Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Thermal Water of Bagni di Lucca.

Bagni di Lucca is the spa town of Lucca.  Its waters are best described as Salus per Aquam, Waters for Health. This slightly forgotten corner of Tuscany is steeped in history due to the amazing therapeutic powers of its waters. The rivers and streams in the area are fed by sulfuric-bicarbonate-calcium rich waters. The source of the thermal waters is 19 different springs. The temperature from the main spring Doccione can reach up to 54 C/130 F.

The water’s thermal qualities are anti-inflammatory and work as a muscle relaxant.  There are also gynecological treatments and the vapour is used for nasal problems.
The spa is certainly decadent rather than swanky and is a strange mix of a turn of a century hospital and an elegant renaissance buildings with natural caves. There are several different establishments dotted around the town. However, the grottos are unique.


There is evidence that these waters have been used for medicinal purposes since the first century BC. One can imagine the Roman legionnaires letting their post-battle campaign pains drift away in the steamy grottos. The Medieval rulers also enjoyed the curative waters including Tuscany’s Matilde di  Canossa and Frederic ll. 

The Renaissance sees this little town begin to develop as the waters become famous throughout Europe. It attracted Royalty, namely Elisa sister to Napoleon and ruler of Lucca had her summer palace here, and also writers and politicians including Montaigne.  In the 18th and 19th Century Bagni di Lucca became a true resort and culture centre. The casino was the hub of intellectual and literary discussion. The romantic English poets were also here. Byron and Shelley not only lived their own romantic stories but wrote their poetry. The Brownings acted out their real life love affair in Bagni during the long hot summers. During the Belle Époque, the popularity of Bagni continued to grow. Puccini was a frequent visitor to the spa and sections of his operas were composed in the town. This was a spa resort in full bloom.  Beautiful villas and gardens were built or altered and Bagni di  Lucca was enjoyed not only as a spa but cultural melting pot and refuge from the Summer heat of Florence.

The main spa itself is certainly rather run down. The remarkable part of the main structure is the natural caves and the fact that they have remained largely unchanged since Roman times. The Jean Varraud Terme or Spa is also a medical spa and patients can receive treatments under the health service. There is a small hotel as part of the complex, but it is certainly not a five-star number. It has a small thermal swimming pool. I find its shabbiness part of the attraction and gives a feel of the rich history of the place. The establishment is slowly being done up as money allows but I just hope the sense of antiquity isn’t lost.

If you are looking for alternative treatments or just a bit of pampering there are private establishments that have rented some of the thermal premises but for me, the magic is in the grottos. How cool is it to be cured in a Roman grotto? 

Contacts for Bagni di Lucca Terme. ( this is the main establishment)
Piazza San Martino,11
55021 Bagni di Lucca Lu
Tel: 0039 0583 8722
• Terme Bagni di Lucca
  Piazza San Martino, 11 - 55021
  Bagni di Lucca - LU
  Telefono: +39 0583 87221
  Fax: +39 0583 808224
• Terme Bagni di Lucca
  Piazza San Martino, 11 - 55021
  Bagni di Lucca - LU
  Telefono: +39 0583 87221
  Fax: +39 0583 808224
• Terme Bagni di Lucca
  Piazza San Martino, 11 - 55021
  Bagni di Lucca - LU
  Telefono: +39 0583 87221
  Fax: +39 0583 808224
• Terme Bagni di Lucca
  Piazza San Martino, 11 - 55021
  Bagni di Lucca - LU
  Telefono: +39 0583 87221
  Fax: +39 0583 808224

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Under the Tuscan Sky at Le Mura Villa near Lucca

Under the Tuscan sun has almost become a catch phrase and indeed our summer guests at Le Mura mainly see pure blue skies. The view and the bright bold colours would have been loved by Van Gogh.

However, Our skies have many different variations from rivers of clouds smudging the high peaks.

The huge fluffy white candyfloss clouds trying to invade our valley but held back by the northern Apennines.

A stormy sky is a symphony in itself.

The pellucid summer skies are dotted with little meringues of clouds to rest one's eyes. 

When we first came to Le Mura it was the view which led me to this enchanted place but I never imagined, however changing the canvas would be. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Befana, Italy's friendly Christmas Witch

On 2nd January in many countries, everybody returns reluctantly to work with slightly larger stomachs and a handful of new year resolutions but in Italy, many families if possible extend their holiday until Epiphany. 12th Night for many signifies nothing more than taking down the Christmas decorations and having a good clean up to get rid of all the glitter. In Italy, for the all the children it is another chance for presents.

On the night of the 5th January Befana, the friendly old lady visits all the house with Children to leave gifts. There are many versions of this traditional ancient fable but the one in our family goes as follows.

The three Kings or Magi leave on a long journey following a bright star to carry gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh to the new baby Jesus. On their journey across many realms, they stop at every village to ask for news of the new baby and gather new followers. In one village the Magi are drawn towards the house of an old lady who is busy baking and sweeping her path. the Magi ask for news, but she hasn't heard of this baby and refuses to join the search because she is too busy with her work. The next morning she realises her mistakes and sets off to catch up with the procession still clinging to her broom and with her freshly baked biscuits as a gift for the child. Despite her frantic efforts, she is unable to find the procession and therefore every 5th January during the night, the old lady flies around on her broom leaving gifts for the children. Her skirt is always sooty as she comes down the chimney. It is said that if the children have been naughty they get left coal instead of sweets and biscuits and indeed even today if you are naughty you might find a piece of black sugar made to look like coal instead of toys and candy.

Former generations used to write letters of apology to their parents at Christmas for the year's misdemeanors to avoid missing out on Befana treats but we modern parents are more forgiving! Do try some of the biscuits you will find in the local patisseries or bread shops sprinkled with coloured hundreds and thousands perhaps they are the same recipe that Befana herself used all those thousands of years ago.

 You might just wonder where Befana got her name. Befana is a corruption of the ancient Greek name ἐπιφάνεια, epifáneia, which means the manifestation of Christ to the Three Magis.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Our olive oil harvest with a modern edge at Le Mura Villa Tuscany

I am a little reactionary by nature perhaps due to my background as a conservator. At Le Mura we have harvested our  olive trees every year by hand stripping the olives off the branches, then carefully removing all the sticks and leaves before taking them to one of the very few traditional olives oil presses or Frantoi in our area.  However this year our lovely neighbors decided to help us out and bring our olive oil production up to date.

Well, I may love tradition but a job that takes weeks was finished in days and the oil is perfect, so what did we change?
First, we used a handheld shaker to agitate the trees so that instead of climbing on ladders, Roberto made our little green and black jewels easily drop into the nets. We only had to cut a few branches that were too high and needed pruning. We were then able to gather them all up put them into crates We all went off to the Frantoio or olive press. These open up all over the area during the olive harvest so locals can bring their precious olives. The important thing is to have enough olives to make your own pressing, 200 kilos, otherwise, your olives gets mixed with someone else's, who might have sprayed their trees. If we are going to make our own oil we certainly want it to be organic and all from our own trees.

Roberto took us to the frantoio that he uses, which is a modern one, when I asked why he preferred this one he pointed out that the process was not so open to contamination, therefore,  the yield  is higher and shelf life longer. The oil, in the end,  also contains more phenols, which are what make olive oil so good for you. I felt a little sad not to be off to the old mill but decided I should embrace the experience with enthusiasm and not be set in my ways.

The olives starting their journey
The olives are washed and the stalks and leaves removed
Then ground into a paste, pressed and the centrifuge is used to separate the waste from the oil 
The first filtration 

final filtration.

The oil in our area is very high quality because it has very low acidity and our cold press virgin olive oil certainly deserves its title as the gold of Lucca.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

San Miniato White Truffle Fair

San Miniato is a beautiful medieval village perched on a hill between Pisa and Florence on the Via Francigena. This little gem would be worth a visit at any time of the year but San Miniato has more than artistic and architectural treasures. Its hills hide what could be described as the caviar of the soil, white truffles. These underground fungi are a gastronomic luxury and a mere shaving on a dish creates a unique taste and adds a fortune to the bill.

For the last forty years San Miniato shares and celebrates its strange underground jewel in a festival of Truffles. During these weekends the air hangs heavily with the aroma of truffles and you can buy any type of truffle delicacy from cheeses and salami  flavored with truffles to the virgin fungus itself.    
The Fair runs for the weekends of  12th /13th November 19th/20 November 26th/27th November,   and 3th/4th December.

What I love about this festival is it is for the locals and everyone is there to enjoy themselves and celebrate this extraordinary fungus with reverence and respect. All the truffle hunters nurture the ecology so that this prized rarity can still grow.

How to arrive at San Miniato.
It is just off the Firenze- Pisa -Livorno state road exit marked San Miniato .
There is also a train station in San Miniato Basso.