San Casciano dei Bagni

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San Casciano dei Bagni was a thermal bath already in Roman times and destination for emperors and noblemen. Today, in the municipality of San Casciano dei Bagni – 70 km south of Siena - there is even more: San Casciano dei Bagni has free spas and the Fonteverde natural spa resort, then there is the Castello di Fighine, the welcoming atmosphere of Celle sul Rigo, and then pici, Palazzone wine San Casciano dei Bagni, ciaffagnoni and their recipe... But first things first and let's start with the name: it will be an enjoyable adventure; San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy is one of the most beautiful towns in Italy and TCI orange flag, hence not just a place among many others.

The Romans called it 'Fontis clusinii', the Marquis Ugo of Tuscany in 995 (year in which he donates it to the Abbey of St Salvatore) called it Curtis de Bagno. The thermal baths of San Casciano dei Bagni take their current name in 1081 when the Abbey contends the healing springs with the usual Aldobrandeschi, called 'usual' because in those days everyone used to talk about these two disputants.

The spa are the leitmotif of San Casciano’s history: under the rule of the family Visconti of Campiglia– during the thirteenth century – the spas gained in popularity and, given that the Tuscan village is located along an ancient roman path - namely Via Francigena, one of the busiest roads during the Middle Ages -, it can be easily reached. However, this does not only draw attention to the spas of San Casciano dei Bagni in Tuscany, but it also makes it attractive on a strategic level for controlling the surrounding territory. The Visconti were so caught up in the contest between the domain of Siena (of Ghibelline dominion) and Orvieto (of Guelph dominion), ally of Florence, that they decided to make the town take arms respectively against the first city and then the second. The figure of Monaldo Visconti is crucial in this great collision of weapons: firstly he became chief magistrate of Florence and then – roughly in 1386 – finally decides to take control of Siena. The matter reaches a resolution in 1412, when San Casciano is finally submitted to Siena and all of San Casciano’s rights are abrogated by the Monaldos’ heirs. This marks the beginning of an unlucky period for the spa when, towards the end of the fifteenth century, the Florentine Medici family and their allies begin to consider looting Siena and the surrounding villages: hence San Casciano begins to suffer a series of pillages and becomes a territory marked by armed clashes. A battlefield, as one knows, is not a quiet place wherein to enjoy the hot springs that will return into vogue only in the second half of the sixteenth century, exactly in 1559, when the Medici family permanently take control over Siena and its annexed territories. From that moment onwards the San Casciano dei Bagni spas, for the next 200 years, are destined to become a meeting point for noblemen and dignitaries, prelates and cardinals, wealthy gentlemen and noblewomen. Everyone comes to this Tuscan town wanting to enjoy the healing powers of the hot mineral waters and are doing their best for the town. Among the many happenings we would like to mention:

 

  • in 1607 the Grand Duke Ferdinando the First commissions a porch that would adorn the 'miraculous' Ficoncella spring
  • the Church does its part and, in 1618, the parish church is elevated to Insigne Collegiate
  • In 1769 Pietro Leopoldo of Habsburg Lorena allocates a substantial sum for the upgrading of its road system

 

In the nineteenth century San Casciano and its thermal baths lose the favour of the local community and other destinations become more popular (there are at least two others in Tuscany: which? The hunt is on, look for them right here, on toscanainside.com!). The thermal baths of San Casciano dei Bagni become 'new' again, reinstating their ancient splendour in the late twentieth century and nowadays they are one of the most important cultural and historical centres of Tuscany.

How do you reach San Casciano dei Bagni? The ‘Del Sole’ motorway is generally the answer: if you come from the North take the ‘Chiusi’ exit, whereas if you come from south take the ‘Fabro’ exit. Instead, if you come from Siena - this is the most beautiful route – admire a section of stunning Sienese countryside following the ‘SR2’ road: shortly after Ponte a Rigo you will see a small junction – after less than 13 km you will reach San Casciano. Hooray, here we are!

The San Casciano dei Bagni hot springs are constituted of over 40 springs that release, at an average temperature of nearly 40°, the impressive flow of thermal water with more than 5 million litres of water a day. You can enjoy your thermal experience by starting at the Fonteverde Spa in Tuscany, which is a resort & spa & wellness centre in San Casciano dei Bagni: this is where you find the Ficoncella porch commissioned by the above mentioned Ferdinando: you can access Fonteverde spa both as customers of its exclusive services and visitors of its Suites, or take advantage of the thermal pools and Day Spa services even with just a day pass.

When wondering how to see San Casciano bagni, you should also consider the free spas in San Casciano dei Bagni. From the town centre there is a short walk that takes you to the ‘vasconi’, as they are called here: these are ancient large stone pools filled with thermal water, called ‘Bagno Grande di San Casciano’ and ‘Bagno Bossolo’. It really is a unique experience to immerse yourself in such an environment: surrounded by the green hills, on top of which the town stands visibly.

And now, what do you think of a stroll in the town centre in San Casciano dei Bagni? Let's go. The Turrito Castello that you see immediately when looking at the town, is a 'fake'... yes, I know it is striking and looks very 'ancient', but it was built in 1911. It fits in to the architectural surrounding very well but the ‘surrounding’ was built ages before the castle! Let's start from the square in the south of the town, Piazza Matteotti: lean on the balcony, admire a stunning landscape which is a quintessential Sienese masterpiece, make your way up further and you will see the Porta di Sopra, the two medieval Towers and Palazzo Lombardi in front of you. Once you pass the Porta you will find a circular path, from whence you start and you arrive, you then go up via San Cassiano and reach the S. Leonardo collegiate Church (11th century) with its beautiful bell tower built in 1606. Just beside it, there is the sixteenth-century St Anthony oratory, further on Piazza del Mercato, a beautiful historical square with a travertine well in the middle and, next up, Palazzo Comunale. At this point the path exposes all the ancient thermal greatness of this town: three majestic and evocative  palaces, former residences of noble families and high ecclesiastics: Palazzo Fabbrucci, Palazzo Bulgarini and Palazzo dell'Arcipretura. The walk then leads you to the Oratorio of the Concezione (fifteenth century) and, adjacent to the oratory, the charming Piazza del Pozzo where the travertine stone – a very popular stone in this area - distinguishes itself from the background. Slightly outside the town there is the oldest monument of San Casciano: namely, the Santa Maria della Colonna church, also known as 'ad Balneo', built on the ruins of a pagan temple dedicated, because of the spas, to the goddess of health, Hygeia. The church dates back to the fifth century, although its present form is from the eleventh century. A must-visit.

What about the ancient castle? Et voila, the Castello Fighine of San Casciano dei Bagni. At 4 km from the capital of the region, heading towards Palazzone, a detour to the right shows you the Fighine suburb: walk past the medieval gate and on your right is FIghine Castle. It is short but very impressive: the fortress dates back to at least 1058, was elevated to its current beauty in 1266 and reinforced in the fifteenth century. The exquisite church of San Michele Arcangelo adjoins the castle... on the news since 1191.

Another suburb is Celle sul Rigo, Tuscany, near Siena, lovely small and quiet village, a popular tourist destination... if this weren’t enough, the last weekend in May people arrive from Rome and Florence: a large crowd will gather in Celle sul Rigo for the local Pici fete! Organized by the Philharmonic Society of Celle sul Rigo (1876) to keep alive 'the spirit of community and traditions' of the village: in Celle sul Rigo people are very proud of their 'pici', long pasta made exclusively by hand, with a base of flour, salt and water and garnished with local sauces made from meat and garlic. In Celle sul Rigo everyone would tell you: 'Beware of imitations! '.

Regarding festivities in San Casciano dei Bagni, in June there is the Ciaffagnone local fete, another typical product of southern Siena, an ancient pancake recipe garnished like in the old days with pecorino cheese, or of much more recent tradition, with nutella or sugar. In the first week of August there is the Palio of San Casciano: actually, this idea originates in the recent nineties but the re-enactment is genuine and the historic parade is fascinating. On this occasion the Corsa della Ranocchia also takes place: to know what it is about the best thing... is to go there.

The village of Palazzone, instead, is the guardian of a true and ancient secret: Palazzone red wine, that is, the production of its Chianti wine. Palazzone boasts since centuries a renowned production of Sangiovese which, blended with the local production of Canaiolo and Malvasia, gives life to the DOCG Chianti Palazzone wine. Go to Palazzone to visit wineries, for some tasting, or for a walk through the vineyards. Genuine Tuscany flavours.

A thermal bath, a walk back in time, a forkful of Pici and a sip of Chianti, the sweetness of the hilly landscape... welcome to San Casciano dei Bagni!