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Where to Soak in Italy’s Historic Thermal Baths

26 January 2024
by Laura Itzkowitz
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Wellness seekers have been flocking to hot springs since the days of the Roman Empire.


You’ve likely heard about the ancient Roman baths, but did you know that our word “spa” is actually an acronym from that period in history? It stands for salus per aquam, which means “health by water.” During the Roman Empire, nearly every city had its own bathhouse. Today you can admire the ruins of ancient Roman bathhouses like the Terme di Caracalla in Rome, a massive complex that held hot and cold pools, steam rooms, and a gymnasium.


Many of these baths were built around naturally occurring hot springs, where steamy water bubbles up from the depths of the earth. These thermal springs are believed to have healing properties thanks to the high mineral levels in the water, and to this day, Italians love to soak in them. Think of them as a naturally occurring hot tub! Luxurious spas and hotels have been built around many of these springs, but there are also places where anyone can go and soak for free.

Terme di Saturnia

If you want to soak up some of the thermal goodness next time you’re in Italy, try one of our favorite locations below: 

Ischia

The largest island in the Gulf of Naples, Ischia is famous for its hot springs. The Fonte delle Ninfe Nitrodi on the southern end of the island may be the oldest spa on earth; people have flocked here to soak in and drink the mineral-rich water since the days of the Greek Empire. Other major parks including Poseidon and Negombo offer visitors the chance to relax in the island’s thermal waters alongside wellness treatments and beach clubs. For an immersive stay, the Regina Isabella hotel’s spa uses thermal water and mud for treatments.  


Tuscany

Perhaps the most famous thermal waters in Italy are the Terme di Saturnia, a group of hot springs in Tuscany. At the Cascate del Mulino, sulfuric water that reaches nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit cascades down a series of rock terraces that are free to bathe in. Travelers who want to stay and enjoy all the services of a five-star resort should check into the Terme di Saturnia Natural Spa & Golf Resort, which has a massive swimming pool filled with spring water as well as a luxurious spa.


Lombardy

High up in the Alps near the Swiss border, hot springs flow in the mountains of Stelvio National Park. The best place to experience a healing retreat here is at QC Terme Bagni Vecchi, which has a panoramic swimming pool that looks out over the Valtellina valley as well as Roman baths in centuries-old caves. You can buy a day pass to use the spa or stay overnight at the hotel.

 

Lazio

In and around Viterbo, about 90 minutes north of Rome, a series of hot springs draw modern-day Romans to soak. One of the most popular is the Terme dei Papi, a thermal spa that was popular with popes (hence the name!) during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Sulfurous water from the Bullicame hot spring flows into the 20,000-square-foot pool here, which was also visited by Dante and Michelangelo.

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