Sunday, June 28, 2015

Managed

Fear
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.


Bubbly
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.


Distortion
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!'
or
'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 !!!'
or
'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. 

Figs
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 ...

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

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