On a warm May day, I embarked on a surprise trip with my boyfriend that has led to an absolute fascination with a cluster of little towns in Southern Tuscany. Rolling hills and views abound at San Casciano dei Bagni. I discovered the country-smart towns while spending the weekend at Fonteverde. A dreamy spot for a couple’s retreat, the spa-hotel is known for its thermal baths with breathtaking views, and the best part is that you never have to change out of your bathrobe. The glamorous hotel is nice, a real treat, but what San Casciano dei Bagni really offers is a complete and total retreat from the rest of the world. Between the thermal baths, unbelievable local food, and the laid-back atmosphere, it is essentially my version of the reset button.
The more you get to know Italy, the more you will understand the importance of certain ritual-like moments of leisure, including the aperitivo, the passeggiata, and August Vacation. Did you know about all of the thermal water in Italy and its history? Never mentioned enough, San Casciano’s hot springs were frequented first by the Etruscans and then the Romans (and even Emperor Augustus), and only this summer archeologists discovered a Roman temple dedicated to Apollo near the Bagno Grande (The Great Bath). The steamy, mineral-rich water is known for its curative properties, including healing the digestive tract, purifying the skin, and relaxing the muscles. My Italian doctor even wrote me a prescription that included two weeks’ worth of thermal water treatment per year. Mandatory visits to the Spa? Yes please! And what’s more, it is partially covered by insurance! Besides the baths at Fonteverde, San Casciano has free baths at Bagno Grande and Bagno Bossolo, and if you want to step it up, you can rent Podere la Piscina, one of the few private houses in Italy with a private thermal spring and bath on the property.
After a few stays at San Casciano bathing and lounging, I was sufficiently pampered and equally intrigued to explore the many other treasures within the vicinity. Now that I consider myself a regular, the perfect weekend in San Casciano starts at Trattoria La Pace in Celle sul Rigo, the next town over, for lunch. The quiet terrace of the family-run restaurant overlooks the nearby town of Radicofani and its medieval tower. It is an endless view that will instantly relax you. Make sure to order the pici, a “poor” pasta made with water and flour, which are unrivaled by any restaurant in the area. The long pieces of pasta are rolled out by hand, and they look like unevenly shaped spaghetti. Some historians believe that pici were eaten by the Etruscans based on a cave painting found in Tarquinia, but generally, pici are considered to be from the province of Siena (of which Celle sul Rigo belongs). Every May Celle sul Rigo hosts the oldest Sagra di Pici, a festival to celebrate the pasta, and although you can now find pici all over Tuscany, the borgo is very proud of its culinary history. At La Pace, pici are served with many kinds of ragù, all’aglione (with tomatoes and sweet Tuscan garlic), or alle briciole (with bread crumbs). The secondi at La Pace are to die for as well, and for the brave there are dishes such as heart, liver, and lungs in sauce. For dessert, the zuppa inglese is a must.
The heart of San Casciano dei Bagni, and what really keeps me coming back, is the piazza. Lined with trees and benches, there is a view that can bring one to tears. It is where the locals hang out in the shade during the day, reading the newspaper and chatting with friends, and in the evening, the benches are decorated with young and old for an aperitivo. It is easy to lose yourself in the vast, rolling landscape. There, time stops, and in that, you discover the indescribable allure that is San Casciano dei Bagni. While life is usually busy and chaotic, the organic hills and the waning sun make one feel whole and recharged. The piazza’s Café Centrale has the perfect slice of crostata for breakfast, along with village-watching chairs facing the piazza. On Saturday evenings, the Café Centrale has music with a chic, yet perfectly country, atmosphere. I know I can’t possibly do this tiny, charming piazza justice with words alone, but I can tell you that I fell in love with my boyfriend there, and I keep falling in love with him over and over every time we go. Actor Alessandro Gassman even got married on the piazza. You have to trust me, there is something in the air.
After having a love affair with the piazza, head to dinner in nearby Celle sul Rigo at il Poggio, an agriturismo and b&b where the views might blow you away even more so than those at the piazza. Like everything in the area, the humble, organic farm is family-run. They raise Cinta senese, a breed of pig from Siena that was threatened with extinction and now has been awarded DOP status. It is difficult to find and considered to be one of the best-tasting pork in the world. At Il Poggio, try the crostini Toscani (toasted bread with liver), don’t miss the primi, and during the winter you must try ribolitta, a twice-boiled soup with bread, typical to the region.
I haven’t even told you about nearby Cetona yet, or Ristaranti da Nilo, where you should lunch after hiking Monte Cetona. There’s also the Castello di Fighine, a b&b that is on the top of a small mountain, with a Michelin starred restaurant with Hienz Beck at the helm. For wine, there is Podernuovo in Palazzone. And of course, there’s truffle hunting and cooking classes, and horseback riding and bike excursions. And this is really the best part of San Casciano dei Bagni; there is always more to do or discover, but you can also have the perfect weekend just enjoying the baths, the pici, and a drink on the piazza.