There are many things to do in Bagno Vignoni when day-tripping to this tiny Tuscan town perched on a hill above the picturesque Val d’Orcia (part of a Natural Park and now a UNESCO World Heritage site).
This village is different from the other Tuscany hill towns: rather than a main square, in Bagno Vignoni there is a thermal pool 49 meters long and 29 wide. Water bubbles up a number of hot springs whose therapeutic quality has been renowned since antiquity.
Bagno Vignoni is one of Tuscany’s oldest tourist destinations. In fact the historic spa town has never been anything else than a tourist destination. The town was busy in the middle ages because it’s on the Via Francigena, the road connecting Canterbury and Rome (a pilgrimage route in antiquity). Today it’s slightly off the beaten path so all the more reason for visiting. There are more things to do in Bagno Vignoni than just seeing the thermal pool.
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The name of this ancient village derives from Vignoni, already a famous castle in the 11th century. You can still see it’s traces dominating the hill over the village.
Many well known personalities have ‘taken the waters’ here through history, including Lorenzo de Medici, Pope Pius II, Saint Catherine of Siena, and Oscar Wilde.
Bagno Vignoni has been well known since Roman times for it’s mildly sulphurous waters that come bubbling up into the large rectangular pool that forms the town’s main square, Piazza delle Sorgenti (Square of the Springs).
After restoring medieval pilgrims, ailing popes and saints Bagno Vignoni keeps a dignified outlook towards it’s visitors and avoids plastic chairs or pizza takeaways for present day travellers. Instead this neat town has a collection of pretty restaurants and high quality boutiques. Elegant white umbrellas give shade from the Tuscan sun.
This is a particularly elegant looking restaurant with a shaded porch overlooking the ‘square of the springs’.
We were dressed a little casually and had got rather dusty from Driving Vintage Alpha Romeos Through Tuscany with the roofs down, so settled at a popular pizza restaurant (Pizzeria Trattoria) in their shaded garden.
A porch-type bridge passes over the waters that flow from the bath. It heads towards the thermal spa ruins and hotel spas. It is then said to go on to feed a series of mills situated along the steep banks of the river (I’m not sure, however, if this part was in the past or present – I suspect past).
It hasn’t been possible to swim in the town square’s medieval pool for decades. I wonder if the locals take the plunge at night…
You can actually see the warm water bubbling up towards the end of the pool.
The men and women baths were separated. I’m not sure who took this pool.
There was an annual emptying of the bath every May when the Amerighi family ruled here during the 16th century. They were authorised to call upon the inhabitants of the Val d’Orcia to help with this task.
Around that time the waters and their curative properties inspired the Siennese scholar Lattanzio Tolomei to write Greek verses about water nymphs. Even today, nymphs of white mesh sit around the waters edge.
The Chapel of Saint Catherine (who visited the spa often) is a tiny unassuming church. It’s a peaceful place to sit for a while in the cool.
The hot spring town today continues to embody the ideas of health and wellness. There is a shop run by one of the most famous herbalists in Italy – Hortus Mirabilis.
Eat at the Osteria del Leone (closed Mondays).
When we visited there was a small food festival going on. You can’t expect a big one when this souvenir shop (below) is about as touristy as it gets. There are under 40 inhabitants of the town!
One thing you mustn’t miss is the ruins of an 18th-century bathhouse on the edge of town – Parco dei Mulini.
Thermal water flows in the small stone cut waterways (about a foot wide). Today modern hikers sooth their feet just as centuries of tired travellers must have done before us, including Medieval pilgrims. It’s a great place to get to feel the warmth of the spring – it’s quite surprising how warm it is (about 52 degrees Celsius in the warm months!).
The warm water flows through these open channels on its way to the River Orcia, but first the Romans used it for shower water…
The showers are warped with centuries of limestone deposits.
The water also once flowed into this very deep pool – like an ancient affinity pool!
You and your family can enjoy the Bagno Vignoni spring waters today, for free, just below where this pool is situated in the valley. Don’t forget to bring a swim suite and towels. You can’t have a bath at the main square pool, but you go down here to the Parco dei Mulini and relax at a spring pool of naturally hot water without checking into a resort.
However, unlike Tuscany’s other wild hot springs, Bagno Vignoni’s natural pool down in the valley isn’t warm enough for soaking in the winter.
The final of my things to do in Bagno Vignoni as a day-tripper is, there’s a lovely walk connecting Bagno Vignoni with Vignoni Alto, where you can either turn back or hike on towards Castello di Ripa d’Orcia. The signed walk will then take you back to Bagno Vignoni (10km).
So, make sure you add this to your bucket list when visiting Tuscany!
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