Sensing, Exploring and Relaxing (SER) is our tried and tested, three-part approach for spending 3 perfect days off the beaten strada in central Italy. It’s an easy approach that begins with choosing a less-touristy Italian village as your base, and in today’s post I’ve decided to use Saturnia as an example. Why? Because it’s an oh-so-charming, medieval Tuscan village, that’s why! And it’s an ideal fit for the SER approach.
Saturnia is located in southern Tuscany, and many people have heard of the thermal springs and cascata (waterfall) that are just outside of town. But soaking in mineral-rich, hot water is just the beginning of what Saturnia has to offer. Both the town itself and the surrounding area are layered in history and steeped in charm, so this quiet, well-preserved medieval village is a perfect home base for those of us who love to experience Italy up close and personal.
Here’s how we’d suggest using the sensing, exploring and relaxing approach when visiting Saturnia.
Day 1 – Sensing: Whenever we visit a place (whether we’ve been there before or not) we like to spend the first day getting a sense of our surroundings – actually using our senses to get acquainted with the sights, the sounds and (particularly in Italy) the unique tastes of a place.
In Saturnia, it’s fun to imagine what it might have looked like thousands of years ago, when Romans occupied the spot. There are a few landmarks that attest to the Roman presence, including ancient remains of city walls and a fabulously intact Roman gateway. You can wander (as we like to) through the Porta Romana and along a hiking trail that runs outside the town’s walls. It’s typically a quiet trail with lovely, picturesque views of the countryside below and the town above.
Saturnia’s cobbled lanes and inviting main piazza are ideal spots for taking in the sights and the sounds of simple, rural Italian life. You can tune your ear to the Italian spoken around you – even if you can’t understand the words. Children playing soccer in the park, women peeking out of open, upper windows, groups of men playing cards – all of them chatting, laughing, shouting – in the musical, bella lingua.
And the food! There are plenty of family-run places to sample Saturnia’s local specialties, such as cinghiale (wild boar), porcini mushrooms and hand-made pastas with any variety of sauces. Our favorite restaurant is Il Melangolo, located just off the main piazza in the historic center of town. The owners are friendly and the specialties are … well … oh-so-special!
Day 2 – Exploring: After getting to know the sights, sounds, tastes – and the feel – of Saturnia, it’s time head out of town. We love to spend day two exploring the nearby countryside – and believe me, there’s plenty to explore!
The entire area is rich in Etruscan history, with some nearby tombs (just north of town) dating to the 9th century BC. If you’re as intrigued as we are with all-things Etruscan (and if you enjoy some healthy hiking), you might follow road signs to Pitigliano, Sorano or Sovana and walk along the ancient vie cave. These numerous cave roads were carved into the tufo hillsides nearly 3,000 years ago. They’re mysterious, beautiful and offer an ideal setting for a picnic in the Italian countryside.
The nearby villages are fabulous for exploring, as well. Each one has its own personality and unique characteristics and getting there is half the fun. The countryside with its bucolic pastures and grazing sheep is like something you’d see on a postcard. Plus, it’s always a good idea to leave room for the unexpected on exploration day.
Day 3 – Relaxing: Let’s face it. All that exploring can make you really tired, and in the past we made the mistake of scheduing back-to-back exploration days. We learned from our mistakes, and that’s why day 3 of the SER approach is all about relaxing. And Saturnia is one of the best places to do exactly that.
The truth is, if you’re stressed and exhausted you can’t really enjoy a vacation, can you? Relaxing – at least our version of it – doesn’t mean doing nothing. (Perish the thought!) It means enjoying the best of what an area has to offer in a low-key setting with a calm mind, and in the case of Saturnia that’s a no brainer.
In addition to the luxurious spa, Terme di Saturnia Spa and Golf Course, built over mineral-rich thermal springs, the Cascate del Mulino (waterfall of the mill) is a must-see. Or I should say, a must-soak. The waterfall is located just south of town, and is made up of numerous natural pools – perfect little “pockets” in which to sit, soak and enjoy the calming, 37°C (98.6°F) waters – and the view.
Round off your relaxing day with a stroll through a local park, curl up with a book on the terrace or take a dip in the swimming pool. Mmmmmm. I’m relaxed just thinking about it, aren’t you?
Sensing, Exploring, Relaxing – the ideal approach for experiencing Saturnia, or any of the other hundreds of medieval villages you’ll find in less-traveled areas of central Italy. That’s the way we prefer it … off the beaten strada.
Pamela Haack is an Italy travel consultant and author who specializes in creating personalized experiences for adventurous couples and small groups, helping them to better explore Italy – off the beaten strada.
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