The perfect weekend in Bagni di Lucca, Italy

Having had the privilege of visiting this impressive little part of Italy, I have invited an expert, Debra Kolkka from Bagni di Lucca and beyond to share some insiders tips. Tip: fly to Pisa! Ciao, Mrs O

Bagni di Lucca is a collection of pretty villages in northern Tuscany in an area called the Garfagnana. It is roughly 25 kilometres from Lucca, one of the loveliest towns in Italy.

The road to Bagni di Lucca was built by Napoleon’s sister Elisa Bacocchio, who was Duchess of Lucca for a time. She liked to spend her summers in Bagni di Lucca, where she would  ’take the waters’  in one of the many thermal springs in the area.

The road from Lucca follows the winding Serchio river. The spectacular river valley is dotted with small villages and the views of the magnificent Apuane Alps make the drive a delight in any season. About 3 kilometres before Bagni di Lucca, at Borgo a Mozzano, is the stunning Ponte della Maddelena, or Devil’s Bridge.

Just past the devil’s Bridge, the Serchio and the Lima river come together, and Fornoli, the first of the 3 villages that form the main part of Bagni di Lucca, comes into view.

One kilometre up river is the hamlet of Ponte a Serraglio, the most picturesque of the villages along the river.

La Villa, the commercial centre where there are lots of shops and restaurants, is another kilometre up river. There are 25 small villages in the surrounding mountains, making up the wider Bagni di Lucca community.

Ponte a Serraglio is an excellent place to base yourself to discover the area. There is a good selection of hotels, B&Bs and apartments to choose from –  Villa Roselena B&B, Hotel Corona, Bridge Hotel and the Antico Albergo Terme at Bagni Caldi.

I would suggest being up bright and early to start the day with an excellent cappuccino and one of Annalisa’s delicious pastries from Bar Italia or Il Monaco. Take the time to sit at the bar and watch the village come to life.

After breakfast take a walk and discover the sights of Ponte a Serraglio. The first casino in Europe was built here in 1837. It was renovated several years ago and now looks just as it did when Puccini played there and it was visited by the VIPs of the day. There is a cafe and a restaurant and there is often live entertainment in the evenings.

Cross the passerella in front of the casino to Villa Fiori. If you are lucky there will be a local festival in full swing.

Walk up to Bagni Caldi and make an appointment at the thermal springs. It is possible to use the natural steam grottoes, one of which was the personal steam grotto of Napoleon’s sister. Rumour has it that Napoleon joined her on occasion. Follow up with a hot stone massage or one of the many theraputic services on offer.

From Bagni Caldi you can walk through cool chestnut forests and over the hill to La Villa. Wander through the grounds of Villa Ada, once the home of the De’Nobili family. In summer it is possible to swim in the open air pool fed by thermal springs while taking in the spectacular view of the surrounding mounains.

There are lots of choices for lunch in La Villa. Trattoria Borghese is excellent value at about 6 euros for delicious local fare. We also like Osteria della Piazzetta. They specialise in fresh, local produce and have excellent wine.

While in La Villa, call into the information office (open in the mornings, not Sunday) in case there is a performance at the local theatre, or an exhibition at the Circolo dei Forrestieri. It is amazing how much happens in this tiny place.

Then walk back to Ponte a Serraglio for a gelato and a rest, or a treatment at the spa, before an aperitivo at Bar Italia. Ristorante Vinicio, beside the bridge, serves excellent wood fired pizzas for dinner or wander up to La Villa to Del Sonno and try Jayne’s delicious saltimbocca.

The next day you could take a drive to Lucca or some of the surrounding mountain villages. If you don’t want to go that far, the Lovers’ Walk along the river at La Villa is delightful. There used to be a walking path all the way from La Villa to Ponte a Serraglio and recently part of the walkway has been restored. It is dedicated to the Barrett Brownings who spent a few summers in Bagni di Lucca.

 

Go across the walking bridge to visit the English cemetery and wander through the wonderful old headstones. The English church in La Villa now houses a library with some excellent historical material.

These are just a few suggestions on how to spend a couple of days in lovely Bagni di Lucca. Of course, there is much more to see if you have more time, but do take the time to smell the roses – or pansies. There is a reason why Bagni di Lucca has been popular with artists and writers for centuries. Peace and beauty and a sense of history are still drawing people to the area.

Debra Kolkka – http://bagnidilucca.wordpress.com

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