Museo di Storia e Protostoria della Valle del Fiora) offers a glimpse into the history of of the region.
Attractions Between Saturnia and Rome
The drive from Rome up the coast offers several chances for a break:
Visit the beaches at Santa Severa or Santa Marinella. These are two of the best (and most popular) beaches near Rome.
For a more controlled experience, there is a giant waterpark near Cititavecchia (essecially Rome’s port city) called Aquafelix. This could be a good option for families with children.
When the road turns away from the coast, there is a giant archaeological park called Vulci with lots of ruins, including temples, roads, and bridges. The place isn’t on any major tourism route so you’ll likely have the place almost to yourself if you visit.
Also, the rural area along the SP105 is home to lots of vineyards, orchards, and olive groves. There are a number of small, family-run businesses that sell their agricultural products.
Where to Stay
Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort — When it comes to accommodations, there’s the Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort, and then there’s everything else. But don’t be afraid to seek out some less obvious lodgings near the hot springs. The resort sits about 3 miles outside the town and is a short walk from the mineral baths of Cascate del Mulino. The luxury hotel also has a private spa so you can enjoy your soak without mingling with the masses.
Relais Villa Acquaviva — If you like the idea of the luxury hotel, but it’s a little expensive, consider the Relais Villa Acquaviva. Still considered a luxury property, but you’ll stay here for about half the price of the spa & golf resort. As a bonus, Relais Villa Acquaviva patrons get exclusive access to the The Spa at Terme di Saturnia.
The whole region is filled with B&Bs and agriturismos – essentially accommodations on working farms. We’ve stayed at a number of agriturismos in Tuscany and this is a great way to experience the country. Check prices on local accommodations here.