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

The post The perfect weekend in Bagni di Lucca, Italy appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Far away sun and paradise – Moorea and Bora Bora

I can’t believe how quickly time goes by and to how many places I have been to since my fantastic honeymoon. Being a special occasion, we decided (another) amazing trip would fit the bill, and why not around the world for a couple of weeks or so?

Moorea - stunning island

Moorea – stunning island

From Lisbon, where we got married, we flew via London and Bangkok, to Sydney, where we stayed for 4 days. The definite highlight? Our 10-day stay in French Polynesia, where we visited 3 islands – Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora.

Not particularly easy to reach – Air Tahiti Nui (who codeshares with Qantas on some routes from Auckland, New Zealand and Los Angeles, for example) is the national airline and, I have to say, a pleasant surprise. The planes were modern, business class was very comfortable, adored the L’Occitane toiletries but loved the incredible cabin crew outfits (with 5 or 6 changes on each flight!). Very elegant and different from most! For this trip we flew with British Airways, Qantas and Air Tahiti Nui in a handy Oneworld Round-the-World ticket.

A happy landing at Moorea (possibly not international) airport

A happy landing at Moorea (possibly not international) airport

We stayed overnight in Tahiti, and were able to see a bit of what its capital Papeete had to offer.

The next morning, we boarded an Air Moorea flight – which must have taken 15 minutes. Not a fan of smallish airplanes, but the other option would be to swim (or possibly by boat).

We were so happy by the time we landed 🙂 I have no problems with flying, but give me and Airbus or a Boeing any day 🙂

Stunning views at the Hilton Moorea from the Clubhouse

Stunning views at the Hilton Moorea from the Clubhouse

We stayed at the Hilton Moorea, and were delighted with our over water bungalow – the nicest room I have ever stayed in my whole life. Must be said that when we booked our stay, the hotel was managed by Starwood under the Sheraton brand, and in the meantime was transferred over to the Hilton. Having booked with points (part of a Starwood Vacation Ownership super mega wedding gift – for which we will always be thankful), we were worried with what room we would be getting, and were delighted that the Hilton still upgraded us. How good was that?

The sun!

The sun!

The hotel was very nice, having been recently refurbished and not just full of honeymooners, which was great. Not very keen on competitive PDAs and grateful that many French use this territory for their annual holidays. It was indeed a big surprise to find out that French Polynesia is, in fact, part of the EU – and our passports didn’t get stamped!!

The first time anyone called me Mrs O'Reilly

The first time anyone called me Mrs O’Reilly

Most hotel guests go on full board packages and I must confess I am not a great fan of these. The best part of travelling is the ability to get out and about and meet locals, go to restaurants and of course, help the local economy! Hiring a car is particularly difficult (and expensive), so we found a great solution, with the help of the hotel’s concierge. There is a system: from a great selection of restaurants, you book different ones each night.. and the restaurant sends someone to pick you up (and then drop you back). The listings are very straightforward and there are at least 30 options. Chez Roger was our absolute favourite.

A special mention also goes to the Creperie at the Hilton where you dine with incredible views, in the middle of the bungalows and watch the sharks.. and other wonderful fish right below you.

Black pearls

Black pearls

“Tahiti and her islands”, is also the home of something wonderful – black pearls. Tahitian black pearls are  characterised by natural dark colours, with the most predominant being green.  Although reference may be made to a Tahitian black pearl, black is a very rare colour and they are more often charcoal or a dark silver.

After a wonderful 5 days, we moved on to the our next destination, Bora Bora – having flown with Air Tahiti for around 40 minutes.

Always struggled with our luggaage.. on RTW flights we had 3 bags each allowance.. which turned into 20kgs.. painful

Always struggled with our luggaage.. on RTW flights we had 3 bags each allowance.. which turned into 20kgs.. painful

Bora Bora Airport was incredible and very different from the usual suspects.. you don’t actually land on the main island.. make sure you organise with your hotel a boat pick up. We were welcomed by a nice crew from Le Meridien, with flowers too!

Hello Bora Bora!

Hello Bora Bora! You can just see the side of the boat!

As mentioned previously, we stayed at the Le Meridien Bora Bora, which was lovely. Our little water bungalow was outstanding.

We found that the same dining system worked in this island too, but with a slight difference – you have to take a boat transfer every time you leave the hotel.. oh the problems with being on an island! They worked brilliantly there and back.

The turtles were hungry!

The turtles were hungry!

The Meridien had a turtle sanctuary and every day we feed the little buggers – it was a different experience for me and glad I had the chance to try it and learn something about this interesting conservation project.

A word of warning – for which we will be eternally grateful to our travel agent’s advice. Drinks at hotels are incredibly expensive – we are talking around €20 for a gin & tonic… so very pleased we bought a bottle of Bombay Sapphire at Auckland Airport and with some ice, lemon and tonic were able to enjoy incredible sunsets from our private balcony.

Not a bad view!

Not a bad view from our Le Meridien overwater bungalow

We promised ourselves we would go back for our 5th anniversary.. only 18 months to go, but who’s counting?

Mrs O

PS. From here, our last stop was of course California, one of our favourite places in the world. You can read about it all here.

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Glass of Porto, anyone?

With the excuse of my book launch, I had the opportunity to visit Porto in late 2011 (with a little hop to Spain), which is Portugal’s second largest city. The city which gave its name to Port, Oporto has been the home of British wine shippers and their families for over three centuries.

A view of Porto - a lovely city

A view of Porto – a lovely city

It had been 5 years since my last visit to this exciting city – and wonderful to see how much prettier it looked! Getting there can be challenging with flagship airlines, but air connections have improved dramatically with the advent of low-cost airlines, such as Easyjet, who have indeed helped bringing life and many new visitors to the city.

With the help of Carolina, our private guide, I was taken around out and about like a true out-of-towner and was amazed with how much the city had to offer!

 

Museu Serralves

Museu Serralves

We started at Fundação Serralves, which is Portugal’s first large-scale contemporary art museum. Its museum was designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira, one of Portugal’s better known architects. It is also home to wonderfully landscaped gardens, one of the city’s best kept secrets.

From there, we decided to hit the shops, and did so at Avis, a residential complex just outside Porto (and Portugal’s) largest street, Avenida da Boavista. Quite an odd street, over 5km, where the shops are organised in little clusters and walking is not really an option!

 

Rua de Santa Catarina

Rua de Santa Catarina

We then hit downtown, Rua de Santa Catarina, where interestingly you will find a mix of the usual high street suspects, but still many old-fashioned independent retailers, which add a lot of charm to the place.

 

Livraria Lello & Irmão

Livraria Lello & Irmão

Our next stop was Livraria Lello & Irmão, a lovely art-nouveaux bookshop. If you like the style, a little stop to Café Majestic is also a must!

Design and style-conscious shoppers go down Rua Miguel Bombarda which is known for its art galleries and CCB – Centro Comercial Bombarda, a not-your-typical-shopping-mall clustering art and design shops. I was incredibly surprised with this little find and a visit to this part of town is really recommended.

 

Delicious chocolate cake at Pimenta Rosa

Delicious chocolate cake at Pimenta Rosa

We noticed that everyone was queueing for some chocolate cake at Pimenta Rosa.. and of course we had to have some!

And didn’t you have Port Wine, I hear you ask? But of course! It would be like going to Rome and not seeing the Vatican.

Carolina took us to Calém, one of the best known Port Wine brands – there are 40! Calém is known especially for its Premium Vintages, Late Bottled Vintages and Aged Tawny. All the Port Houses are located in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the other side of Douro River.

Porto Calém Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia

Porto Calém Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia

I learned quite a bit about Port Wine – which is now being marketed to the Portuguese, who traditionally didn’t drink a lot of this wonderful juice. New trends include White Port as an aperitif (Port & Tonic) and Rosé Port, which is delicious with mint and ice! So much so, that I promise to write a whole post about it!

A room with a view at The Yeatman

A room with a view at The Yeatman

The day was coming to an end.. so surely must be time for food? We were incredibly lucky that our stay coincided with one of The Yeatman’s weekly wine dinners and we were able to join in! A luxurious, light-filled wine and spa hotel set high among the port lodges, with stunning views over historic Porto, the Yeatman opened in 2010 and its restaurant was recently awarded a Michelin star. We sampled the first wines produced by L’And Vineyards which were very very good – and promised to stop by this great resort in the summer of 2012.

The Yeatman sent a brand new series 7 BMW to collect us in style – a nice touch that Mrs. O loved!

Time for bed, and as usual, with all the mod cons. I love the Sheraton Porto, which has been opened for a few years and on which the Lisbon Sheraton was inspired. Modern, trendy and with impeccable service.. oh and a lovely spa!

The modern Sheraton Porto

The modern Sheraton Porto

I really enjoyed this trip to Porto and if you haven’t been yet, put it on the list.

Cheers, everyone!

Mrs O

 

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A Portuguese and an English Christmas

How different is Christmas in Portugal and the UK? 

Being Portuguese and married to an Englishman, means that we get 2 completely different Christmases! Another point of difference, is actually the dates and meals we celebrate – you can discover the differences!

Traditional salted codfish with all the trimmings - or bacalhau as we call it. Photo by http://natal.blogs.sapo.ao/20066.html

Traditional salted codfish with all the trimmings – or bacalhau as we call it. Photo by http://natal.blogs.sapo.ao/20066.html

In Portugal, the most important meal is dinner on Christmas Eve (24th), where we eat Portugal’s national dish, bacalhau, with cabbage, potatoes and chickpeas. Reasonably healthy, actually, as I have not mentioned the stars of the evening – the deserts!

Bolo rei or King cake

Bolo rei or King cake

From sonhos, to rabanadas, filhoses and one of my favorites.. King Cake (or Bolo Rei, as it is called in Portuguese).

I think I put on weight automatically just by looking at the “desert table” :), by absolute favourite being this “little one”:

Lampreia de ovos - or cholesterol on a plate

Lampreia de ovos – or cholesterol on a plate

We then open the gifts at midnight and have a nice long sleep.. until it’s time for lunch on the 25th!

Most families will have either turkey or “cabrito”, which roughly translated as kid (baby goat). At Mrs O’s parents’, we have both 🙂

 

Cabrito assado - roasted kid goat

Cabrito assado – roasted kid goat

After lunch, it is time to get back to the UK where another couple of days eating and drinking await! It is surprisingly difficult to fly in Europe on Christmas day, but BA now does, and we are grateful.

Back in England, we do miss out on the 25th, but thankfully, there is Boxing day, where we get to celebrate with the English side of the family – and eat some more!

Christmas pudding, which screams for brandy butter

Turkey is certainly on the menu, and I love the way it is cooked in England – with the roasted potatoes, bread sauce, brussels sprouts, gravy et al!

Oh and I almost forgot the desserts – Christmas Pudding, of course and copious amounts of cheese 🙂

Obviously a bit of dieting will be required in the New Years – 3 days of non-stop eating do take its toll.. but Mr and Mrs O certainly get the best of both worlds. What’s 1000 miles each way when we get the chance to be with both our families?

I am now very curious – what do you eat for Christmas? And is Christmas Eve celebrated in your part of the world?

xo

Mrs O

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Mrs O’s Lisbon – her address book!

It is quite interesting that my beloved hometown – Lisboa, or Lisbon for you foreigners – is becoming quite a popular destination for weekend breaks. This is good news for the “current economic climate”, but also because, in my humble opinion, it is quite a place.

The river on a sunny day - Lisbon

The river on a sunny day – Lisbon

More often that not, I get asked by friends and friends of friends (I’d say at least once a week!) so an email is ready to be forwarded. But with this blog soft-launch, why not go all the way and share my favourite places?

They are not the latest places that opened in town – they are my favourites, some of them I have been going for 10 years and always have a brilliant experience. You can take my word for it!

Enjoying Lisbon

Lisbon is quite a compact city and you should take the opportunity to have a look around. On this page you’ll find some recommendations and links to external sites.

Taxis are cheaper than anywhere else in Europe and easy to find 24 hours a day. Two useful numbers, in case you need to call one – Teletaxis (+351) 218111100 or Radiotaxis – 218119000. Taxis only take 4 passengers, and extra charges apply for luggage and pre bookings (1.60 Euros). A taxi ride within the city should never cost more than 10 Euros, so don’t get fooled! Uber now also operates in Lisbon.

Both buses and the underground system are inexpensive and easy to use – I can’t offer more advice as I rarely use them for the above mentioned reasons. Very naughty, I know!

Trains are modern and punctual, but we’d definitely recommend hiring a car if you really want to see the country. Besides the usual suspects, we have been getting good prices at Avis (but hiring a car in Lisbon can still be a bit of an experience).

Lisbon

The old fashioned ferries are still going

A good place to start, would be to get yourself an updated travel guide. A particularly good one, guess what, HG2 (www.hg2.com) but the DK Eyewitness Lisbon Top 10 and Wallpaper guides are also good.

Lisbon has 2 sightseeing tour companies, and one is clearly better than the other one. Visit Carris’ website on www.carristur.pt. It has information on various tours, which you could consider:

– Lisbon Hop-On – Hop-Off – there are 2 guided routes: the Colinas and the Discovery circuits. They stop everywhere and run quite frequently. €18 per person – Sintra tour – fantastic little place 45 minutes away from Lisbon. €35 per person.

Alternatively, you can hire a car and drive to Sintra, and return via Cascais – more details in a second!

Restaurants

Portuguese food is excellent and should appeal to most tastes. What is Portuguese food like? I hear you ask.. well, it’s lovely! We use mediterranean ingredients, but cook them in what I would say a “simpler” way than Spanish or Greek (I love them both, not complaining!). Obviously, it will be easy to find other types of restaurants. Below are some of Mrs. O’s all-time favourites:

– Pap’Açorda – modern Portuguese, a classic – Rua da Atalaia, 57. Tel 21 346 48 11. Has 2 seatings for dinner: one at 8pm and another at 10pm. (Bairro Alto)

– Vaskus – mostly meat: fondue, brazilian picanha and steaks – Rua Passos Manuel, 30. Tel. 21 352 22 93. Only takes reservations until 8.30pm. If you do not turn up by then, only go after 10pm as it’s a small place and always busy.

– Kais – modern Portuguese, by the river – Rua Cintura Porto Armazém 1, Tel. 21 393 29 30 www.kais-k.com

– A Travessa – more French/Belgium, in a convent – Travessa do Convento das Bernardas 12, Tel. 213902034 www.atravessa.com

– Bica do Sapato – Portuguese food, very trendy place, located next to Lux. Ensure you book a table at the “Cafeteria”, trust us – Avenida Infante Dom Henrique Armazém B, Cais da Pedra à Bica do Sapato, Tel 218810320 www.bicadosapato.com

– Charcutaria – very Portuguese, with traditional food from the Alentejo – Rua do Alecrim 47 A, Tel 21 342 38 45 (near Bairro Alto)

– Estado Líquido – Fusion Sushi – Largo de Santos 5 A, Tel 21 397 20 22 www.estadoliquido.com

– Aqui há Peixe – fish dishes – Rua da Trindade nº 18 A, Tel. 213 432 154 www.aquihapeixe.pt

– Parreirinha de Alfama – to listen to fado music and eat traditional Portuguese food – Beco do Espírito Santo 1, Tel 218 868 209 (good if you are of a certain age, it is not for me, except when friends beg me to go.. the food is actually quite decent here if you are up to a “touristy Portuguese night”

 

Breakfast

One of Portugal’s best kept secrets are its patisseries, or “pastelarias” as they are called. Most Lisboners go out for breakfast as it is delicious and not expensive at all.

Are you hungry?

Are you hungry?

One of the best pastelarias in Lisbon is Versailles and we’d strongly recommend a visit. These places are open between 7.30am and 8.30pm and is it located on Av. da Republica, 15-A, immediately after Saldanha. http://www.pastelariaversailles.com

Shopping

Portugal is a good place for shopping and the offering is quite good. Obviously, we have most international brands at better prices than in the UK, as in most cases these are indexed to the local cost of living. Zara, Mango and Massimo Dutti’s prices in Portugal can be 30-40% lower. It’s worth checking out some Portuguese and Spanish brands which are not available everywhere and are particularly good:

– Wesley (for men) – has a shop outside Amoreiras Shopping Centre, one in Saldanha and another in Vasco da Gama Shopping Centre

– Lanidor and Globe (for women) – they are on most high streets and shopping centres, and both have flagships in Avenida da Liberdade

– Adolfo Dominguez, Purificación Garcia and Carolina Herrera (for both men and women) – all 3 can be found of Avenida da Liberdade and at El Corte Inglés department store. Adolfo Dominguez has a shop in Saldanha’s Atrium Saldanha Shopping Centre and Purificación Garcia has another shop in Saldanha Residence Shopping Centre.

Large Shopping Centres

– Amoreiras Shopping Centre (in Amoreiras), best accessed by taxi

– Vasco da Gama (in Parque das Nações), underground: Oriente (red line)

– Colombo (Portugal’s largest shopping centre), underground: Colégio Militar (blue line)

– El Corte Inglés – Lisbon’s only department store, underground: São Sebastião (blue line)

– Freeport Designer Outlet – located in Alcochete, 30 minutes south of Lisbon. Easy to get to by car, but there is also a hotel shuttle service in the summer. Brands include Carolina Herrera, Purificación Garcia, Zegna, Burberrys, Versace, Adolfo Dominguez, Boss – as always, you need to be lucky on the day you go.

High Street Shopping

– Avenida da Liberdade – where most designer shops are

– Rua Augusta (in Baixa)

– Rua do Carmo and Rua Garrett (Chiado area)

Hotels

Sheraton Lisbon - still one of my favourites

As far as hotels are concerned, my home away from home is the Sheraton Lisbon, where I always stay when I’m in town. It’s 5-stars (literally) and average rates are around €115 per night, which is unbeatable. Did I mention it is also the tallest building in Lisbon and has one of the coolest rooftop bars? www.sheraton.com/lisboa

With these suggestions, you can spend a great long weekend in Lisbon, ensuring you see a little bit more than the Castle and all the other “must-go” places.. and help the local economy of course!. If you use these suggestions, I’d be delighted if you let me know how it went! Photos, please!

Até breve,

Mrs. O

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