Bathing at Dawn

If a local tells you that you must get up at half past five to drive for an hour so you can have a bath, your best course of action is to believe her. Our friend Sabine said we needed to be there at daybreak and repressing our skepticism, we believed her. It was in that trusting state — and indeed, we were too sleepy to object – that we stumbled out under a crescent moon to drive the winding road to Saturnia.

I continued to hold my skepticism in check while changing in to my swimsuit in the muddy parking lot, and I still kept quiet while shuffling over slippery rocks in a pair of yellow flip flops, the steam and the daylight rising around us. We came around a corner, past a windbreak, and under the reeds were two turquoise blue pools, just this side of hot. Because we’d arrived very early, we had both pools — and the low waterfall between them, to ourselves.

Saturnia is mentioned is pre-Estrucan history as a site of volcanic power and ritual bathing. The water heaves out of the ground at a remarkable pace; the bottom of the valley is obscured by rising steam and reeks of sulfur. To get in to the pools, you have to slide carefully down a sort of natural stair, then you can hang on to one of the ropes that’s strung across where the water runs most quickly. You can sit in the waterfall between the pools and let the current massage your back, or float on your back a little lower down, looking up through the reeds at the brightening sky. Somewhere in between those choices is an effervescent little spot that lets you imagine — I am not exaggerating, it’s exactly that sort of bubbling — that you are floating in champagne.

After shivering back in to our clothes in the parking lot, we drove up in to Saturnia, the town, for coffee and croissants. We walked through the very pretty and very quiet stone piazza, then down to the Roman gate where the stone road holds the tracks of horse drawn carriages from over 1000 years ago. Warmed, we continued to Montemerra where we wandered through the picture perfect streets — this is the Tuscan village you dream about, it really is — and had a second round coffee, strong enough to make a heart pound for the rest of the day.

We made one final stop while winding our way home, back in Magliano, where by now, everyone was awake and hanging out the laundry, doing their shopping, and strolling about in the late morning sunshine. I took pictures of the frescoes in the church while our friends stocked up on a few odds and ends, and we headed back to Casa San Francesco. Still smelling of sulfur, I opened the window in my bedroom and took a nap in the noon day sun.

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