All roads lead to Rome…
…therefore, they also lead you out of the bustling city to a place where you can rejuvenate your soul. In rare cases, they also lead to inspiration.
As the deafening silence begins to engulf you and you start to notice more sheep than people, you will slowly feel your tense muscles release their grasp. It will be a challenge to keep your eyes on the road when the picturesque villas and animals grazing compete for your attention.
As you get closer to your destination, you will be tempted to stop and visit the ancient ruins of Sutri. The stands selling freshly picked porcini mushrooms or sweet chestnuts will draw you near. The shops offering their local selections of organically grown Extra-Virgin olive oil, delicious sheep’s milk cheeses and tasty salami will entice you. Feel free to stop and enjoy the fruits of your journey. There is plenty of time for it all.
There are several thermal springs located just 70k North of Rome and on into Tuscany. They are all diverse and vary drastically in admission fees. I have visited quite a few but have found that in some cases the cons outnumber the pros. I have managed to find a few gems among them all. Read about your choices so you can decide for yourself.
Terme di Caracalla: For eyes only
Located in the center of Rome, these are now mere ruins. Ancient Romans would once bathe in thermal springs daily. They would usually begin with light exercise. Slaves would then rub oil into their skin and scrape off the dirt using a tool made of wood or bone. The ancient Romans would then slip their nude bodies into the heated water.
Although the ancient Romans built many thermal springs, their predecessors, the Etruscans, built a few just north of Rome in Northern Lazio through to Southern Tuscany. This combined area was known as Etruria before the Romans arrived.
Terme di Saturnia
These are the most famous thermal springs in Italy. The private spa features several large swimming pools with cascading waterfalls and a massaging whirlpool. The indoor structure offers lockers, showers and bathrooms. Spa services are à la carte. This is worth the admission but you may want to save this trip as a once-in-a-blue-moon treat.
The free public thermal baths are located by the source of the water. There are limited visiting hours and I am told they get quite crowded. I have not visited the free baths but many have told me that they are enjoyable.
Terme Bagno Vignoni
Do not let the photos fool you. We booked a room at a lovely hotel overlooking this pool. It advertised about its vicinity to the thermal pool and the properties of the water. Upon arrival we learned that this historical pool has been closed to the public for ages. The hotels on this square continue to advertise as if these ancient springs were still accessible to the public. There seems to always be a well disguised scam at very turn. Inform yourself well before you book so you can avoid scams and enjoy your vacation.
This area has several thermal water sources that are a mere five minute drive away. A nearby source has turned its swimming pool into a watered-down thermal spring. Another is located in a park but signs, put up by nearby hotels, prohibit bathing and warn of possible fines.
However, if you are in the main square, follow the walking path from the center of town to the outdoor public thermal bath. There, you will discover the miraculous water this town is known for.
There is a small waterfall that fills the natural shallow pool. The water is not very hot, so I suggest you only go on warm days. It might disgust you to find thousands of black tadpoles swimming around you, but they are part of the therapeutic balance of this water and the velvety white clay that collects underneath. Bring a container with you so you can take some clay home for some all-natural do-it-yourself spa treatments. You may want to weed out the dead tadpoles from the clay, though. Free Admission.
Terme dei Papi
This is the only one in the Lazio area worth the high admission. €18 grants you entry to the large Olympic-sized outdoor pool. There are bathrooms, lockers and showers but any spa treatments cost extra. Although the area offers other private thermal springs with large swimming pools, the prices per visit are similar. Terme dei Papi, however, has the largest pool and the widest array of spa services. This is an excellent choice if you plan to go only once within the calendar year or if you want to be able to swim laps in the therapeutic waters.
Terme La Ficoncella
These are located in Civitavecchia. They feature a spectacular view of the sea and you can watch the sunset over the Mediterranean. The admission is ridiculously low so when we were told about this spot, we decided to see for ourselves. It is located near Rome and it is easy to get to. We paid €2 for parking and about €2 for admission to the springs. We took a look around, then had a coffee at the bar while we awaited our friends who were joining us. When our friends finally arrived, we left.
You are probably wondering why. We found Terme La Ficoncella to be absolutely repulsive. We were so surprised to hear that many expats from Rome tend to frequent them. I could only imagine that they have never seen anything better and simply settled for it right away.
Terme La Ficoncella has several small pools set in bland grey concrete. They were all jam-packed with male senior citizens or loud families. The view was lovely, but one does not go to the thermal springs just for the view. Although the water proudly boasts excellent therapeutic properties, the idea of wading in a crowd of men and loud people was not our idea of relaxation. I highly suggest you avoid these springs unless you are a senior citizen or a loud family who loves crowds.
Terme del Bullicame
These are free thermal springs where Dante once soaked. It is a small pool for wading and is open 24 hours a day. A few years back, we were searching for the ancient Etruscan thermal springs, so we followed the signs for ‘terme’. We came upon this spring and before parking we asked someone who was leaving. “You don’t want to go there, especially not with a girl.”, he said to my boyfriend. “Why? What’s going on?”, my boyfriend inquired. “Since there’s no security, people go to do strange things, if you get my meaning.” These springs have signs leading to them throughout the area. I strongly suggest you head in the opposite direction, that is, unless you are looking to do ‘strange things’. If that is the case, Terme del Bullicame is the place for you.
Le Pozze di San Sisto
These ancient Etruscan thermal springs are my favorite destination. They feature one large sulfuric wading pool, one medium tepid pool for children and one ancient Etruscan pool of ambient-temperature mineral water. They are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They close for cleaning on Thursday and Sunday afternoons, usually an hour before dusk, then re-open a midnight. Yes, you could even go at 1am and not worry about people doing ‘strange things’ as there is always security personnel present. However, if you go after midnight on cleaning days, you will find the water too hot to even dip your feet.
Although the price seems to go up €5 every year, as of 2010 it costs €30 for unlimited use throughout 2010 for first-timers or €20 to renew your card from a past year.
While there is an enormous lawn and a barbecue, the entire structure is outdoors. There are three wooden shacks to change in and two portable bathrooms. The only downside is during peak times, on sunny Saturday or Sunday afternoons, when it can get a bit crowded. At these times, it is usually still bearable, regardless.
Preparing for your thermal springs experience…literally.
- Bathrobe: While a robe is best, a towel is fine in the warmer months. You will definitely want a thick terry cloth robe during the rest of the year or at night so you can cover up completely when you are done. In the summer months, you may even want an extra towel as the first one will become quite moist with the steam.
- Flip-flops or similar waterproof footwear
- Body lotion or oil: Although it is best not to put any on beforehand. You will definitely need it afterwards.
- Hair elastic, hat or bathing cap: Especially in the colder months when you do not wish to wet your hair. In the summer it feels great to float in the water and feel the hot water everywhere. Unless you have very short hair that will air dry quickly, I do not recommend it in the winter.
- Shower Gel & Hair Products: If there are showers at th springs of your choice, you may need your own shower gel. If there are no showers, you may want some leave-in hair conditioner and/or hair gel to make yourself look decent afterwards.
- Water: The thermal springs dehydrate you so you will need to replenish while you wade. You can even refill your empty bottle at the source and take some of the therapeutic water home to use on any problem areas, such as acne on the face or back.
- Rinsing water: If you go to any springs that do not offer showers, you will want fresh water to rinse off the sulfuric residue from your hair and body. The sulfuric residue is not harmful but it can be drying, especially to you hair.
- Old swimwear: Thermal springs will not ruin your bathing suit right away, but repeated use will fade it faster than usual. Save your new swimwear for the beach and recycle last year’s bathing suit.
Get rejuvenated and inspired at the ancient Etruscan thermal springs…
It was a chilly yet sunny Sunday afternoon in January, when four of us went to these marvelous springs. Having worn our swimwear under our clothes, we stripped down to them and slipped in the steaming water as quickly as humanly possible. We rested our heads at the coolest end of the pool and eventually ventured toward the hottest area, the source itself.
Our eyes were drawn to a fiery redhead who was stretching her legs by grasping her feet and extending them above her head. She was in a bikini top and boy shorts and continued to stretch for several minutes as we looked on. Something about her drew us near and within minutes we were surrounding her as we looked up at her in awe.
“I come here several times a week and this water is absolutely miraculous. Of course, you should also eat well. I’m a vegetarian… -Smoking is the worst thing you can do to your body. Tobacco isn’t what it used to be…now, cigarettes are all poison…that’s why nonsmoker’s hate the smell so much…it’s sickening! The thought of meat makes me sick too, though. I’m in this shape because I take good care of myself…”, she said as we admired her amazing energy as if locked in a trance.
After ten minutes, I could no longer take the heat, so I went for a quick fresh dip in the ambient-temperature pool. Although it is shocking at first, your body adapts within moments and the effects to your circulatory system are instantly visible as you see your body tone up as you step out of the cold mineral water.
As I returned to the hot pool, I saw my boyfriend mesmerized by this vivacious red-head. They were lost in conversation and I decided to go toward the cooler end where my friends were wading. We all watched them from afar for a bit and wished to photograph that magical moment where a 98 year-old woman shares her life story with an eager listener a little over a quarter of her age.
We learned that she is the grand-daughter of the famous baroque painter from Naples, Luca Giordano. She had followed in his footsteps and became a painter of some fame. She travelled the world and lived in some of Rome’s most interesting neighborhoods. She was the liveliest person at the springs and her energy rejuvenated us more than the therapeutic sulfuric water of the ancient Etruscan thermal springs.
“Do the thing you love every single day and you will become great.”, she said to me. She inspired this article and she inspired us to live each moment to the fullest no matter what your age is. Age is not only just a number but it is too often an excuse not to do things.
“I don’t look at people very much so next time you see me, just say ‘Ciao Luisa!’ and I’ll remember you.”, she said before leaving.
While I highly suggest you explore the thermal springs of your choice, if you do not get the chance to do so, at least do one thing…