Rising high on a bluff above the Val’Orcia in Tuscany, Bagno Vignoni lies about five kilometers south of San Quirico d’Orcia and just off the historic Via Cassia (now highway S2), the ancient road from Rome to Siena, Firenze and Fiesole.
Some writers call this stretch the Via Francigena, or “Road of the Franks”, an “overlay name” to the Via Cassia in this area for the pilgrimage route to Rome from the north after the fall of the Roman Empire. National and local maps, as well as signs, generally use the correct Roman reference, Via Cassia. I will stay with what the “locals” prefer by historical precedence.
The town square is always flooded, but unlike Venice in acqua alta, this is not only desireable, but the raison d’etre, the reason for Bagno Vignoni. The square is the “Square of Sources”, a deep pool fed by the clear warm water spring that is the literal and physical font of fame for this ancient place. Known as the Vecchio Vasca e Loggiato, the surrounding loggia provides a very short and scenic stroll.
Based upon archaeological findings, use of the springs as therapeutic baths and of the surrounding area as a spa have been dated back at least to Etruscan times. Bagno Vignoni has been a place for refuge known among the incognisanti ever since.
Santa Catarina de Siena, Leonardo d’Medici (“the magnificent”), and Pope Pius II were known guests of the baths in their times.
Today, the “Square of Sources” pool is not open to public use. However, spa facilities are available (free at the bottom of the bluff, for a fee in the village at the Stabilimento Termale or if you are a guest one of the spa hotels. The center is a short stroll from an “outside the village” carpark with visitor center and restrooms (smart people!). What you see around you, including the Square of Sources dates from 16th Century improvements.
Activity is now centered around the “Square of Sources”. However, a very short stroll to the south of the Piazza brings you to ruins of Etruscan, Roman and later waterworks, mills and baths within the Parco dei Mulini e Vecchia Gora, on the brink of a bluff far rising above the Fiume Orcia.
At the riverside below, locals are still drawn to the warm pools that are fed by waters cascading down from these ancient sources high above. In the distance to the south, the forboding castello of Castiglione d’Orcia rises across the river, itself overshadowed not far to the south by the broad shoulders of Monte Amiata.
When you are in the vicinity – Montalcino, San Quirico, Pienza, Montepulciano are all nearby – take the little side road to Bagno Vignoni. Please remember your best “guest manners” and that you are amid not only a Natural Park, but wandering through a place where people live and work.
Quiet enjoyment, contemplation, healing are the gifts of Bagno Vignoni, and perhaps…
A bit of intrigue!