Rapolano Terme lies in the heart of the Sienese territory, only a few miles from the city of the Palio. The land wears a hard exterior, with towns scattered among the rough, clayey Crete Senesi; but a warm heart beats beneath, as thermal waters bubble up from the subsoil, bursting with beneficial properties. It seems that even Giuseppe Garibaldi succoured his wounds in these amazing springs, as he bathed in the travertine pools which survive to this day. Among the hot pools, hydromassages and mud baths, you will find a vacation that balances leisure with discovery of an area that is talismanic of Tuscany. The two spas, L'Antica Querciolaia and the Terme di San Giovanni, are places of peace with backgrounds that take some beating.
From the little town of Rapolano you can enjoy a stunning view of the Tuscan countryside. If you enter by Porta Nuova and go through piazza Matteotti you will come to the oldest part of the town, the castle ruins, with the adjacent church of San Bartolomeo (where an enormous Nativity scene is set up every Christmas), and then Palazzo Cacciaconti and Palazzo Pretorio, which today is the town hall.
The two famous spas lie not far from the centre. These are the historic Antica Querciolaia baths, which boasts the travertine pool where Giuseppe Garibaldi restored himself, and the Terme di San Giovanni, whose thermal pools are surrounded by gentle hills of clay and a horizon of vineyards and olive groves.
For those who feel like an exciting day out with the family, the Saltalbero Adventure Park offers acrobatic assault courses through the trees, graded according to difficulty and age. It also provides a relaxation area for those who simply want to kick back in the shade of the oak trees.
Head a little way out of town and you will come to the medieval castle of Armaiolo, scene of a bloody battle between Siena and Florence. The little hilltown, which is made up of a web of narrow alleys, is believed to have once hosted Caterina di Jacopo di Benincasa, better known as St Catherine of Siena.
Siena's surroundings are perfect for trekking and cycling. If you fancy a long walk, follow the signposts along the via Lauretana, which connects Siena and Cortona and goes through Serre di Rapolando, traversing dirt tracks between arable fields and clay hills.
Nature has gifted Rapolano not only with the power of water, but also of stone. The porous but strong travertine has been mined here since the sixteenth century, and still represents an important part of local industry. The church of San Biagio in Montepulciano and the façade of the Pienza cathedral both come, originally, from the travertine quarries.
If you are here in May, you can take a trip back in time with the medieval re-enactments of Serremaggio or the Festa di Ciambrina, which take place in the town of Serre di Rapolano. From the last week of August to the first Sunday of September, Rapolano celebrates its local foccaccia in what is known as the Festa della Panella: ten days of events, music, amusement parks and food stands in piazza Giannetti.
Another crucial thing that the land provides is its agricultural fertility, which means that the Sienese area produces some incredible olive oil, a product that has always meant a great deal here. The IGP-certified Tuscan oil is a must-try, maybe along with a traditional soup like ribollita. This is also the home of Cinta Senese pork, whether uncooked, grilled or as a sausage. Finally, the focaccia rapolanese is the typical sweet here: two discs of shortcrust pastry with almonds, glued together by pastry cream and icing sugar dusted on top.