The Fosso Bianco
Tuscany has a lot of hot water springs, known and used for curative purposes since Etruscan and Roman times. They remain hugely popular today, with the outdoor Saturnia hot springs being the most popular among our readers (I see many related questions posted on our Forum). While I recommend going to the Maremma region and visiting Saturnia if you have the time, today I'm taking you to another hot springs in southern Tuscany that most foreign visitors still don't know about (and that locals are trying to keep a secret from us): the outdoor hot springs at San Filippo!
The springs at San Filippo are gorgeous! You can see that from the pictures, of course ;-). The calciferous formations, waterfalls and small pools of hot water surrounded by the woods just outside the small town of Bagni San Filippo in the Val d'Orcia will seem to take you to another world. The good thing is that there is an easy path that runs along the river and provides easy access.
Access to these hot springs is completely free! We love to share these little treasures ;-) The area is quite long, but the first pools you find along the path near the road are shallow and therefore do not maintain their heat for long. If you follow the path further into the woods, you reach the massive formation of calcium and waterfall that has earned the nickname of the "White Whale". Here, the hot water of the springs meets the cold water of the river, giving the water a white-blue color that contrasts deeply with the green woods, creating a fascinating setting, particularly once the weather cools down and the warm water meets the cold air. If you keep walking further, you'll reach the rest of the pools that form the full Fosso Bianco right by the paid spa where their pool releases water down into the outdoor pools, increasing the water's temperature. The area has countless pools in which to sit down and relax!
The White Whale or "Balena Bianca"
The waterfall is called the White Whale for its similarity to the mouth of a whale. The calcium formation is the most impressive formation at the hot springs of San Filippo, and you should NOT can walk on it as the formations are delicate! The springs surge out of the ground nearby, coming out at 48°C, so the water at the White Whale is warm - very warm which permits bathing in fall and winter.
The quantity of, and path, the water takes down over the White Whale changes often, so the shape and look of the formation keeps offering new shapes and colors. During the winter, the thermal waters mix with raindrops that contain organic material: for this reason, the formation will alter color and look greenish or reddish brown in those periods.
Locals and tourists alike have created new pools directly below the waterfall: by massing together stones, branches and leaves, the deposits quickly cement over these artificial walls and create new pools that collect the warm water. At the bottom of these pools, you'll find a rich deposit of thermal mud that is excellent for face and body masks so sit down, cover yourself in mud and enjoy the natural beauty treatment!
In the beautiful Val d'Orcia
Bagni San Filippo is a small town in the lower Val d'Orcia (just 30 minutes from the border with Lazio) on the eastern skirts of Monte Amiata. It is about 30 minutes south of Pienza, an hour 10 minutes from Siena and 2 hours from Florence. If you're in Florence, these are closer than the Saturnia springs. If you're staying in the Val d'Orcia and exploring the area, I highly recommend you make your way here - and spend more time exploring the Amiata!
The small size of the town of Bagni San Filippo, as well as its location alongside the eastern side of Monte Amiata, has made it possible for this place to remain largely unaltered through the centuries. Aside from the hotel/spa that also uses the hot springs for its pool and beauty/health treatments, many people come to San Filippo for the outdoor springs. Keep in mind though that the sulfur in the springs makes you a bit smelly: if you go to the hot springs in the afternoon, the cheap 3 euro entry into the paid spa might be a good idea for quick shower before heading out to dinner ;-). The town has two restaurants and a pizzeria, all serving local home-style cuisine as their specialty.
Bagni San Filippo is within the "Parco Artistico Naturale Culturale della Val d'Orcia" and there are other hot springs nearby - Bagno Vignoni, which we will cover in more detail soon! In the meantime, enjoy exploring the pools of hot water at the Fosso Bianco.
More Pools to the Right
As mentioned above, if you follow the path to the left you will find the incredible calcium formations and sulfur pools - however...if you want the warm waters with no smell: head to your right. This area is not marked on the map above. The locals have created several new pool areas where you can lounge and enjoy the pure water as it bubbles down the waterfalls into a protected area. There are several layers and depending where you position yourself will automatically regulate the warmth of the water. Some are shallow and cool off faster, the main pools at the bottom are deeper and just right for a relax. Best of all... no stink.