Bagni Vecchi — Bormio’s Old Baths

Bagni Vecchi means old baths.  Yes, I speak Italian now.  Fluently.  And Latin, too.

Bormio means hot springs.  In Latin.  Or at least that’s what somebody told me.  And I believe anything I hear.

Bormio has three different hot springs.  Bagni Vecchi is the old Roman baths which have been in operation for more than 2000 years.  Bagni Nuovi is the new baths.  I’m not sure what new means, but I bet they are old by American standards.  Bormio Therme is the newest bath facility.

I’ve been to Bormio 6-8 times since 1991.  The first time I ever heard of hot springs here was last year, but I was too tired from doing both sides of Stelvio in one day so I stayed in bed the next day and missed the hot springs.  This year, I made no such mistake and am happily able to report on my experience to you.

We drove up the hill towards the Stelvio, through the first tiny tunnel, and down a twisty little road to see the historical old baths.  The baths have been improved year after year, decade after decade, and century after century.  Currently they look like this.

Yeah, yeah, it basically looks like a fancy hotel (it is) with an outdoor pool and a terrific view.  What’s so special about that?

So, take a look at this…

This is the old Roman baths.  It is inside a building hidden behind the church.  It has been in operation for centuries.  The photo shows our group from Alta Quota Adventures enjoying the hot water.

There are two rooms currently open and a few more that are closed.  These baths have been in operation for centuries.  When the Stelvio was kept open year round to support commerce between Austria and Italy, armies of men worked shoveling snow every day and warmed up here at night.  Now the Stelvio is a tourist road and only open during the summer.  So, in the winter, tired skiers take the place of snow shovelers.  In the summer, cyclists can relax their tired legs here.

The baths were not fully commercialized until 1912 when the hotel was built, but in the 1500s the baths were closed to locals in June, July, and August by locale statute “for the peace and quiet of our visitors.”  Talk about a town that appreciates tourism.  Bormio is indeed one of Italy’s most famous hot springs.

So, Bagni Vecchi isn’t just one little soaking room.  There are a network of rooms and attractions.  As you go up the hill, the water gets warmer and there is more and more entertainment.

Just up from the Roman baths is the modern pool.  Here is another view of it.  You can see the hotel and the hillside (the start of Passo Stelvio) behind.

Very nice swimming pool and an incredible view.  Here’s a view of the Bormio valley below.  The church high on the hill to the right is Oga.  Way to the left is the road to the Gavia and the Forni glacier.  Straight ahead is the gentle descent to Tirano and Passo Mortirolo.

So what do 10 tired cyclists do in a few hundred gallons of hot water on a rugged mountainside?  Here is Marta soaking her head.  Water is distributed by a bamboo tube so multiple people can each enjoy getting a hot head.

Yes, that’s Ajax in the background.  Who do you think is cuter?  Marta or Ajax?  and who speaks better Italian?  Not Ajax!  🙂

Our whole crew enjoyed the pool, even ultra-endurance Craig who climbed Passo Gavia this morning before soaking in the hot water.  What, no repeats?  Wimp!

OK, so we got one hot swimming pool.  Is that it?

There are many more hot water attractions here.  Enough to make grown adults behave like giggly little kids.  It’s a bit like Disneyland for hot water lovers.  We head inside one of the buildings and find there are…

  • bunches of dry sauna rooms — I don’t know how many
  • some sleeping rooms
  • some resting pod dry sauna rooms
  • a cold tank (basically a huge wine barrel that looks much like a hot tub except the water is COOOLLLLLDDD!!!
  • a cold spray room which is really fun… you walk by this freezing mist… then pull a rope and it dumps a barrel of freezing water on you… and you scream and laugh… there are lines of people waiting for this experience… it sounds crazy but you can’t imagine how fun this is… I did it OVER and OVER again
  • several wet sauna rooms — these rooms are HOT and full of steam… golly, I can barely stand being in them for a few seconds
  • a mud bath… you dip in muddy water and paint your face with this slippery mud

Any why no pictures?  Too much fun!

And the most primo attraction of all was the grotto.  The grotto is a cave that has been around since Roman days… or maybe before.  It is a long Y that takes a while to walk.  One branch leads to a chest-deep pool of hot water.  The other goes to a small ampitheatre with… you guessed it… hot water!

A few posts ago, I posited that J. R. R. Tolkien may have been inspired to write Lord of the Rings by some of the local names, history, and two towers guarding an old pass.  This grotto makes me think he may have visited Bormio when he was writing the Hobbit and the chapter about meeting Gollum.  The grotto is an incredibly cool sight.

So, now that I have pumped this story up, you ask why no pictures?  Low light, I can deal with.  Crank up the flash and reflect it off the (dark, nearly black) walls.  But the humidity!  Lenses fog and you can’t see through the viewfinder much less focus.  Clean your lenses and the viewfinder fogs.  Clean the viewfinder and the camera internals fog.  Yes, my D3 is quite fine after carrying it through neck-deep water and foggy tunnels, thankfully.

Please take my word for it.  Bagni Vecchi was an incredible experience.

And if you don’t like dark caves full of steam and hot water, you can always get a massage from the hotel/spa staff and you can buy all sorts of herbal rubs and lotions.  They are supposed to make your skin look decades younger and they sure smell good.  The ladies dig that!

So, if you find yourself in Bormio, please take my recommendation and enjoy an afternoon at Bagni Vecchi.  We spent 3 hours here and I easily could have spent more time checking it out and enjoying the water.  Apparently I missed a really cool attraction… a bubbling waterfall of hot water.  I’ll be back next time.  Please enjoy these hot springs for me!

About bikealps

avid cyclist and photographer
This entry was posted in bicycle touring, Dolomites, Italy, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

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