FOLLOW WILLY COSMO AS HE EXPLORES THE HEALING WATERS OF THE WORLD
JOE: This place was pretty awesome. Negombo Thermal Gardens has 14 different thermal pools all at different temperatures and with different scenic settings to enjoy. It goes up the cliff sides a few hundred feet and provides some pretty lovely views. The beach alcove is also connected to the grounds so you can go and take a dip in the mediterranean between soaks and lounging in the sun. Located on the north side of the island of Ischia (a delightful island by the way), this is a place I would strongly encourage you spend a solid afternoon at if you ever take a trip to this little island getaway. A little note on getting to the island, we drove into Napoli (Naples) to take the ferry there and let me tell you, I have driven through New York and in Mexico, and through a fair number of high traffic and heavily populated areas, but driving through Naples was absolutely crazy. Rachel's butt cheeks were clinched so tight for that part of the ride that I thought the seat might come out of the car with her after we finally arrived at the ferry docks on the island. It's almost like a free for all, yes, there were a few traffic signs and stop lights here and there but it was mostly people crossing several lanes of traffic wherever they pleased and bikes, and mopeds, and motorcycles, and trucks, and cars, and madness just spinning around in a way that I am amazed we made it through. I might be exaggerating a little bit but, really, only a tiny bit. It was nuts. And that reminds me, we were staying on the south side of the island of Ischia in Sant' Angelo and took the bus up to Negombo. That was also insane. Besides the fact that it was 100 plus degrees Fahrenheit, there were three times as many people as there should have been on that bus. Sure, you may have already travelled to parts of the world where this is a semi regular occurrence but for me, it was my first time, and for Rach who was nauseous with early pregnancy and thought she might puke, I thought we were in for one of those scenes from a movie like Stand By Me where it starts a domino effect and everyone is barfing everywhere. Did I just go too far off course with the intro to this review? Maybe. Well, I'll get back to Negombo...
So, the bus ride was a hot n' sweaty mess to say the least. Thankfully it was only 20 minutes or so, it was a long 20 minutes but totally worth it to get to our thermal garden oasis of a destination. While it was a really hot day, the truth of the matter (for me at least) is that I still enjoy soaking in hot springs, even on a hot day. Negombo had several of its pools that were quite cool which was great. Originally when we planned to visit here, we be both were going to do a massage. After observing the prices and really considering what this place had to offer, and given that Rach was feeling pretty crapy, I decided to forgo my massage and just have her get a really nice extended treatment. That plan fell through though for her as far as a "nice treatment" goes because when she was checking in, she let them know she was pregnant (incita) and they then didn't want to give her a massage at all! After she looked through the options though they said they could give her a scalp massage and do that hot oil deal where they pour it onto your third eye and rub your temples and all that good stuff. She asked if she could do that and they said yes. Apparently something was lost in translation though and what she actually got done was having a rather large and hairy man rubbing his sweaty hands and arms all over her face with oil and basically doing everything she could not to gag the whole time. Mind you, after I said she could just have a treatment instead of the both of us, I kissed her and headed out to grab my book and explore, knowing I'd have about an hour and forty five minutes to hang out before she got done. I had no idea this is what took place while I was gone. So, imagine my surprise when I went back down to find her and she came out looking so distraught. That was not the look I was imagining seeing from her after what I thought was going to be her getting super pampered. She then relayed the story to me (and I contained as much of the laughter as I could in the moment) and felt bad that this was what had happened to her. I did what I could to help her shake that off and we went and got some lunch. They have a cafeteria/buffet style area that overlooks the beach where you can pick and choose your main course and sides, or you can order off of a menu as well. We chose the buffet style option and the food was decent. Nothing to write home about. Then it was back to soaking and lounging and exploring the grounds.
In all, this is another one of those amazing places we strongly recommend you check out. I do want to mention - as I mentioned in the post about Aphrodite on the other side of the island - that Ischia is largely an Italian vacation destination. Only once while we were on this island did we come across english speaking people and it was in one of the pools here actually, It was a dad and his kid. When I heard words that weren't Italian, I could hardly believe my ears. With that said, all the people (staff and guests of the resort included) were pleasant enough and other than the language barrier, we found the place most enjoyable. I'd like to go back one day and visit again. We didn't make it over to Capri but that is also on the list of places to check out for sure. Negombo Thermal Gardens is inspiring to us and we will definitely incorporate some of it's aspects into Cosmo Springs.
Negombo Giardini Termali
Baia di S. Montano, 80076 Lacco Ameno, Isola d'Ischia, Italy
~*~*~Update: Aphrodite Thermal Gardens is permanently closed as of now 7/2016~*~*~
JOE: This place. This island. These waters. The volcano sauna. The Thermal heat was everywhere! It was a lot to take in, let me tell you! We arrived on Ischia by ferry boat and traveled to Sant'Angelo where we were staying at the hotel Casa Del Sole which was one of the more modestly priced hotels in that area and it was nice, nothing too extravagant and it had a great view from our balcony.
I think this entry needs to be as much about Sant'Angelo, Ischia as it is about Aphrodite Thermal Gardens & Hotel Miramare. I say that because the entire island - and specifically this part we stayed in - is just ripe with geothermal energy. The beach and ocean were even thermally heated! There is a local culinary style that is pretty unique to the area in which they catch a fish, wrap it in some leaves (or in modern days often it is some aluminum foil) and you bury it in the hot sand on the beach and go swim and relax for an hour or so and when you come back and dig up your fish, it is cooked and ready to enjoy! We didn't try that on this trip mainly due to the fact that Rach was not feeling super great with her early pregnancy conditions and she wasn't really prepared to be that adventurous while we were there, respect. The whole area was really amazing, though. We decided to check out Aphrodite Thermal Garden's mainly because it was close to our hotel and we figured it looked like a sweet place to soak it up. There are numerous spas and thermal soaking resorts in the area and I imagine if we had stayed for more than the two days in the area we would have gone to a good deal more. Alas, we just checked out this spot and it was absolutely great.
As mentioned above, this place seemed like a great choice to check out both for proximity to where we were staying, and because it was reasonably priced and boasted having 12 different thermal pools which is pretty sweet. Rachel mostly relaxed and took intermittent soaks in the main big pool and then read and soaked up some sun rays. I adventured all around the grounds and took a dip in each of the 12 pools just to see what they were all about. I also ventured down this super steep stairwell following this sign to a sauna that I just had to check out. I am glad I did because it was unlike any other sauna or steam room experience I have ever had in my life. The "sauna" is a section of the cliff side that has been carved out into this cavernous larger room with three smaller 1-2 person caves with a heavy wool cloth covering the entrance. I was the only person down there and there wasn't anybody to ask questions about it so I just went in and checked it out. I first sat in the main area and embraced the intense heat that was coming straight from the thermal mass of earth that was just behind the cave. That was pretty cool, then my curiosity lead me to explore the small curtained rooms. That's where my mind (and body) was officially blown. You see, these little cave-rooms must be mere feet from liquid magma flowing through the earth because the intensity of the heat in them was incredible. Not only that but as I really gained presence in the space, taking very mindful deep breaths in and out, I noticed the pulsing almost heart beat like rhythm of the earth itself. It felt like both a heart beating or breathing (or both?). It was simply incredible. Thankfully they had put a nice cold plunge pool not far from the entrance so I did my customary rounds of hot to cold hydrotherapy action a number of times before heading back up to Rach. It was so cool, er, hot I mean ;) After I met back up with Rach we headed down to the ocean and took a dip in the amazing blue waters of the Mediterranean and then went back to our hotel to clean ourselves up for dinner. It was a really sweet place and I'm glad we had checked it out.
This place is kinda like a dream, except it is real. Oh, I also wanted to mention that we went in mid-late July and that we were the only American (or english speaking) folks in the entire area. I'm not kidding, either. We didn't run into another english speaking person until we were on the other side of the island for what was to become our second thermal springs adventure on the island. This island is where the Italian people go to vacation. It's just good to be mindful of that. Everyone was very gracious and kind with us, even being the only non Italian speaking Americans around. Most tourists from the US and Europe vacation on the island of Capri which isn't too far from this island.
One of my favorite "recreational activities" when traveling basically anywhere is to wake up just before sunrise and go and venture out into these new and foreign terrains and see what is to be seen when few other human beings are around to disturb the natural order of things. This was an exceptional experience in that regard. I saw and heard many birds as they awoke and sang their songs, I swam in the ocean finding pockets of heated water and sat in the sand in the thermally heated spots as well. It was a really great walk and swim and for anyone out there who might be interested, I highly encourage you do this very same thing. And not only if you were to find yourself at this particular place in the world, waking up before sunrise and taking a walk at dawn is one of the most therapeutic and serene free activities you can do in your home town or anywhere you find yourself in the world.
This was a fun place to hike down to and spend an afternoon at. Spiaggia Cavagrado is a pretty fantastic little beach! We actually took a huge swim out to these giant rocks that were out above the water line and soaked up some sun before swimming back. Rachel was feeling good enough to do this which was really great. I wouldn't recommend you do this unless you are a confident and experienced swimmer and with that said, if you are, then by all means do this because it was absolutely awesome.
In all, there is a ton of wonderful places to explore in the Sant' Angelo area of Ischia and many, many thermal spas and soaking places to check out. I very much would love to go back and visit again when Rach is feeling better, it was a really special place.
JOE: This place was really special. We nearly didn't find it but thankfully, we finally did! My phone which was our primary navigation tool for the trip was running out of batteries and Rachel's phone had disappeared minutes after we landed in Italy (story for another time?) so we were trying to be old fashioned about getting there using some directions we wrote down and some local help. That made it extra challenging as well because we didn't know where we were going to be sleeping that night and we don't speak or understand Italian very well at all. All these factors put together made for a little challenging - and a fair bit stress-inducing - trip to these magnificent waters. It was all worth it though. We had travelled to the Tarot Garden (Il Giardino dei Tarocchi) earlier that day (a trip you absolutely must make if you are anywhere even close to that place!) and we were intending to head back up to the lovely Agritourismo that we were staying at in Todi. As you may have gathered from previous posts, our ambitions sometimes get the better of us. By the time we got to Saturnia and knowing my phone was just about out of juice - and with maybe an hour of sunlight left - we made the snap decision to find a place to stay as close to springs as possible. Luckily we found a room available at the Grand Budapest Hotel which was a short drive from the Thermal Springs. I say the Grand Budapest Hotel because it felt like that to Rachel and I after a long day of travel but the place is actually called the Saturnia Tuscany Hotel. The place seemed out of a movie and that was appropriate because the day had been something out of a movie for the two of us.
I feel compelled to go briefly back to the Tarot Garden experience for just a minute here. It needs to happen. This place was on a grand scale of madness and magic that sets it apart from basically anywhere else I've ever been to. Dreamed up by the esoteric visionary artist Niki de Saint Phalle, incredibly, she actually lived inside "The Empress" for several months during the construction of the gardens which is a huge sphinx like sculpture on the outside and the interior is completely covered in mirrors (there's a picture of Rach inside there below). It is based on the 22 major arcana cards of the Tarot and comprises of 22 huge sculptures/structures that you can explore now that the place is open to the public (it has been since 1998). It's in Tuscany and if you are ever visiting Rome it isn't more than an hours drive or so from there. It's totally worth a couple hour visit.
Well, getting back to our soak at Saturnia. We had been staying at an Agritourismo that was an hour and a half drive from Saturnia so we thought we could make it back there after visiting the Tarot Garden and Saturnia but the circumstances of our day just didn't quite come together to help make that happen. My phone was almost out of batteries and we didn't have a working car charger and without a map to get us back (and the fact that it would be dark before we got back), we had to make the decision to stay at the Grand Budapest Hotel and go soak at Saturnia in the morning. And so that is exactly what we did. We got to the hotel and thankfully they had a room available, we went down to the restaurant and ate outside and watched the sunset, and then headed up to our room and read for a bit and went to sleep reasonably early so that we could get out first thing to go get our soak on. With a fully recharged phone/navigational tool, we headed out and found our way to the parking area - which is not well marked - and hiked down to these majestic waters on the edge of the thermal creek. The area (and a lot of Italy actually) has tons of thermal waters and had we more time (and if Rach was feeling better) we would have visited even more of them. It turns out that traveling in your first month of pregnancy in pretty much steady 100 degree heat can be a pretty rough experience. Rachel was a trooper I must admit and was a good sport in still adventuring with me a great deal throughout our trip. When she wasn't up for it, I made sure she had everything she needed and I would go off exploring by myself which was really awesome.
What a neat natural wonder. The water was pleasantly warm and had a mild sulphuric scent to it. It felt so good to soak there. It has been a time honored traditional for hundreds and even thousands of years for people to come to this place and receive the healing goodness these waters provide. It seems to be something of a tourist destination but I gathered it is mostly the local folk who come routinely to soak in these waters. There is a fancy resort just up the road with tennis courts, a golf course, and spa and all that business but this place is free and open to the public to come and enjoy. I could see it getting pretty crowded during the height of the day here and would recommend going as we did shortly after sunrise.
Terme di Saturnia or Saturnia Thermal Springs if you will, is a place we definitely recommend you check out. And on that note - while it might not be something everyone is up for - I also recommend renting a car for at least a couple days if you are traveling through Italy. There is so much to see and while I have travelled by car and taken many "great american road trips" through nearly every state on the continent, Italy and Tuscany and the surrounding areas of it are breathtaking. After our soak here we road through more of Tuscany and it was so beautiful. We spent one more night in the area (this time we stayed in Volterra with some family friends), we made our way to ol' Napoli (Naples) to leave our car for a few days and take a ferry boat to the island of Ischia (near the island of Capri) where we went to two more thermal hot springs adventures. Willy Cosmo - still in utero - sure got to experience a lot of amazing waters before he came out to join us in the world!
Terme di Saturnia, 58014 Saturnia, Manciano GR, Italy
JOE: Well, this place is about as far out as it gets. It felt like we were on one of Jupiters moons or something. A mostly barren, volcanic rocky landscape and then these giant, glorious turquoise blue waters surround the alien surroundings. Welcome to the Blue Lagoon, folks! Not only that but you check in and are given this wristband that becomes your locker key and your credit/money as you scan that at the cafe or bar area our in the water. Like I said, this place is a trip. Deemed one of the 25 wonders of the world, I can understand why it has been given this title. It is really quite an awesome place to visit. It's a bit pricey (50 Euros for basic entry) but well worth checking out just for the sheer uniqueness of the experience. There are a lot of cool areas to check out at this place, the geothermal water is heated at a few different areas in the giant pool so you can get different varying degrees of heated water depending where you are in the water. There are also a couple spots where you can take some of the natural forming silica mud that is this goopy white sludge that you can make into a mud mask that dries and cakes off like chalk. Definitely give that a shot when you're there. There are some saunas and a couple sun decks both inside and out and this neat little cave area that you can swim into that has a video and audio giving some of the history of the geothermal waters and Iceland as well.
We actually traveled to the Blue Lagoon twice on our trip as we had scheduled an overnight stay at the front and back side of our European honeymoon, we even went fancy and stayed at the Northern Light Inn which was right down the road from the Blue Lagoon on the tail end of our trip. It was a nice enough hotel but to be honest, it was WAY out of our normal price range and I think in the future we'd stay at a more affordable lodging. With that noted, it was nice enough and they have a nice restaurant in the Hotel called Max's that serves traditional local Icelandic fare and it was quite tasty (though also on the pricey side). The last morning we were on the island, before we were to head out to the airport for our flight back to the good ol' US of A, I took one of my early morning strolls and that was awesome. I spotted one of the coolest flowers I've ever seen in my life, made a rock structure on the edge of the lagoon waters, and didn't pass another person in the hour and a half I was out walking.
This is an amazing place to go and check out and as has been said above, if you find yourself so lucky as to be on the amazing and far out island of Iceland, you may want to go and see this place and experience it's waters for yourself. Though I do wish to conclude with the fact that upon further investigation as to what the island has to offer in the form of good soaking destinations, you can get way more bang for your buck at numerous other places both nearby and strewn throughout the entire island. So, that is something to consider. Now that we've been there, if and when we go back, we'll go to other places instead for sure.
JOE: I'll start with some sound advice. Don't plan a trip to Iceland and schedule a 9 hour horseback riding adventure that begins the hour after you arrive from your international flight and day and nights long journey to get there. This is an in hindsight bit of advice of course as we did just that. Our trip to Iceland - which was to be the start of our 30 day European honeymoon adventure - started early in the morning with Rachel and I taking a 15 minute Uber ride from our house to a Bolt Bus in downtown Portland, riding the Bolt Bus for 3 and a half hours to Seattle, hopping on the light rail for a 45 minute ride to SEA-TAC airport, and then a 7 hour flight to Reykjavik, from there it was a 20 minute bus ride to the bus station where the tour buses leave from, oh, and we missed our bus by 5 minutes, managed to get on a different tour bus thankfully a short while later that was going to drive by our destination, and then we got to where we were to start our 9 hour horse back adventure. Oh, did I mention roughly two weeks before this we found out Rachel was pregnant? She had felt fine and had no symptoms of morning sickness or anything like that before leaving on our trip, though that all changed basically the moment we got on those horses. We might be ambitious (crazy?) to a fault sometimes in our plans for adventures and the lengths we'll go to experience a new hot springs though this to date takes the cake by far. We did it though. Rachel did it. We made this the beginning of our honeymoon and it was one helluva a way to start things off.
Iceland is like one big volcanic mass of energy. It rests on the fault line of two continents (the North American & Eurasian) which is pretty incredible to ponder. It's the primary reason this island is so volcanic in its nature. The countries utilization of geothermal energy is quite impressive and while I have learned some of its history, I look forward to learning even more about their relationship to this natural energy source. Soaking in these geothermal waters is a part of the culture throughout the entire island as well and that is another aspect of Iceland and its people that make me feel like the folks living there are all my sisters and brothers from another mother, if you know what I mean. This was also the first foreign country other than Mexico or Canada that I had ever been to and I have to say, it was a pretty epic introduction and way to begin my worldly travels. 4 hours trotting through the mountains and valleys of Iceland was pretty surreal. Having our half way point in the trip be a simple lunch and a nice soak in this hot springs river was absolutely wonderful. I think it nearly saved Rachel's life as well, what a way to rejuvenate after such a long day and night of traveling by planes, trains, and automobiles, and then of course horses only to rest for a spell in some healing waters. We did then have to do the 4 hours horseback ride back from this incredible destination which I know was a doozy for my darling.
In all, this was an incredible adventure that was well worth doing. I highly recommend it and while it was a bit rough for Rach due to early pregnancy, I know she was amazed by this place as well. And speaking of early pregnancy, this was officially Willy Cosmo's first hot springs (in the womb, of course)! That's pretty cool to think about. What a way to start your life's journey, pre-birth that is. And on a health and safety note, soaking in hot tubs (or hot springs) while pregnant is a decision that should be made by each individual woman and should take in their particular health and circumstances. It is not recommended to soak in waters above 104 degrees Fahrenheit for any extended period of time and it is advisable to ask your healthcare provider what they would recommend given whatever your conditions may be. These waters weren't too hot and in all the places we visited after this, Rachel was careful not to soak in anything that could have been dangerous for her pregnancy.
In all, this was a day trip I'd recommend everyone who has the good fortune to visit Iceland take. It's kid friendly and it is considered an easy level of adventure for most all. The world renowned Icelandic Horses were great (though Rachel had a rougher ride due to her tender body in early pregnancy), they have an easy gait and shorter trot than most horses of the world. Once I got a feel for it, it was quite a pleasant ride. After we got done with this most ambitious kick-off to our trip, we headed to Reykjavik to an AirBnB we were staying at for the night, checked in, headed out to grab some dinner and took a light stroll to see some of the sights and then promptly went to bed for a solid 12 plus hours. The next day was another hot springs adventure and this time to one of the 25 wonders of the world, The Blue Lagoon! We actually spent the afternoon there (you can read about that by clicking here) and went straight to the airport afterwards to fly off to Milan for the next set of honeymoon adventures which included a few more hot springs along the way!
There are a couple of ways to get to this hot springs though the horseback tour is definitely a good way to go. The tour will pick you up from most places around the area at no additional cost and then you are on your way to a pretty darn special experience.
Negombo Thermal Gardens
Aphrodite Thermal Gardens
Saturnia Thermal Springs
Bonneville Hot Springs
Reykjadalur Hot Springs ~ Iceland
Blue Lagoon ~ Iceland
Breitenbush Hot Springs
Water of the Gods ~ Norris Hot Springs
Symes Hot Springs Hotel & Mineral Baths
Mundo Hot Springs
Crystal Hot Springs