Sunday, June 28, 2015


The non-commercial soaks of Italy tend to be tucked away, nearly secretive in their whereabouts. Civitavecchia's Ficoncella hot springs are another prime example. 

Take the main Civitavecchia Nord turn off from the A12, the coastal motorway heading north out of Rome, then the first right whilst heading in the direction of town and follow this narrow lane as it runs parallel to the motorway. 
Eventually it jumps over the motorway, then a left is needed and you'll come to a tired looking lady who mans a ticket office after which stretches a rather large car park. 
Two euro lighter you'll park your car and pray that your car won't burst into flames in the harsh sun, obviously shade here was not in the plans.
The car park is half empty, but after experiencing the soaks, I would refrain from visiting here on a day when the car park is being used near to it's capacity. 

Beyond the car park, a corner of the terrain has been reserved for soaking purposes. There's a small shop / cafe and beyond a few square meters of lawn. Entering, one walks straight (bypassing the soaks to your left) to an amenities area: basically a couple of toilets and changing cubicles. Half were being cleaned. 
So then we are supposed to shower. A very hygienic habit. The showers are merely dribbles. With boiling hot water. Wish you well with that. 
So then most soakers end up soak-side unshowered ....

The pavement is packed with sun worshippers and where you're usually used to a more elder crowd at soaking places, certainly mid-week, Ficoncella has attracted it's fair share of youth and youthful curious folk on their first sojurn here.

Somewhere in the translation of all the rules and regulations I missed the part about flip-flops. People are soaking unshowered in their underwear whilst smoking but somehow that doesn't mean that I'm allowed to walk around sans footwear. Doesn't seem correct.

There are a couple of pools, mostly a meter deep, 5-6 meters in circumflex. They range from very hot to very very hot. Not much smell. Good for a fearsome soak, less so when the sun's out and you're already contending with a burn or two.

Civitavecchia is also known as the harbour for amongst others cruise liners with destination Roma (half an hour away). From Ficoncella there's a delicious sweep of scenery from it's hillock over town and beyond to the harbour.

Civitavecchia actually has more thermal and water pursuits on offer. 

Had one after taking the turn from the motorway away from town, one would have run into the Aquafelix Waterpark or the Terme Taurine Roman ruins.

The latter refers back to the thermal exploitation in ancient Roman times. The port authority of Civitavecchia have a good website on Terme Taurine which has all the details. However, there are no current sources of spring water here, but there are quite a few ruins still well-off enough to make a visit worthwhile.
Tripadvisor gives a view of the ruins itself 4,5 stars; it sees at least more English talking tourists than Ficoncella.

The Aquafelix water park seems to merit a wide berth. Tripadvisor gives it just 3 stars (128 reviews), here's just one recent review:
'The park was very old fashioned and run down with weeds growing along the paths, dirt and leaves in tte Lazy River, foot baths at the top of slides (which should have been filled with water) were empty'.
Not exactly attractive place to while away an afternoon ...

Continue even further from town using the same road, one would have come to the deliciously perched town of Tolfa

If still having time on hand, drop off the other side of the mountain from Tolfa and continue further. 
There's the moderately hot springs of Stigliano (Bagni di Stigliano) which is a recent renovation of a once derelict terme. It lies in a wide and green valley. looks like a nice place if wanting a commercial termal experience.

Further beyond the Lago di Bracciano, a picturesque lake with some quaint village nearby (below). 

Noteworthy here is the possibility to visit a cold water carbon spring named Caldara di Manziana. In the middle of a birch forest (quite strange for lower altitudal mid-Italy) lies a mostly dried up lake which is home to many bubbling springs: the bubbles betray the nature of these sulfur dioxide waters.

There's quite some info out there on the experience of soaking at Civitavecchia's Ficoncella hot spring.
Googleplus give it 4,5 stars from 14 reviews. A four star review:
'Very simple and lots of fun. We drove there with the kids and it was cheap and very authentic, full of locals who seemed like they had come there forever. No one spoke English but we managed and the baths were hot and pleasant. Definitely recommend'.
Tripadvisor's current 49 reviewers are less happy, as Ficoncella rakes in just three and a half stars; all but one of the reviews are in Italian. Let's try google translate: 
'Our experience has been negative. The water was very dirty, a lot of people and there is the possibility of diluting the body with a little bit of cold water. The dressing room is a container and the beauty of the natural springs has been ruined by a fine layer of cement around them that made them for visitors "more orderly" for us, nature lovers, has instead distorted the picturesque landscape. Although economic will not go back more!'
'I was over 20 years ago when he was still free now you pay € 1.50 per person with no parking for 2 hours with the car park 3 we paid € 4.50 to be huddled in a pool as one was empty and the small cold enough. All topped off by people who seem guardians who control that run that seemed to me more voyeurs. I found the whole situation quite drab and not very relaxing. I recommend for those leaving to go to Rome to visit the hot springs that are located in Viterbo, 30 minutes by car more than the Ficoncella, places far greater than with annual card !!!'
'Comfortable and warm the just, economical and easily accessible by car from Civitavecchia and surroundings'.
The often mentioned drawbackof Ficoncella: they are very popular.

The port of Civitavecchia has made a website contribution which sort of doubles up as the official website of Ficoncella. What do we learn? Facilities old, valued in ancient times, blah, blah. Then:
'The thermal complex of La Ficoncella, unlike the Baths of Trajan, is not very bug and counts with a total of 5 natural baths with different degrees of temperature, the hottest reaching 60°C. Curiosity: The name Ficoncella comes from a big fig tree (fico in Italian), still visible today that provides the swimmers with shadow in the most sunny days.
It is a sulphur water, yet characterized by the absence of strong sulphur smell. The heat reached by water allows a reaction of calcium sulphate that releases sulphuric acid and other salts, guaranteeing a beneficial action, moisturizing and stimulating at the same time. In fact, the water in this baths is defined as calcium sulphate slightly alkaline.
We are sure you will enjoy your visit to La Ficoncella. These baths are really a hidden treasure of Civitavecchia. During the summer, the baths stay open until 2 am... try to dive into the water with your eyes looking at the starry sky feeling the sea breeze against your skin... we are sure you will never want to leave!'

There's a Facebook page, not heavy posters involved though. And there's a wikipedia site in Italian, does not add much to our know-how.

All-in-all, if fluent in Italian, you'll find a lot more info. 

But the following info comes from German. 

Schmid & Berg (2004) write extensively on their experiences at the fig tree springs, otherwise known as Ficoncella. 
They describe that at end of the last century with the establishment of the Aquafelix water park nearby, the citizens of Civitavecchia all of sudden decided that their then derelict (but free) springs required a sprucing up and more protection from overzealous developers. That's how it came to be run by an a non-profit organisation (Cooperative Sant'Agostino) as it is now. 
They also describe how millions of euro's (more than 25 million for a 40 ha development) have been poured in, in a failed attempt to establish a commercial  terme, which as they describe cuts off part of the waters sourced to Ficoncella. 

I took some effort to research this in more detail, but alas all information is of course in Italian. And google translate seems to be in need of more updates. 
If I'm correct there's already a derelict building more in the direction of Aquafelix, half built and abandoned. 
The commercial bathing facilties involve a couple of unimaginative big boxes (Civonline, 12 Sep. 2012).
Partially to blame for the failures are the difficulties with Italian red tape which seem to contradict itself, both in the administration and in the courts. And of course there's considerable public resistance, despite all the projections of jobs.
Last year, the developer (Acanthus) had sought to revive the project hoping that backing of Civitavecchia's mayor and the interest of Accor would convince public opinion of the merits of the project (Iltempo, 12 Jan. 2014). 
It seems not have happened and as such Ficoncella seems to live on ....

Another interesting snippet of info from the Schmid & Berg book is how not only in antiquity was Civitavecchia a thermal destination. 
From the nineteenth century until the second World War there was an rather grand thermal business (aptly named Grand Hotel delle Terme, see for a photo here) in downtown. Unfortunately Civitavecchia took quite a bit of pounding due to the port.
And thus ended their commercial thermal tradition. To be continued ...

Schmid, M.X. & M. Berg (2004) Oliven, Wein und alte Bäder. Reisen zu den Thermalquellen Mittelitaliens. Rotpunktverlag, Zürich, Switserland

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A tough call

One of the reasons for maintaining this and associated blog is to broaden our knowledge of natural wellness opportunities and encourage their use. And hope that they remain publicy accessible without negative trashing the sites. 
More knowledge though may not always be a good thing. As with the increased information comes increased use. In many instances the freedom to use results in over-use and / or abuse. Clearly as a human species we have evolved, but not such that we can ourselves indicate when over-use and negatives of the over use kick in. And socially organize ourselves to keep public access and limit abuse. Hmmm.

But sometimes I also get it wrong.

High on my to-do list for years and years has been a visit to the mud baths of Espalmador. 
Espalmador is an island which lies close to the island of Formentera which (if still unknown) lies just southwest of the island of Ibiza, Spain. 

So it's all location, location here:
The southern most bay of Espalmador is reknown for it's brilliant white sands and clear blue waters. This in turn attracts a fair amount of sun / sea worshippers who wade the meter deep channel which separates Formentera from Espalmador. And this being all so close to the playground of the nouveau riche of Ibiza you'll find many a luxury yacht and their lesser cousin wannabees just lying idly in the bay of S'Alga (as the bay is officially called) itself.

The bay of S'Alga, Espalmador.

Espalmador is a privately owned island, which also falls somehow under the protection of the Ses Salines Natural Park, a safeguarded area covering the busy sea channel and islets between Ibiza and Formentera as well as the adjacent salt lakes of both islands. 
The Espalmador owners seemingly have little qualms about the above described daily invasion apparently, possibly relishing in the fact that outside this bay, the island remains largely deserted. Weighing out your options. 
It also seems difficult to dissuade the rich and famous from squatting on your door step ....

Making hey
The other actor in this play, is the island of Formentera

For decades Formentera was the destination of hippies and those seeking their holy grail: lying around on some of Europe's most beautiful and spectacular beaches. In boredom. 
Deliciously undeveloped, it was a haven for mostly cyclists who despite the camping ban were otherwise fine with staying in a local hut with the clear beaches never far away.

One of the hippy uses was the discovery of the use of natural mud on Espalmador. Having nothing else to do, they would consider a day of trekking out and wading accross to Espalmador to make use of it's mud bath as a day well spent. 
And to be honest it would have been. A couple hours on their way, an enjoyable slopping on of the mud followed by waiting for the mud to dry then washing it off and back to Formentera just on time for some tapas.

It would also be a great way for me to spend a day. 

With information slightly sketchy concerning the wading part, we decided to kayak ourselves there. 
That was a mistake. 
Leaving the small arrival port of La Savina on Formentera, one needs to cross the busy ferry channel with powerful catamarans servicing Formentera from Ibiza. Traversing this channel with a kayak is not a good way to do this; still nothing happened as most of our paddling happened during the siesta downtime, phew.

Coming closer to Espalmador, it's all attention to avoid a possible collision with the many luxury boats whiling away their day. 
We arrive on the south end, pretty busy as everybody there who has not come by boat has easily waded accross. So much for the unique experience!

The wading highway to Formentera.

While in the good old days, swimwear would have seemed to yet to be invented, nowadays a good pair of togs is essential: it's part of the culture to show you're in the upward mobile crowd yourself. That said, Formentera has not yet left it's hippy heyday totally behind it. So even though I'm one of the very few (un)dressed as a hippy, it's also very much acceptable. No batting an eyelid here.

A 15 minute walk along the bay, brings one to a major turn in the bay, as the sand beach itself ends. From here there's a sign board (see first photo) pointing towards the inland salt marsh. 
It's hot, hot hot, but 5 minutes later you are on the edge of the dry lake. The edge is delineated by a rope. 
Very near are the tempting tiny mud pools, possibly a dozen or so. No one is using them, but we had seen a couple before us return blackened, so they must have stepped beyond the rope. 
So should we. 
The mud is very luscious, black and reeks of sulphur. Good. 
The nearly dry pools are very salty. Good.
It only takes a minute or two to become a mud monster. Better.

 A mud monster in creation.

And so we return back to the seashore, looking hilariously weird to the other fashionista's. 
And though it might look tempting, there are precious few takers in the half hour as we slowly evolve from black to grey under the mid day sun. A rinse, a thorough wash and we can now walk and kayak the reverse path.

It's only a few days later when leaving Formentera I happen upon a brochure of said national park. It sternly states that it's not permitted:
'Bathing and use of the clay from S'Espalmador lagoon'.
So illegal. 
Surprisingly on official sites little is made of this, the park itself fails to list this nor does (the official tourism agency of Formentera) mention the forbidden nature of said mud bath.

In itself a good move, especially seeing how Formentera itself is becoming increasingly a destination for mass tourism.

But it's one thing to forbid, it's another to enforce this.
Certainly at the lagoon itself, other than a rope, there's little to indicate that it should not be done.

End of the trail?

One could also note that many a celebrity get away with taking a mud bath, Paris Hilton being one of the more recent celeb soakers muddying up (source).
Then there are still quite a few web sites which enthusiastically note the use of mud baths.
Natgeo (Oct 2014):
'Strip off on one of its white-sand beaches, wallow in the natural mud baths found in its centre, and pad about the tiny, uninhabited island of Espalmador, separated from Formentera by a sandbank'.
Firstchoice  (a website with a photo which is not of Espalmador):
'For a different sort of bathing – this time involving mud – regular ferries leave La Savina port, a 10-minute drive from Platja de Migjorn, to Espalmador. It’s a private island to the north, with pin-drop quiet beaches, no buildings, and no inhabitants. At its centre, there’s a natural mud bath where you can wallow like a blissed-out hippo. Let the mud dry before washing it off in the ocean. The kids will love it'.
'Sights & Attractions in Espalmador
One of the more popular reasons to visit the Island is the natural mud bath that can be found in the middle. On a wide salt plain you can spend your day wallowing in the cool mud pool, and then wash it off in the sea after! A great way to relax...although there are actually no known health benefits of the mud'.
Just to name a few.

As said official sources are rather inadequate. There is though of course the excellent formenteraguide:
'Some guide books suggest you can walk across the shallow waters that lap between Formentera and Espalmador, but this is extremely irresponsible advice. The name of the area between the two islands is Es Pas, which means the strait, and on a day when the waters are completely still and there is not a breeze in the air, then yes it is technically possible to walk across, but with even the slightest winds then it is a perilous journey.
Mud Baths
One of the delights on Espalmador is mud bathing. Right in the middle of this tranquil island is a natural mud bath that’s easy to find. Head along the far north end of Platja de s’Alga (s’Alga beach) and follow the narrow pathway through the scrubland that backs the beach. Finally you will emerge at a wide salt plain that has liquid mud at its centre. In years with light rainfall the sulphurous mud pond is dry across much of its four hectares.
Although it has no proven therapeutic benefits, on a hot sunny day there’s nothing nicer than wallowing in cooling mud! Let it dry as you walk back to the beach then dive into the clear sea to get clean. A great experience and the kids will love it!
A common sight is naturists emerging clothed in black mud, only to then wash it off in the ocean and appear naked once more. Unfortunately not all people treat the mud baths with respect – they throw mud at one another and the surrounding area. In the summer of 2009 this led to such significant damage that the baths were shut. With Espalmador a private island it is important to remember that access to it is a privilege, and the baths should be bathed in, not played in'.
Wikitravel is less clear:
'Espalmador also has the famous mud baths, however as of July 2010, visitors are greeted by two female guards who stopped everybody and instructed to only look, but not touch or try, because it belongs to a highly protected nature reserve'.
ibizaspotlight note the following:
'It's a dream for ornithologists, but please take note ladies and gents, mud-bathing is not permitted'.
Possibly it's more of a dream for birding in spring / autumn and/or winter, but not in summer when the lagoon simply has insufficient water to sustain any significant bird life.

According to this Dutch publication bathing in mud was forbidden since 2005 when estimates noted that 300 persons a day used the mud. 
The dairiodemallorca (19 Aug. 2012) experiences how the enforcement of these regulations are null and void. In the article it blames the tourism industry and the ineffective policing by local authorities.
The dairio de ibiza (14 Sep. 2014) notes how the owners are compelling authorities to take action beyond the simple rope. They also denounce many a tourist site which promotes the mud bathing. They mention that even though it's not allowed, up to 300 visitors still make use of the mud baths. 
Oddly they also repeat the often used counter-argument that there's no significant wellness benefit that has been scientifically proven. 
That doesn't have to mean that there's none. Speaking for myself, taking a mud bath is in itself a very pleasurable experience.

Blackened and all hanging out to dry ...

And thus we have the quandary: the use of mud pools in themselves are not a bad thing, but the whole scale en mass slopping oneself in mud does. So cut off the source? Is this the price for development? 

Surprisingly tripadvisor is yet to reach here. Odd.
There are a couple of Youtube vdo's of the experience, here is one.

At least if you want to repeat the experience, you now know it's a no-no. Unless you're one of the many not reading this blog ...

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Senza pagare

Reading the many Italian language web references to the Piscines Carletti (or Carletti Pools) near Viterbo, Lazio,  one thing seems to stick out: soaking here is free.

That said, there's precious little added. It's all free, free and free. 

Oh, and there's not much in the sense of management, there's a big car park. And you can get here with a bus.

There are though a couple of more meaningful additions in English. Minor sights:
'Don't be surprised if you see half naked people while driving your car on the nearby SP2 provincial road. These springs are hard to miss as they are right next to a junction. They're open, they're free, and they're a little more rough and ready as it's literally a piece of unguarded countryside. You'll find frugal Italian tourists parked next door in their camper van for a weekend for spa treatments senza pagare'.
This website adds:
'There are two “winter” baths near a water source, where the water is hotter. While the other two baths, used during the summers, are normally colder. That is why, the Carletti Pools are very pleasant during both hot and cold periods. The Carletti pools are famous because of their strategic position and even because they are completely free'
But that's about it.

No need to worry, free is fine with me. 

Staying just up the road, the Piscines Carletti are so easy to reach for me and free after all, so that I visited here a couple of times during my stay.

As stated above, the pools are very convenient to reach, located just along SP 2 road (connecting Viterbo and Tuscania), where there's a turn-off to the more for non-soakers Terme dei Papi. Why people would prefer to pay to lounge in a poorly drained artificial pool when all the groovy people are soaking nearby for absolute nothing beats me (I'm referring to the Papal baths ...)

Though there are some that park along the main road, on the south side of the pools there's a large car park, a bit rough though. 

My first visit was an early morning visit, park spaces enough even though there are a half a dozen campers there. 

You then walk through some rough grass towards the source itself, located about 3m above the rest of the field. 

Along the south and west sides are a few smaller pools and 1 larger one. Soaking water reaches the pools via small rivulets, access regulated via rags which close or open the various rivulets. 

That first morning there were two pools in working order, one very hot, one less hot. With myself we're a dozen soakers without this lower pool being crowded. Missing the language skills, the mostly men are discussing and arguing lively, so it's probably politics again.

On the other occasions, there have been a more varied crowd, young / old, male / female, people who just come to fill up their drinking water bottles, soakers / first time visitors; though hardly any foreign tourists. 
And on the sunny Saturday the citizenry of Viterbo came to use this as a park for sun soaking. 

One of the best ways to soak was in the latter hours of the day with the sun setting. At that time it was quite busy with many soakers still there and many newly arriving. The nearby military heliport was wasting some tax collected aircraft fuel by whirling around with their toys, much like being in a war zone itself.

On the other side of the source, waters carry over an aquaduct which through the times is now a chalk laden bridge. This was an older way to let waters cool. At the end is another larger and cooler pool.

Away from the source, the bridge and the cooler pool in the yonder.

Despite overwhelming evidence that this is a great place to visit even though it might have it's disadvantages, naturally tripadvisor gives the place just 3.5 stars, based on 44 reviews. All but the odd one or two are in Italian. An English comment:
'- There was too many people, certain persons smoked and drank inside the water. Popular, free but lack of respect for places by the users'. 
Many of the respondents commented on the lack of hygiene, lack of management. 
In itself it could be true, but due to it's location social control is high and yes hygiene could be better. But a chlorinated packed pool affords no guarantee of hygiene either. Let's hope a modicum of management will address some hygiene issues (f.i. rubbish collection). More in line with what's happening at the nearby Bullicame, which incidentally is nearly free.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


Lots of eastern photo's in this overview of some current natural soaking relevant pictures. Starting off with the Anatolian highlands of central Turkey:

Doğal termal var dediler çimmeye geldik. :-D #yakupcetincom #Kavak #Seydişehir #Termal #Kaplıca #Şifa

Горячий источник в Херсонской области, называют его еще гейзером. Бурили, искали нефть, не нашли и законсервировали но плохо, в 90-x прорвало и долго бил фонтан с горячей рыжей водой. Но ему нашли применение и сделали лечебный курорт. Находится в полях и вокруг лишь горизонт #mud #resort #geyser #hotspring #bathrooms #Kherson #Ukraine #people
To the north of the Black sea, Kherson geothermal springs and mud center, still in the Ukraine ..., source
Story (above in Russian) refers to thi being an oil drill gone wrong. Instead of an oil well it's a wellness resort

#Romania #tusnad #pool #termal 
The town of Tusnad has a thermal pool, source

======================================= emojiemoji️🅃🄷🄸🅂emoji️🄸🅂emoji️🅂🄻🄾🅅🄰🄺🄸🄰 emojiemoji️ ======================================= emojiemojiemojiemojiemoji️ ᑎᗩTᑌᖇᗩᒪ ᒍᗩᑕᑌᘔᘔI emojiemojiemojiemojiemoji ----------------------------------------------------------- emoji Location: Kaďa, Liptovský Ján, Slovakia emoji emoji Photo by @michaela_instagram emojiemoji ----------------------------------------------------------- Photo selected by emoji@gabriellovas emojiemojiemoji======================================= emoji️Follow @thisisslovakia emojiemojiemoji emoji tag your photos with #ThisIsSlovakia emojiemoji ======================================= #slovakia #slovensko #kada #liptovskyjan #naturaljacuzzi #jacuzzi #termalnypramen #cold #vsco #hightatras #follow #season #igerssk #igerscz #instadaily #skyporn #instagood #ig_europe #ic_wow #all_shots #instamood #instagood #water #slovakgirl #girl #igersnyc #fit #healty #travel #tourist
Heading more south here a two photo's from Italy's Sicily island, while we wrap this posting off with another volcanic hot spot Iceland.

#terme #montevago #sciacca

Would you like to relax with hot sulphureous waters in Sicily? Just ask, we'll bring you there! #palermo #alcamo #segesta #terme #benessere #acquecalde #sicilia #sicily #mare #vacanze #holidays #tours #escursioni #excursions #grouptransportation #groupcharter #efcollegebreak #siciliani #sicilianità #MyMoorings #lovingsicily #sea #sealovers #summer #italy_vacations #gf_italy #global_family
Relaxing #grettislaug #natural #bath #hot #spring #north #west #iceland #easter #holidays #land #of #fire #and #ice
Nauthólsvík, hvað er það? #hotspring #icelandsecret

Euro soaks visited