Italy’s Natural Hot Springs

by Sylvia Diodati

Cascate del Mulino

Just six kilometres outside the ancient Tuscan village of Saturnia, visitors will find one of the most famous natural springs in all of Italy: Cascate del Mulino. The ancient oasis features a flowing thermal waterfall cascading down travertine rock, where hot water gathers in charming pools below. At a constant temperature of 37.5°C, the springs contain sulfuric minerals believed to possess healing qualities, and a high presence of thermal plankton makes the waterfall particularly remedial for skin and circulatory systems. An organic paradise surrounded by greenery, the unique landmark lies on the grounds of an old mill from which its name was derived. The atmospheric waters have been relished for centuries, and the pools were once fashionable with nobles from the Roman Empire, giving them a distinctive history. Although popular with Italians, this retreat off the beaten path of the Maremma hills has been minimally commercialized and offers few tourist amenities, adding to its authenticity. The dazzling thermal pools are free to use and can be visited year round, day and night.

Sorgeto, Ischia Island

The Gulf of Naples, with its enchanting coast beneath the majestic volcano Vesuvius, is a popular destination for visitors to the province of Campania. Its largest island, Ischia, is home to Sorgeto Bay where natural hot springs sparkle in gurgling torrents along the beach. In this peaceful cove, rock-lined pools bubble into natural jacuzzis powered by the volcanic activity below, each pond with its own distinct temperature and feel. The animated pools of thermal mineral water sooth and massage body aches, while the spring’s mud and therapeutic vapours are used to enhance skin radiance. With some basins reaching boiling point, islanders are known to cook eggs, sausage, seafood and potatoes in the bubbling crevices of the ponds—a custom handed down through the centuries. The thermal waters are free and accessible day and night.  

Fosso Bianco

With stunning waterfalls draped over calcareous rock, the Fosso Bianco hot springs in the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany make for some Instagram-worthy photos. There, thermal water flows over a sloping rock face, hardened over time by chemical deposits of calcium carbonate, to create the dazzling white spectacle just outside of Bagni San Filippo. Before cascading downwards, the spring waters first ripple out of the ground at 52°C containing sulfur, calcium, magnesium and other minerals that relieve respiratory disorders and bone problems. Pools at the bottom of the sweeping falls form different shapes that puddle in craters of many sizes, some with room for only one or two bathers, and others spacious enough for groups of 10. The nutrient-rich mineral content in the springs is attributed to the proximity of Volcano Amiata, which was last known to erupt approximately 300,000 years ago. This natural spa in the woods is free for bathers to enjoy.

Terme Bagni di Bormio

Nestled between the snow-capped Alpine mountains of Sondrio, Lombardy, is the town of Bormio, known for its historic thermal baths. Differing from the renovated pools of the Bagni Nuovi, which were refaced in the 19th century, the valley’s Bagni Vecchi remain untouched and have been in use since the 5th century. The treasured hot water caverns were popular with Roman travellers and refugee-seekers on their way to the Stelvio Pass (a mountain pass to Switzerland) and gained recognition when Leonardo da Vinci mentioned them in his Codex Atlanticus. 

The thermal pools include an assortment of stone-lined Roman baths, caves and grottos with water between 37°C and 43°C arriving from different sources of Stelvio National Park. Containing sulfate and small quantities of radon, springs of the Bagni Vecchi have been known to induce deep relaxation and have anti-inflammatory properties. The soothing mineral presence is said to be extremely helpful for dermatological conditions, including blemishes and psoriasis. Primarily accessible through hotels and spas, the use of the renowned baths comes with a fee, although they are available to enjoy year round.

Terme di Vulcano, Isole Eolie

Bathing in a live volcanic crater may seem intimidating, but there is little risk of eruption at the therapeutic mud springs of Terme di Vulcano. At the foot of its namesake, Sicily’s large volcano on Vulcano Island charms visitors and tourists who want to reap the benefits of its well-known thermal springs. The natural mud spa on the largest of the Aeolian Islands contains a high level of sulfur in its mildly radioactive Laghetto di Fanghi, making it beneficial for bathers with skin ailments and rheumatoid joint pain. High sulfuric content in the springs emit a strong scent that can be unpleasant, often lingering for days on clothing and skin, but it doesn’t stop visitors from flocking to these unique mineral baths. For a minimal fee, visitors can enjoy a healing mud soak before rinsing off in the crystal waters of the sea. Remaining constant at 28°C, the mud pool is surrounded by rare black sand beaches and a panoramic shoreline. The presence of fumaroles (smoke pits) on the island reminds visitors that the volcano is active, but Vulcano is considered safe, as it hasn’t erupted since 1890.