Sunday, May 24, 2015


Spring bound
The city of Viterbo may be famous for it’s papal stays in the early medieval times, but actually the town should be better known for it’s many hot springs. Fortune has dictated that these hot springs to be mostly freely accessible, nice rambling and non-snobistic affairs, practically unknown to and on the European bathing circuit. So it's no wonder that I want to spend a fair amount of time researching and soaking.

It’s a new day, sun is already out in full force and I’m driving at this delicately early hour, out from the city, northwards, to try a soak at Viterbo’s bad waters or as we are in Italy the Terme del Bagnaccio. It’s not far out of Viterbo, many of Viterbo’s soaks aren’t. At the first crossroads I cross the morning city bound rush hour traffic and with the country side opening up, a km or so along the quieter  SP 7 road (in the direction of Valentano) a small sign leads me to an unpaved white crushed rock road which divides the green grain fields while continuing in southerly direction. 

The only apparent building is a Roman ruin archived under the name of Bacucco or possibly the Terme della Lettighetta. It's not really clear to me and the few websites seem to differ as well. This website (once google translated) adds:
'The Baths of Bacucco, they refer to two detailed drawings of Michelangelo Buonarroti drawings during one of his trips in the area, were probably the most important spa, as shown by the discoveries made during the excavations of 1835. In the area, in addition to the remains of a Roman villa, there are the sources of Bagnaccio, near which was the important Roman resort of Acquae Passeris, reported in Table Peutingeriana, ancient map which included all the Roman military roads'.

The website claims (or so I interpret the translation) that the existence of the springs dates back to at least the third century B.C.. Thereafter under Roman rule it was known as Aquae passeris, a name used for the wider area surrounding Viterbo (not yet in existence then) where many a hot spring came to surface. 
With Christianity came the end to any organisational bathing and these soaking sites withered away. Though there were plans to modernize  and commercialize these early last century, they never came to fruition and (with one exception) the soaks remained natural and abondoned until 20-25 years ago when a movement of concerned citizens of Viterbo came to conserve and manage the Bagnaccio springs.

Members only
Anyway, just past this ruin and over the gentle rise, one can’t miss the big car park which at this hour is deserted of cars, but packed with camper vans, about 20 or so.

Soaking campervaning

This is the Bagnaccio terme which is managed by a non-profit entity for let’s hope the better of society. The website of notes that this is a soak on private land managed by Associazione di Promozione Sociale (APS) Il Bagnaccio.

Having done some pre-research, I know an entrance fee is required. Well not technically, it’s a day membership. So loitering around the caravan placed directly net to the entrance, I'm finally rewarded with a suspicious amount of paperwork and a €5 down payment for whatever they legally believe it to be; it's an entrance fee to me.


The management team has done it’s best to make soakers feel their contributions are been well spent. There are a number of pools (six apparently) all neatly constructed with wooden walk ways between. Natural vegetation has been kept in check, and there are even changing cubicles as well as some other amenities (toilets, vending machine, picknick area). 

The many campers are already taking in their daily dose of soaking only having to walk (in their bathrobe) from camper van to soaking pool. 


The one pool with best temperature waters is moderately packed, but mostly with a silent bunch. The experience has not much more to offer. 
It’s a beauty of a soaking site, it’s a wonder that European soaking sites have turned into over-commercial malls with a soak on the side as compared to this center of bliss. Waters are heavenly warm, hot even and though filling up was taking place, later in the day one can choose a pool to one's liking. The site notes:
'The waters of the springs Bagnaccio, already known in antiquity as "Aquae Passeris" are a total of type sulfate / bicarbonate / alkaline earthy slightly sulphurous, hyper. They flow at a temperature of about 63 ° C'.
The source itself sits under a wood lid.

Bring your own
Evidence points to the hot springs of Il Bagnaccio being pretty popular. Besides the sizable parking site and the ability to cater for crowds, it's Facebook page has nearly 3,500 likes. Photo sites such as instagram note an encouraging amount of photo's (most soakers are somewhat of an older generation, one to which instagram is something foreign) and tripadvisor has more than 100 reviews.

Despite this popularity, there seems precious little English language experiences to share. 
I'm not totaaly sure, but I think that Viterbo is not on the foreign tourist itineray. This conclusion can also be drawn by the fact that despite the more than 100 reviews on tripadvisor (rated no. 6 in Viterbo, 4.5 stars), only 3 are in English while the only other language involved is a solitary review in Spanish. More for Italians?

There is though the odd expansional article on Viterbo and it's hot springs with reference to it being a best-kept secret (Italy Magazine; April 27, 2014):
'Also worth a visit is The Bagnaccio baths, which are positioned 8km northwest of Viterbo; these baths are situated on what was the ancient via Cassia on the road to Montefiascone, and the site is still marked by the Roman ruins of Baccucco'.
Then there is the Guardian (March 9, 2012) which explains:
'One of the joys of the volcanic northern reaches of Lazio is the abundance of hot springs, perfect for a restorative wallow. Some, especially around Viterbo, have been channelled into thermal resorts with a faintly institutional feel, but many rise in open countryside and attract a democratic mix of locals (who see free thermal pools as a basic human right) and adventurous tourists. One of the best is Il Bagnaccio, where pools have been carved out of white clay in a bucolic landscape that can't have changed much since Etruscan times. Bring a towel and claim your corner'. 
Also worth a visit is The Bagnaccio baths, which are positioned 8km northwest of Viterbo; these baths are situated on what was the ancient via Cassia on the road to Montefiascone, and the site is still marked by the Roman ruins of Baccucco. - See more at:
Also worth a visit is The Bagnaccio baths, which are positioned 8km northwest of Viterbo; these baths are situated on what was the ancient via Cassia on the road to Montefiascone, and the site is still marked by the Roman ruins of Baccucco. - See more at:
Not much more experiences though.

I looked into the background of how management was regulated at Bagnaccio hot spring. As stated above the APS Il Bagnaccio runs the shop, but the states that the hot spring occurs on private land and that this non-profit organisation run by volunteers manages the soaking site. As part of this management they pursue rule abidance, clean (and refill) the pools every night (pools are open from 07.00-24.00 depending on season), hope to keep site clean and collect membership fees from their members. 
This latter means collecting the annual 2015 membership fee of €40 or as above a daily fee of €5. all to be found on their own website, with emphasis on the .org ...

That said, there is some controversy on how the site is run. Needless to say, some oversight is required, after all access is good and close to Viterbo / motorway ensures you'll have many a potential visitor. However it's the form in which this management is fulfilled that raises questions. As I have understood ,the city of Viterbo has in the past received permission from the Lazio region to pursue development of it's hot water resources so as to increase the touristic value. However at the time many of the hot springs were on private land, as in this case. The management vehicle chosen seems to be legal, it is though questionable where membership fees can be requested.

From the Corriere di Viterbo (March 5, 2015). If my interpretation of the google translation of this article is more or less correct, it states that Lazio Region officials have warned the Il Bagnaccio (and Terme di San Sisto) managing organisations against requesting entrance fees. The article does advocate some form of management if only to avert less diserable activities but especially on the Terme di San Sisto it alleges that the practice of charging entrance fees has been going on for quite a few years, pandering to more well-heeled and probably well-connected Romans.

Elsewhere management of Il Bagnaccio were notified that certain illegal structures were to be de-assembled (Viterbonews24; May 23, 2014).

There are are quite some rules guiding soaking here, which seem to be the raison d'être of management. Much in line with Italian vogue it seems. these are the most important:

What's not allowed.
That said, hoping that patrons toe the line is altogether something separate. Of the above I already managed to take photo's and walked around bare-foot. 
On their website, management have another load of rules, more or less obvious. Strangely whereas in all languages but Italian, there's a call for decency in soaking, Italians are called upon to use swimwear. 


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