In southern Tuscany one hill dominates, namely Monte Amiata, an extinct volcano. Italy sits on a series of fault lines and that is why the country has active volcanoes like Etna and Stromboli as well as occasional earthquakes. The other thing that all this geological activity provides are thermal springs and they are very popular with Italians for their alleged health-giving properties. Whenever you see a town with Terme at the end of the name you know that it has hot springs and that these will be a source of income for the local economy.
This part of Tuscany, known as the Val d’Orcia, is breathtakingly beautiful, so much so that the whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is dotted with delightful towns with houses built from the local honey coloured stone. What makes Bagno Vignoni unique is that it brings together this bucolic idyll with the magic of the hot springs in a town square that is dominated by a vast pool – 49 by 29 metres – fed directly by the springs at around 40 degrees. People have been bathing in the waters here certainly since Roman times and probably earlier. In the 14th century Saint Catherine of Siena came here and later Lorenzo the Magnificent of the Medici of Florence visited.
The central pool dates from the 16th century and the delightful loggia and chapel of Saint Catherine are from the middle of the 17th. The temperature of the water does not vary so if you visit when the air is cool the mist rising from the water combining with the beautiful old buildings creates an almost mystical ambience. Bathing is not permitted in the central pool but you can either enjoy one of the hotel pools or make use of the free one just outside the village.