Pampering myself in Bagno Vignoni
I arrive in Vignoni Alto at sundown as the sunlight bestow a golden glow on the landscape and the cypress trees cast elongated shadows on the rolling hills of the Val d’Orcia. Following the pilgrim path along the via Francigena, today I left the soft slopes of the valley behind me, the symbol of our region, UNESCO World Heritage, beloved and desired by all.
There couldn’t be a better place to stop for a wayfarer traveling this road. Bagno Vignoni, a small medieval village nestled like a gem in the greenery of the Val d’Orcia nature park on the slopes of Monte Amiata, has been known since Etruscan and Roman times for the restorative properties of the sulphur waters that spring up from below the ground here.
In its millennia-long history, the village has welcomed to its thermal baths cardinals and emperors, philosophers and pilgrims of every social class seeking to rejuvenate their body and mind. Cardinal Fabio Chigi stopped in Bagno Vignoni on his way to Rome to become pope Alexander VII, a story recounted in A searching for a fiefdom… dreaming of becoming pope on Tuscany, Beautiful Everywhere. And just as Lorenzo the Magnificent, one of the greatest Florentine strategists of the Renaissance, often did, so too did I spend a few hours basking in well-being with a dip in the thermal bath’s pools, filled with warm waters boasting osteopathic and dermatological properties.
Like a soft embrace, I let myself be cradled by the 37°C waters and the silence that surrounded me. I soothed my neck and shoulder problems under a powerful and reinvigorating waterfall and eliminated every source of stress and muscular tension in the hydro-massage pool beside my walking companions. Bagno Vignoni is extraordinary and unique in its kind.
No other place in the world exists with an enormous basin of thermal water right in the centre of the main piazza, so large that it takes up almost the entire space. The water that flows from underground has always been beloved by past travellers and guests in the village could freely take a dip. Today, bathing in piazza delle Sorgenti is forbidden, and to enjoy the waters, you must go to one of the resorts in the town. However, the steaming waters were channelled into small creeks that cross through the village, where you can immerse your hands and enjoy small moments of pure pleasure before heading to the edge of the cliff atop which sits Bagno Vignoni, where you can see little waterfalls that bestow the hill with its typical chalky colouring.
All around the pool are stone houses with balconies adored with flowers, an inn, small artisan shops, the Church of San Giovanni Battista and a portico dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena, as well as the summer residence of pope Pius II, born Enea Silvio Piccolomini, dating to the Renaissance and which still dominates the piazza today.
Under the portico, the touching story of young Catherine captured my attention, launching me back in time to the 1300s, when the saint’s mother sent her to Vignoni in the vain hope that the sensual embrace of the warm waters could suppress her daughter’s desire to dedicate her life to God. Catherine, however, interpreted this opportunity at the thermal baths as a chance for penitence, immersing herself where the waters were hottest and boiling, causing her pain and physical suffering.
For dinner, we decided to splurge one more time, choosing the restaurant La Vecchia Posta, where elegance blends with the concept of slow travel, offering an opportunity for our palates to taste authentic and traditional dishes marked by the careful selection of ingredients. It was the perfect culinary experience for enveloping and tempting the palate.
The next day, challenging the cold and the rain, curious and electrified, I woke up when it was still dark so I could enjoy the sunrise from the main piazza and the pool as it slowly emerged from the darkness of the night. The vapours rising from the warm waters upon contact with the cold winter air, the surreal silence and the reflection of the lanterns created a magical atmosphere, almost dreamlike. If happiness is made of moments, I just experienced one and my face broke into a smile.