A hot spring is a surface pool of water produced by geothermally-heated groundwater that rises from the Earth’s crust. They mostly occur in places with natural geothermal activity from volcanoes, be they active, dormant, or ancient. Some springs contain water that is a safe temperature for bathing. In Sardinia they call these terme. Or thermal baths.
It doesn’t translate directly into the English “hot springs” so when I was researching them before my trip, I wasn’t at all sure what I would find. It didn’t help that many of the springs in Sardinia are referred to as “termale” and “sorgento termale,” and most others were clearly commercial day spas and hotels with day spas.
But it didn’t matter, I was determined to explore the hot springs of Sardinia and Lauren, also a water-loving person, was on board!
Hot spring 1: Vasca termale Bultei
On our first full day in Sardinia, I convinced Lauren to let me drive us 49 minutes into the mountains and country to put on our swimsuits and soak in a hole in the middle of a field. We were both apprehensive – the google maps reviews were limited and confusing – but we were up for the adventure.
Google maps took us to a driveway with a couple of cars parked. It wasn’t clear what to do or where to go, but soon enough a man with a gym bag on his shoulder wandered out of the fields of sheep.
I started talking to him in my broken Italian then quickly learned he spoke excellent English. He was friendly and welcoming and told us the rules of this terme. He also told us of two other open-air hot springs in the area but we only had enough time for one on this day.
Rules of the outdoor hot springs in Bultei
- Wait your turn. Apparently it’s not polite to climb in with strangers (a rule I approve of when in my bathing suit in a field in the middle of nowhere).
- Wear a swimsuit. I don’t know why it’s necessary when you’re using it alone, but we noticed Italians in Sardegna are fairly modest about women showing too much skin.
- Make sure you don’t have to pee. There’s no public restroom anywhere nearby. And there are enough people and cars driving by the road that it’s not easy to pee behind a bush.
- Wait by the rock pile at the road while the people who are there before you take their turn.
- Take a 15-20 minute turn in the spring, then pack up and leave so the next people can use it.
While we were changing into our swimsuits surfer-style by the car, two other cars pulled up. A young guy with a gym bag, and an older couple with a reusable grocery bag. (I guess it was their suits and towels.) They spoke Italian at us quickly and it was clear they were asking if we were arriving or leaving. We let them go ahead of us.
Then we waited for about thirty minutes sitting on rocks and listened to the bells ring from the sheep in the fields.
When it was our turn, to our enormous delight, we discovered a carved stone Roman-style bath or soaking hole with a constant flow of mineral-rich, very hot water. It felt AMAZING!
The base was filled with sand and bubbled as scalding water seeped through. The water was clear and blue, smelled a little sulfuric, and made my skin feel so soft and slippery.
We soaked and listened to the sheep bells, and floated and relaxed. Twenty minutes later we were sad to have to pack up and go, but upon stepping out I immediately felt light headed. It was a good rule, because I’m sure it’s easy to boil yourself a little too long in there!
When we left, a not-so-friendly family with little boys was eagerly waiting, and we slowly walked back through the fields to our car.
During our walk back, Lauren and I chatted about how relaxed and warmed and delightful we felt. We felt drugged, in a good way! Sore muscles from traveling and sleeping on foreign beds were soft and pain-free. Legs were like rubber. And our lungs felt open and clear. AMAZING! We were hooked!
Hot spring 2: The Casteldoria river bed
It was several days later before we had time and were close enough to another terme. Our second adventure was also not very clear – was it a spring? A river? Another Roman-style bath? Or a commercial spa? The information online wasn’t clear, but we went anyways!
When we arrived there was ample free parking (it is, of course, off season for tourists on this island) in multiple parking lots leading to a strange ugly building and a river.
At the bank of the river just below the building (a hotel?) there was a young couple sitting and laying down in the shallows of the river bank. It looked strange but we observed and walked up the river a bit. There were very few people there but it wasn’t an empty space. Two young men were fishing from the bank with strange stick-like lures. Some other tourists (sounded German or Dutch) walked around and dipped their fingers in the water.
Lauren and I took off our shoes and walked in, then we both yelped and ran out quickly! The water was scalding hot in some places. The hot water was apparently under the sand at the river bank, seeping into the river water, which was actually cool. I’ve never seen anything like it.
We weren’t sure if the wait-your-turn rules applied here too, so we waited and walked around. Eventually the couple left and we took over their soaking spot, three rings of stones placed to hold a mix of cooler river water and hot river-bed water.
The water was murky and brown. It felt a little gross at first to sit at the edge of the river like that. But the rest of the river had a lot of seaweed and I didn’t really want to step out into it. When we were feeling cold or cool, all we had to do was dig our feet into the sand at the bank of the river and scalding hot and mineral-rich water seeped out.
Lauren and I lay back into the steaming water and just soaked it up. After a few minutes the familiar hot-springs high kicked in and we were feeling FABULOUS!
Hot spring 3: Fordongianus Terme Naturali libere
And here we found another river bank of scalding hot water, but this time at the base of Roman ruins – a Roman spa!
It looked really interesting! You could pay 4€ to walk around the ruins but we really just wanted the hot springs high.
I dipped my finger in the bath pictured above and it was incredibly hot! I wouldn’t want to leave my finger in there for long, but I wasn’t actually burned in that second.
You could tell the water was channeled into the bath through a process and some clever engineering, and then somehow the water poured into the river facing it.
That’s where there were rings of giant rocks and a handful of people sitting and soaking.
Look behind me and you’ll see the bathers. Here the wait-your-turn rule clearly didn’t apply!
So we walked carefully along the scalding rocks and found ourselves a soaking “pool.” The pools were created from giant river rocks that people piled up to hold the hot water in. Outside the rocks, the river was cold. A welcomed refreshing treat when the hot spring water became overwhelming.
Getting in and out of the pools was difficult and treacherous. The rocks were insanely hot and slippery and you had to balance carefully to get where the water was only really hot instead of painfully hot. I really wish I had water shoes or flip flops or sandals that were waterproof. It would have made things a lot easier.
Surrounded by mountains and trees and leaping fish, Lauren and I soaked there for hours. It was so relaxing and all the sore travel muscles let go again.
This spot also had a camping space with tents all lining the river (downstream about 200 meters). There was also a cafe/bar with a bathroom that they let us use. While we soaked, I plotted my next trip to Sardegna and it definitely involves camping along this river.
Of the three hot springs we found, the first was definitely my favorite. But they were all unique and extraordinary experiences for this traveling Canadian! Next time I come back to Sardegna I’m going to visit ALL of the springs! And I’ll be back, this I’m sure of.