Saturnia’s Hot Springs
Seems like paradise on earth right? The Saturnia Hot Springs is possibly the world’s most famous FREE hot spring. Hey, I’m not the only one saying it. The Saturnia Hot Springs have received props from everyone from CNN to the Lonely Planet.
It’s frankly ridiculous that something so beautiful is free. Yep, you can visit the Saturnia Hot Springs anytime you want 24/7, 365 days a year without ever paying a cent. Just don’t get it confused with the Terme di Saturnia. That is the spa and 4 star hotel that also happens to share a very similar name and the hot spring water.
So what are the Saturnia hot springs? They’re thermal waters that flow from a source underground. That source is a volcano called Monte Amiata, which also happens to be a great ski resort. The water is heated underground and pops up right under the pools of the Terme di Saturnia hotel. It’s 37°C (98°C) when it flows from this point. It then meanders its way through the hotel and various pools before pouring out into a tiny river called the Gorello. This river is just outside the hotel and is the first place where you can swim in the thermal water for free.
The Gorello is nowhere near as beautiful as the Cascate del Mulino, but it’s also far more private, since it’s only used by locals and tourists in the know.
From here the hot water continues on its way through a field or two before gushing down a natural waterfall. That waterfall is the Cascate del Mulino. Cascate means Waterfall in Italian and Mulino is Mill. In decades past the waterfall was used to power a grain mill. You can still see the main building today.
Over the centuries, the waterfall has carved pools into the travertine stone beneath it. Travertine is the local stone. It’s a light colour and very porous, which means it is easily carved. The constant pressure from the water has created the pools that you can now swim in for free. This is the Cascate del Mulino/ Saturnia Hot Springs. That natural beauty you see all over the internet.
By the time the water reaches this point, it isn’t as warm as it was when it came out of the source. But it’s still very warm. Uncomfortably warm in the summer, but perfect in Spring and Autumn. In fact, the best time to visit is actually not in summer. In Summer, the crowds are suffocating and it’s pretty hot.
Visitors don’t just flock to the Saturnia hot springs for the warm water. The water is also thought to have curative properties. In fact, it has been thought to be curing locals since the time of the Roman Empire. This is thanks mostly to something called Thermal Plankton. These microscopic organisms are great for the respiratory system, muscles and skin. In fact, you can’t visit the hot springs and not cover yourself in the grey gloop you find along the walls. It sounds absolutely gross, but it’s just mud. In the spa down the road, they charge quite a bit for beauty treatments and creams made with this mud.
When you first arrive at the Saturnia Hot Springs, you’re greeted by a dirt road, follow it and you’ll find a free car park to your right. Park your car and don’t leave any valuables inside. Opportunistic thieves are universal. Don’t park anywhere else as you might get a sixty euro fine.
From here you’ll walk past a small cafe. Here they sell hot and cold drinks, ice creams, sandwiches and some hot dishes. There’s also a vending machine and the only toilet on the site. Yes, there are no toilets or showers apart from those in the cafe.
The hot springs are a natural site. They are not a tourist attraction. So don’t except facilities. You are basically swimming in a river. There is no sand, but a light coloured dirt. You can set up base camp there. There is no shade, so if you’re visiting in the summer, bring a beach umbrella.
The hot springs are difficult to navigate if you don’t have shoes. The rocks can be very sharp. Bear this in mind as you clamber from one pool to another. And really remember it if you’re visiting at night. THERE ARE NO LIGHTS. Don’t be stupid, bring a torch if you plan on night swimming.
Doctors recommend you only swim for 20 minutes at a time. The risk of dehydration is all too real, so drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen and take a break every so often to sit in the shade and cool down. Pregnant women and small children should check with their doctor before swimming. And always take off any jewellery before swimming. The water can do weird things to any metals that aren’t pure gold. It turns them green, actually.
The best times to visit the Saturnia Hot Springs are early in the morning and after dinner in the high season and any time you want in winter. It can get a bit nippy in winter, so make sure you have a towel handy for getting in and out of the water.
The hot springs aren’t the insider’s secret they used to be, so expect crowds in the high season.
As for the smell. The hot springs contain a lot of sulphur. Sulphur smells like rotten eggs. The smell can cling to your skin and your bathers after you’ve had a dip. Don’t worry, it will disappear after a shower or two, but it’s probably not a good idea to wear your best swim suit. On the topic of gross things, there might be little red worms swimming in the water when you visit. Don’t worry, they are harmless. Less appealing to look at, but they won’t harm you at all.
For more information about the Saturnia Hot Springs, check out our mini online guide with everything you need to know before you visit!