The English past of Bagni di Lucca

The most recent guided walk I did was in La Villa, the central village of Bagni di Lucca. The walk focused on the English presence in Bagni di Lucca. In the early 1800s the area was a popular part of the Grand Tour. Many English came to visit and some stayed a while.

We began our tour at the most obvious place, the English Church in Via Evangelina Whipple.

The English community wanted their own place to worship. They had been meeting from 1829 in part of the Hotel Pellicano (now Hotel Regina). By 1838 they had a permanent pastor, Robbins, and requested permission for a church a year later. In 1840 Carlo Ludivico di Borbone granted that permission provided it did not look like a church.

Architect Giuseppe Pardini designed what was called a Palace for the English Nation. Its last activity as a church was in 1936 and in 1976 it became a library and archive centre.

We walked past the pharmacy where the English bought their tea as well as medical supplies. It still has its old interior.

The Teatro Accademico was built in 1790. It attracted famous performers and patrons from all over Italy. When the casino opened in Ponte a Serraglio in 1839 it was an important part of the social scene and took over as the place to go in the winter when the casino was closed.

In 1939 it converted to a cinema before reverting to live performance in the 1970s. It was restored in 1980 and holds regular performances, including hosting the Teatro Scuole each  spring for the last 26 years. Students come from all over Italy to take part.

Circolo dei Forestieri, Foreigners’ Club, was built to cater for the number of foreigners arriving. The French court of Elise Bonaparte came first, then the English. A young Puccini played here. It was renovated in 1928. On the first floor roulette was played under the eye of Galeazzo Ciano and his wife Edda Mussolini. These days the upstairs rooms are used for events, exhibitions and meetings. The ground floor houses a restaurant.

We walked across the passerella built in the early 1900s. To get to the English cemetery.

In 1842 the Stisted family acquired 1800 square metres of land to build the English cemetery. The last burial took place in 1953 and the cemetery was closed. It fell into disrepair, but is being beautifully restored by a group of volunteers.

Is the the final resting place for many notable people, including the Stisteds who had a lot to do with the English community in Bagni di Lucca.

Marie Louise de la Remee, known as Ouida is buried here. She was a famous writer, born in Suffolk in 1839. She was a prolific novelist and an animal lover. She lived in Bagni di Lucca for a time and died in Viareggio in 1908.

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Rose Elizabeth Cleveland was the sister of Grover Cleveland, the 22nd president of the USA. She was his First Lady until he married. During a visit to Bagni di Lucca during WWI she met, and became close friends with, Evangelina Whipple who was a wealthy widow. Together they did philanthropic work including building an orphanage.

They volunteered for the Red Cross with their friend Erichsen. Whipple helped during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. Erichsen contracted the flu and died several days after the war ended. Cleveland died several days later after nursing her friend. Whipple died in 1930 and was buried beside her friend.

 

The Stisted’s, who were a vital part of the community, are buried side by side.

The renovation work continues in the cemetery.

The guided walks have been an excellent initiative in Bagni di Lucca this summer. Thank you to all involved in their organisation.

There is still one more coming up on 23rd August.

 

 

The night of the shooting stars

La Notte di San Lorenzo falls on 10th August. For a few nights around this date the Perseid meteor shower crosses the Italian sky and people like to find a quiet, dark place for some stargazing.

The celebration dates back to Roman and Etruscan times. Catholics mark this day in remembrance of the martyr, believing falling stars represent the tears of San Lorenzo and the embers of the fire that burned him.

A lovely event was organised at Villa Web, in Bagno alla Villa. Participants were invited to come along with a blanket to sit on the grass in front of the Villa and, with some luck, spot a falling star and make a wish.

To make things interesting, the terme below and the Villa were open for guided visits.

The terme looked lovely lit up at night.

Villa Web is full of treasures.

The kitchen, in particular, appeals to me.

Upstairs are several of the games that are from the Casino in Ponte a Serraglio, the first purpose built casino in Europe.

There is another excellent collection on the top floor, where I will take you another time.

I didn’t see a falling star, but no matter. It was a delight to lie back and search the sky…a special way to spend an evening.

I am very impressed with the organised events this summer. Well done to all those involved.

 

 

Crasciana and Casabasciana walk

The recent guided walk I joined was to Crasciana and Casabasciana. We concentrated mainly on some of the old churches in the towns. Many are closed so it is a treat to be able to go inside.

We arrived in the pretty piazza in Crasciana Alta.
There are some spectacular views over some of the other villages of Bagni di Lucca and the mountains behind. Even on a hazy day it looks wonderful.

 

We walked a short distance above the piazza to the first church on our list.

The interior is quite lavish. It seems that several families left the village years ago and became quite wealthy. Some returned and paid for the renovation of the church and other things in the village.

We walked up behind the church for more stunning views.

 

There is a pretty park, which is looked after by a group of motivated residents.

I visited Crasciana Alta several years ago. Here is the link to see the photos from that trip. Crasciana Alta  
Here is a link to Crasciana below. Crasciana

Next stop was Casabasciana to visit the Oratorio Murotto dating from the late 1600s.  We were joined by the very knowledgeable Bruno Micheletti, who told about the sites in an interesting and entertaining way.

The tiny oratorio is full of treasures.


 

There was a little collection of small paintings. It is amazing that some of these things manage to survive.

From here we walked down (the residents must have a bit of mountain goat in their makeup) to the Chiesa di Santa Quirico e Guilitta built in the 18th century on the site of the 16th century oratorio of San Pietro.


 

Bruno took us to the sacristy behind the altar. One of the original cupboards still exist here. Apparently, they went out of style many years ago and most were pulled apart and sold off.

 

In front of the altar in a glass case is Saint Primo surrounded by embroidered flowers. Poor little Primo was 4 years old when he was murdered. Every 5 years on the second Sunday of August Casabasciana celebrates the life of Primo when the village lights up and has an evening of fireworks.


The unusual top on the campanile is the only one like it in the area. It was done in the style of the time it was renovated.

This is a link to a very old post I wrote about Casabasciana. It is time to return. Dinner with the huntsmen of Casabasciana
Our last stop was at the Pieve di Sala, built around 918. It was the original church for the area. It is an unadorned late Roman style building and it was a delight to be able to go inside. It was abandoned when churches closer to the villages were built, which is why it hasn’t had a modern makeover.

I was particularly impressed with the stone columns with decorations at the top of each one. There are remains of a old renovation in the form of red and white paint.

The faces fascinate me…who were the models I wonder.

The floor was originally much lower and the font was dug into the floor. It was moved at some stage and half of it has been placed against the wall.

 

There is an interesting little niche in a wall.

This was originally a window. The sun would enter here first in the morning and shine on the altar.

I visited the beautiful village of Sala a few years ago, see more in the link.Sala

Thank you again to Virgilio and Antonio for showing us these wonderful villages. Antonio made a comment that Virgilio must be centuries old to be able to relate stories with such detail from the past and make it sound as though he was there. He has a gift. Bruno has the same talent.

There are still some walks to go.

 

A walk in Bagno alla Villa

On Sunday I joined a guided walk to the old houses in Bagno alla Villa, one of the older parts of La Villa, the main village of Bagni di Lucca. It was organised by the Fondazione Culturale Michel de Montaigne.

We began at the English church in Via Evangelina Whipple. To cater for the English community in Bagni di Lucca in the 19th century, in 1839 Carlo Ludovico, Duke of Lucca, granted permission to build the “Palace of the English Nation” as it was called. The building was designed by Giuseppe Pardini. The church is now a wonderful library, which is now closed because of the disruptions caused by Covid 19.

Across the road from the church is a path that takes you up to meet the road going to Bagno alla Villa.

There is a great view of the church from up here.

The view also includes La Villa and behind to San Cassiano.

The first Villa we came to was once the summer home of Elisa Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister. There were no gates in her day. People preferred there gardens to be open.

We walked on to Villa Mansi, built between 1622 and 1669 by the Mansi family, one of the families of the Lucca aristocracy.

On a wall beside the above entrance is what is believed to be an original Della Robbia. It is in excellent condition.

 

The next house is lovely.

Further on is the house where Montaigne stayed in the summer of 1571.

 

 

The highlight of the visit for me was being able to go inside the Terme

The baths have been closed for many years. It is a great pity that these wonderful establishments have not been able to be opened and used. They could be an asset to Bagni di Lucca.

 

 

Above the Terme we came to Villa Web, where Lord Byron stayed in 1822. The house is sometimes open for events and it is full of wonderful things from Bagni di Lucca’s past.

Beside it is the house where his friend Percy Shelley stayed.

From this level there is an excellent view of the top of the Terme. These structures were added to bring light and ventilation to the baths.

We walked back down towards Via Evangelina Whipple.


I particularly liked this little garden corner.

We came to the stables for the villas, now apartments.

Through the gates beside the stables is Villa Ada, which we didn’t visit. Here are photos I took a few years ago. This is another house begging to be restored and put to good use.

I am really enjoying these walks in Bagni di Lucca. Thank you to the organisers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A walk in Cocciglia and Pallegio

On Sunday I joined another of the guided walks to some of the villages that make up Bagni di Lucca. This time the walk took us to Cocciglia and nearby Pallegio.

We began at the bottom of Cocciglia.


First there was a small detour to Ponte Nero, the old bridge that crosses the Lima River at Strette di Cocciglia.

From the bridge you can see the stunning Strette di Cocciglia, a beautiful part of the river,  now the home of Canyon Park adventures.


We were able to see inside the Oratorio di San Rocco, the little church dating from 1532, at the beginning of the bridge.

Then it was back to the path towards Cocciglia. The village was named after a late Roman settler called Caucilius or Cocilius. Along the way we saw some well kept farm plots and this very stylish little shrine.


Just before the path that takes you up the hill to Cocciglia is the Oratorio San Michele, dating from the 13th century, with its well kept cemetery.


Across from the Oratorio is the path to the village. This was the only way to the village before the road was built in the not too distant past.

 




From the path there is a good view of Pallegio, the village we visited next.


Our first stop at the beginning of the village was here.

We walked along a tiny laneway where the wall was covered with caper plants.

Cocciglia is a maze of tiny streets with archways and tunnels, the remnants of old defence gateways into the town. Houses are tucked inside these structures. The doors to keep enemies out are long gone, but you can see where they were.

This wall of a house is ancient. It could tell some stories.

We kept going up towards the parish church dedicated to San Bartolommeo.

Some of the construction is Roman with additions in medieval times.


 

You can see the repairs and additions in this wall at the base of the church.

We arrived at the top of Cocciglia.

In the church is a cross depicting the crucifixion.

From the top we walked down the road to drive to Pallegio. Before the town is the Oratorio di Santa Maria della Quercia, with a stunning interior. These precious churches have to be firmly locked to prevent theft of the treasures inside.




From here we walked down a leafy path to the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge, part of the ancient path between Cocciglia and Pallegio.

Just past the bridge is a remnant of the Roman path.

On one of the stones is the mark of the man who placed it all those years ago. It is amazing to me that I can stand on a path that has existed for 2000 years or more.

Further up the hill is the tiny town of Pallegio.
Very few people now live in the village and the parish church is now closed. We stopped for refreshments and spoke to some of the friendly people from the town. It would be sad to see these villages become empty. Let’s hope some people come to buy the old houses and bring new life.


 


 

 


On the walk back to the car there were excellent views of Cocciglia and Casoli in the distance.

…a last look at Pallegio.

Once again the walk was great fun and very informative. Thank you to Antonio and Virgilio for sharing their love and knowledge of these beautiful villages. We are so lucky to have these intact, authentic places to explore in Bagni di Lucca.

There are more walks to come.

A walk in Vico Pancellorum

I joined the first walk of the season in Bagni di Lucca in Vico Pancellorum. A small group, together with our guides, gathered and began our walk at the base of the village near the church. It is covered in scaffolding now…here is a photo I took on an earlier visit in winter.


The campanile is very impressive, as is the back of the church.

We were first taken to an old fountain, now a bit lost in the forest. Vico Pancellorum is well supplied with water, there are fountains all over the village. At one time 1400 people lived here.

 

We walked uphill past lovely old houses with pretty gardens.

 

 

 


We walked past the old Hotel Roma, home of one of three dance halls that once graced the village. It would have been wonderful to see the thriving village full of people dancing the night away.

 

 

 

We came to a small square with a war memorial.

From here there were excellent views of the Rocca above Lucchio on a distant mountain.

And Vico Pancellorum from half way up to the top.

 

 

This pretty little terrace caught my attention.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a helpful weather barometer.







The old bishop’s house sits just outside the original wall of the village.

 



Look up the see the old wooden structure under the eaves.

 

Here is the entrance to what was the original village.

The drainage system would have come in handy in the winter storms that hit the area.

This is what is left of one of the tower houses that would have been impressively tall.

Near here is the tiny Chiesina del SS Crocifisso. The tinted windows cast interesting colours inside the church.

Above the altar is the patron saint of pregnant women.

Views across to other Bagni di Lucca villages pop up between houses.

We came upon pretty Piazza San Paolo near the top of Vico Pancellorum. What a great place to sit in the cool shade of the tree, or to admire the view.

Narrow streets are everywhere, some full of flowers.

This colourful garden marked the end of our walk through the village.

All through Vico Pancellorum works of art are to be found on ancient walls and ledges. It is worth a walk through the winding streets just to see these. Here are just some of the delights I spotted along the way.

 

 


There are more great views from the top of the village.

 

We walked down to the bottom of the village on the shady road. We stopped occasionally to pick tiny wild strawberries. I can report that they are delicious.

This is a linen flower growing wild on the side of the road. The stems become the linen thread used to weave the beautiful cloth hand made by local women in the past.

We walked past a waterfall with an interesting fountain beside it.

 

On the way home we visited an old mill beside a stream below the village, now overgrown.



There are several more walks coming up. I recommend that you do at least a couple. Even if you know the area is it a fun thing to do.  I had a great day. Thank you to everyone involved. I will definitely join other walks.

Summer walks in Bagni di Lucca

Several guided walks to help us learn more about our lovely villages have been organised over the next few weeks.

The first one is tomorrow in Vico Pancellorum. Call 0583 809945 to see if there some places left. Only 10 people at a time can join. The group will gather in front of Circolo dei Forestieri at 9.00am before being taken to the destination.

This is a great initiative. I hope the walks will be well patronised.

Be sure to call for more information or to book a place.

The pool opens Saturday 4th July

Excellent news! Our beautiful pool in Bagni di Lucca opens for the season Saturday 4th July from 9.00am until 19.00. Call 339 2376523 for more information.

This pool is surely in the most stunning position…an excellent asset for Bagni di Lucca.

As well as this good news, free Wifi is now available in many areas in La Villa.

Auser reopening

The excellent shop in Ponte a Serraglio that sells a wonderful selection of second hand household items is open on Saturdays and Sundays…10.00 – 12.00 and 15.00 – 18.00.

Anyone setting up house in the area would to well to drop in and see the beautiful items they have for sale at excellent prices. An added benefit is that the profits are used to help people in need.

There simply must be something you need in this collection.


 

The clothing section of the shop is not open yet, but will happen in the future. 


Auser Is on the road between Ponte a Serraglio and La Villa, not far from Ristorante da Bruno. The Auser Association runs the shop and takes its name from an old name for the Serchio river.