A winter walk

20131231_145554Winter is nearly over!  I’m not a winter person and I am very ready for Spring. It has been an unusual winter. Very mild and no snow at all here in the valley. But very wet. Rain, rain and more rain! Not many chances to get out. Here is one winter walk  we managed.

Starting the walk

Starting the walk

The walk starts at the far end of the La Villa part of Bagni di Lucca. As you run out of street you take a little side street, Via Campiglia, until it runs out. The path then runs along the River Lima for a short while.

Looking back at Bagni di Lucca

Looking back at Bagni di Lucca

Looking upstream along the River Lima

Looking upstream along the River Lima

As the path heads away from the river it starts to get steep. At this point there wasn’t much to see with trees on both sides of the path and I started to get a bit grumpy, wondering if it was worth it.  For me steepness needs to be justified by good views! But then the path led to several very cute villages: Guzzano, Gombereto, San Gemignano, then across the road to Longoio.


And better still once we’d achieved the height of the first village, Guzzano, the rest of the walk was fairly level and gave wonderful expansive views of the Controneria area and the mountains behind.

Prato Fiorito

Prato Fiorito

Looking back at Longoio

Looking back at Longoio

It was one of those bright winter days, crisp and blue skies. Most of the trees are bare. This made the shimmering silver of the olive trees even more precious. 20131231_13314120131231_151413

Many of the old paths and mule tracks have these wayside chapels. Although they are usually locked the  porches still offer great shelter and a place to sit and rest. This one was beyond Longoio and marks the end of my attempt to offer a route! After this there were several paths. We picked a route that turned out to be rather rocky, so my tip is – not the middle path! But we did end up where we needed to be, coming back into town from the opposite direction, so completing a circle. Circular walks are always the best kind, I don’t like coming back the same route.

Looking down on Bagni di Lucca near the end of the walk.

Looking down on Bagni di Lucca near the end of the walk.

This took us about 4 hours (I’m slow!) Overall the balance of challenging sections compared to beautiful sections was good. Next time we’ll try the higher or lower paths for the last part!

Posted in Bagni di Lucca, Tuscany, walking in Tuscany, Winter | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The coolest place in Tuscany?


These scorching hot August days have us desperately seeking cool.  With its shade and icy cold pools Orrido di Botri is probably the coolest activity we’ve found.  Orrido di Botri is a nature reserve in northern Tuscany and in summer you can ‘walk’  along the river bed and through the canyon formed by the Pelago river. It’s the largest and deepest canyon in Tuscany.

When you arrive at Ponte a Gaio you have to sign in with the Forestry Corp and collect a helmet before entering the canyon.  This is a bargain at only 2 euro!orrido di botri 005

So with helmet on you start the walk. Quickly you find you have to cross from side to side of the stream. First time I did this carefully, using stepping stones and trying not to get wet feet. But not anymore, now I take the easiest way, even if this means straight through the water. Because once you get half an hour in you find yourself at Guadina where the walls narrow and there is absolutely no alternative but to wade through the water! Photo0903

And again after 45 minutes at Prigioni it narrows. The water comes above knee height and is of such the extreme iciness that it takes your breath away and you just want to get out of it fast! This is mountain water at its purest and coldest and is shocking on such a scorching hot day. We only go on scorching hot days! The point is to relish the coolness, and of course then you dry and warm up again quickly.Photo0941


The walls of the canyon reach 200 metres high and are nesting sites for golden eagles. I’ve not managed to spot one, I’m too busy watching where I’m placing my feet to look up too much! But those high sides do give great, cool shade.Photo0933


The further in you go the harder in becomes. The rocks you have to scramble over become ever larger. From 80 minutes in at Salto dei Becchi the route becomes difficult and ropes are used in some places. Personally I sit it out and let the braver ones continue on. After 2 hours the authorised route ends at Piscina. A special permit is needed to go beyond.Photo0922



But then comes the hard bit. The return! Clambering over the rocks works some rarely used muscles and they start to protest badly about half way back. The return always seems slower, longer and harder!orrido di botri 008

We always seem to build up a massive appetite, and feel we’ve ‘earned’ refreshment. Fortunately here’s a rustic trattoria, il Nido dell’Aquila that offers simple, local food such as a merenda snack platter for 8euro  and fried pasta, lovely with a piece of pecorino cheese.Photo0964

Orrido di Botri is within the territory of Bagni di Lucca.  It’s easiest to reach by the SR 445 road, heading from Lucca or Bagni di Lucca north (as going towards Barga) then turn off right at the roundabout for the Val Fegana and Tereglio. The route from Bagni di Lucca directly is a dirt track after Montefegatesi, driveable in a normal car but not as easy as the route via Tereglio. Park and access the canyon and hiking paths at Ponte a Gaio.

The canyon can only be accessed June to late September when the water level is low enough to make it safe to walk through. Children over 6 are permitted. Allow 4 hours.

There are lots of marked CAI hiking paths in the Orrido di Botri nature reserve which can be accessed all year, weahter permitting.

website for Corpo Forestale dello Stato who operate the nature reserve. Guides can be booked for groups.  http://www3.corpoforestale.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/432

Posted in Bagni di Lucca, Beach and River, Days trips, Garfagnana, Summer, Tuscany, walking in Tuscany | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Painting Ponte


I’ve been very neglectful of this blog recently. But I had to come out of hibernation for the painting competition. Regular readers will know from previous posts how much I enjoy this event. for those new readers, every July our village, Ponte a Serraglio, holds a competition in which artists have just that day to paint a local scene. There are put on display in Villa Fiori park, then judged. Photo0614



It’s always a scorching hot day but the trees in the park do provide some much needed shade. It’s great fun to wander around looking at the work. Photo0600_001


It took me a long time to work out number 36 above. Finally realised it’s the bridge. I’m a bit of a traditionalist! Photo0616

But I do like the fun ones. The swimmers are cute, and there were indeed people splashing in the river to cool off. This next one is very appealing, but the shape of the bridge is wrong. Not that I could paint the bridge myself at all!Photo0637

I always look for our house, Villa Rosalena, in one of the paintings. Didn’t spot it this year, but this one has exactly the view from our window! Photo0635

Usually very few of my personal favourites win prizes! This year however most of my choices were ranked. Not sure if that means my artistic eye is developing or quite what! It was nice to see the winner was a woman this year. Photo0656Photo0617

Here’s the rest of the prize winning paintings: From 2nd place downwards.Photo0607




For previous years:



For details of competition see http://www.borgodegliartisti.com/

Also currently running is theBagni di Lucca Art festival. This opened on July 13th with an excellent evening. Sadly I can’t take night time pictures! But I hope to show some of the galleries in another post.  For details of this festival which continues throught the summer see http://artfestivalbagnidilucca.org/

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Beat the winter blues, Italian style.


Photo0234_cropLast weekend we enjoyed the perfect antidote to the winter blues. Every glorious colour, as vivid as can be at Viareggio. The Viareggio Carnival celebrates 140 years this year. Viareggio is a beach resort on the Tuscan coast and its Carnevale is one of the most famous in Italy. The promenade is a perfect wide avenue for the spectacular procession displaying  amazing papier mache creations.Photo0244Photo0243Photo0224Photo0230_crop

Many of the floats have a political satire theme. I can’t claim to recognise that many Italian politicians, but Mario Monti was heavily present, as here on the ‘Marriage of the Dried Figs’Photo0227Photo0242_crop

This one above suggests Italian political life is a carousel. The comedian turned political activist Beppe Grillo features here, and on many others, including the dried figs car as the red devil!Photo0220

I’m not sure who she is above, but I believe she is cleaning up Italian politics. Good Luck to her! European and world politicians also feature, not surprising given Italy’s current woes. Even Britain’s David Cameron was at Viareggio.Photo0216Photo0226_crop

One way of knocking politicians down to size is portraying them as babies! The botty on the potty belongs to Silvio Berlusconi.Photo0221_crop

Other floats were just for the joy or the spectacle. Our favourite was the Minotaur.Photo0210_cropPhoto0213



As well as the floats there are also figures carried on the shoulders of strong men.Photo0235_cropPhoto0236_cropPhoto0239_crop

Many of the crowd of spectators come in costume too. I’d have loved to be this lady.Photo0256_crop

Even the dogs are well dressed!Photo0207_crop

Viareggio Carnival is held over 4 or 5 weekends each year, around February time, exact dates varying according to Lent/Easter. This year there is one more date, March 3rd. It’s a fun, relaxed event and  a great antidote to the winter blues: throw confetti, wear a silly costume, and enjoy watching the Italians at play.

The official website is http://viareggio.ilcarnevale.com/

Posted in Events, Tuscany, Uncategorized, Winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Painting the town

From Ponte a Serraglio, looking towards my house!

From Ponte a Serraglio bridge, looking towards Villa Rosalena!

From the Bernabo terrace

Painting the town red? Well a few did, and all other colours possible. This Sunday saw the 5th edition of the painting competition ‘Colori e Sapori’ where artists come to Ponte a Serraglio to paint our beautiful little town in Northern Tuscany. They have between 8am and 4pm when the works are handed over for public display and judging  in the Villa Fiori park. Meanwhile lunch is served in the park for both artists and spectators.

The artists can choose any spot around town. I love peering over their shoulders to see what they are seeing and how they have interpreted the scene. It’s fun to see the familiar in new ways and through new eyes.

It’s always a very hot day for this competition. Often the artists start in situ and then move into the shade of the trees in the park to continue. This chap rather cleverly chose to paint from inside a tower!

Sometimes I just can’t see what they are seeing no matter how hard I try! I know I’m a philistine with sadly zero artistic talent, and there’s such a thing as artistic licence- But I do like to be able to recognise the town a little! Here I think he’s painting his trousers rather than Bagni di Lucca.

And here’s a bit more pink!

The river Lima is lovely but sadly we don’t have this waterfall! And no vikings or dancers! d

These ladies see the world as a magical place. Ponte a Serraglio is indeed a little bit magical so I’ll excuse this!

At four o’clock the paintings are displayed in the park and a panel of judges awards a number of cash prizes. Top prize was  650 euros.  Children are encouraged to enter as well and free materials are provided for them.

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to stay until the results were announced. I think there were 6 prizes, so instead I’ll show you my personal top 6! In order. Do bear in mind that my criteria is very simple, it’s whether I would like it on my wall or not! It will be interesting to find out how close mine come to the experts judgements!

I’ll try to find out the real winners! I also need to give two ‘special mentions’. This next one is almost identical to the view from my window, and we even have green shutters! Did this man sneak up to Villa Rosalena without me noticing?

And this one is the only painting I saw that had our house in it, the white house, though he has missed off the green shutters!

UPDATE, Morena from Borgo degli Artisti tells me that my number 2 choice was the winner! But none of my other choices ranked!

If you would like to paint Ponte a Serraglio next July contact the Borgo degli Artisti, a local artists group who organise the competition, Morena speaks English and can help. http://www.borgodegliartisti.com/

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Bagni di Lucca has a fantastic public open air swimming pool, now open for the summer. Here’s Debra’s photos from her brilliant blog Bella Bagni di Lucca which is a great source of information and inspiration about our great little Tuscan spa town.

Bella Bagni di Lucca

In summer, the beautiful swimming pools open in La Villa, the main village in Bagni di Lucca. The water is crystal clear and the views from the swimming area are stunning.







It is a great place to be on a hot, sunny day.



It costs €6.50 to enter the pool and you will need a bathing cap. (prices may change, this is what I was quoted the day I went)

There is a covered pool in winter with warm water from the springs, just what you need on a cold winter day.

The pool is behind La Villa on the way to Villa Ada at the end of Via Evangelina Whipple and is open from 9.00 am until 7.00pm.
Check details by phoning 334 2171150

The entrance fee is now €8. After 3.30pm it is €6.50

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Wisteria Envy!

I knew this was coming, it happens every year, severe case of wisteria envy! Bagni di Lucca is currently full of very large, stunning purple wisteria. The scent is beautiful and although they are growing in people’s gardens their size and visibility means we all get to enjoy them. Yet still I can’t help wishing each actually belonged to me! This is the one I love the most, it’s about 30 seconds away from Villa Rosalena, so I do get to see it daily during the all too short flowering period. It’s the dusky mauve against the grey stone wall I like.

I do have a wisteria, so my envy is not really very justified! It’s just that mine is small. It appeared a couple of years ago. It’s not in the best of places, not where I’d have chosen, but as it self seeded I’ve accepted nature’s choice. It is beside the steps, so it’s wonderfully fragrant when you walk past.

There are two large wisteria in the neighbouring gardens, so one of these below must be mother to mine!

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Plum blossom confetti and magnolia envy

I feel very unoriginal, but like many bloggers at the moment I cannot help but share a little bit of spring! In our garden and patch of hillside the first little signs of spring are quite tiny, violets and narcissus. But now to join them are the biggies, the plum trees in blossom. That’s what really lifts the spirits.







The first of the plum blossom was the pink blossom on dark leaved trees, these give us tiny deep red cherry plums, too fiddly for eating but which make a lovely tart jam.

Most of our trees have white blossom, these are a mixture of yellow and purple plums.

The plum tree blossom is so important for me as the marker for spring as the other trees on our hill are still bare and wintry.

The blossom is sadly so short lived, already with the slightest of breezes it’s starting to fall like confetti. But there will be so many other spring beauties to follow I doubt I’ll mind too much. Spring does bring out another kind of green in me, that of envy. Already I’ve been coveting  mimosa trees at the start of March and now we’re into mid March it’s magnolias. I do have a magnolia grandiflora, a huge evergreen, but what I’m currently envious of is the ones that flower now on leafless branches. Yesterday I spotted a gorgeous one outside the Villa Fiori here in Ponte a Serraglio, Bagni di Lucca, and today whilst walking to the post office another stunner in a garden in Fornoli. How can I not be envious!

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Sharing the goats!

Driving along a track yesterday near the village of Granaiola, one of the villages of Bagni di Lucca, I had to stop for goats – many, many goats. It gave me such pleasure to see them, along with the goatherder and his dogs. As I had my camera with me I snapped a few quick pictures to share. They had to be quick photos as these goats were on the move, though with a fair bit of stopping for a munch along the way!

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a poke around Lucca Antiques market.

This weekend was the Lucca antiques market. I had some specific items I hoped to find, but as is often the way I didn’t find quite the right thing. But really it was more of an excuse for a poke around there anyway, as you never know what you might find. Markets like these are a treasure hunt. There may just be hidden gems. And of course you have to look on every single stall, twice over, just to be sure! Here’s a few of the stalls that weren’t what I was looking for today, but which caught my eye anyway!

Some of the things I wonder who buys, like these keys. They look great displayed like this, but what to do with an old key? Someone must buy them, they must be someone’s ‘treasure’ ( at least they look like they might unlock a treasure chest!)

These little treasures I could easily find a use for! They look so lovely reflecting in the mirror. I would love to sip my liqueurs elegantly from glasses like these.  Currently I break glasses at such a rapid rate that I have to stick to Ikea for glasses, but maybe when I’m ‘grown up’ and less clumsy!

I was hoping to find a nice ceiling light, but those I liked hung too low for most of the family to pass safely underneath, but I did find this stall with all the bits to repair broken chandeliers so when I finally find the right light fitting at least I’ll know where to go to fix it if it has missing parts.The Lucca antiques market is held on the weekend of the 3rd Sunday of each month. It is on Saturday and Sunday, but to work out which weekend it’s the Sunday that counts, it’s always the 3rd Sunday, but the day before it may not necessarily be the 3rd Saturday. There are around 230stalls I believe. I looked at them all but didn’t count to check this! It’s easy to find, start at the Teatro del Giglio, which is to the side of the largest square in the centre of Lucca, Piazza Napoleone.

It then spreads around the piazzas near of the several churches including San Giovanni, San Giusto and the Cathedral of San Martino.And of course it trickles off down some nearby side streets, several of which have some very luxurious home decor and grand antique shops on which it would be easy to otherwise not stumble upon.

Of course it’s even more fun when it’s not a wet, grey day in February, but then as the market is only once a month one can’t wait for the weather!

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