How and when did I get to Bagni di Lucca? I first read up about the place in a Collins series guidebook my local library had thrown out. The history of the town fascinated me, especially its connection to a favourite poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. However, the guidebook, by Archibald Lyall, did describe Bagni as having seen better days (which I still feel it has.)
We’d been visiting Italy regularly for many years, in particular Tuscany. But although we’d climbed such fabulous Apuan alps as the Pania della Croce, Monte Sumbra and the highest of them all, the Pisanino, we’d only passed by Bagni di Lucca station.
In autumn 2001 I hired a scooter and we visited Pinocchio land at Collodi. Sandra had already been there before we married.
Here are some photos of our first visit to Pinocchio park together.
We thought our visit would end at Collodi but decided to venture further up the valley and eventually reached a village called Boveglio. I was impressed by its fortified, mediaeval atmosphere and the idea came to me to look for a place to buy there. A house was pointed out to us by a local as being for sale although there was no sign to say so.
Its owner was a lady who lived in Livorno. We arranged a meeting and were shown around the property. There was a small kitchen, a smaller bathroom, two little bedrooms but the house had a large main bedroom above an equally large living room, attached to which was a small boudoir. There was a low attic, half a cellar and a tiny garden. To get to both the garden and the cellar one had to step outside the front door and go round to the side of the house.
At sixty thousand euros with a good exchange rate (then) the semi detached house seemed a bargain.
I returned to Boveglio again at Christmas time. The house needed a test run and the owner allowed me to carry it out. I’d also got a short contract to interpret at a conference on the voluntary sector at Lucca’s town hall. I was really keen on experiencing what it would be like to live, and not just holiday, in Italy.
It was a steep learning curve. When I returned in December the weather had turned really cold and the house had only a small electric fire to keep me warm. I remember turning on my laptop to put it under the blankets and heat up the bed. To get to work in Lucca I needed to catch two buses, the first at 5 am. What was really spooky was that the village, although quite large, seemed almost deserted.
Fortunately, I had some neighbours, a coupled retired from an expat life working in Belgium. There was also a bar with a public phone.
One day I decided I’d go over to visit Bagni di Lucca. There was no bus service from Boveglio to Bagni (and there still isn’t) so I went on my scooter through the iciest roads I’d known. It was then that I first saw the astonishing Prato fiorito.
Not much was happening at Bagni. There was a juggler and a crib display but locals told me this was the first time the council had set up anything special for Bagni. I slipped badly off the steps of the town hall and made my way back to Boveglio in the darkening gloom. The following day the snowploughs were at work.
What happened about the house? I didn’t buy it. Although it had some nice features, including two large rooms, attractive views, an extensive balcony and some elegant bits of furniture (although how much of it would have remained is a different matter) I’m glad we didn’t buy it. The house didn’t have a garden one could step into directly from the building, there were too many wobbly floor beams to replace, there was the usual demarcation problem with the neighbour who occupied the other half of the property, transport to the main centre of Lucca was erratic, there was no public service to Bagni di Lucca and every summer Boveglio suffered from a severe water supply problem. Furthermore, the house wasn’t exactly quiet since both its front and rear area were bounded by a main road. Lastly, the valley approach to the village was filled with paper mills, some of which could have counted as fine examples of industrial archaeology but all of which emitted unpleasant smells.
In short, Boveglio didn’t tick all our boxes. Our present place in Longoio, although not perfect, ticks many more boxes and it’s now twelve years that we have chosen it as our rural italian residence. Boveglio, however, is looked back with a certain degree of nostalgia. We were seventeen years younger, more innocent about Italy, and certainly more ingenuously happy.
PS. The pictures of the house were taken with our very low resolution Kodak EZ camera which introduced us to digital photography.