A Tuscan Tale

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Ponte di Maddelena Ponte di Maddelena

Recently went on a summer break in Northwest Tuscany.  That means all the famous sites: Pisa and its leaning tower, Florence, Lucca et al.  But also the hills and mountains of the Alps and Appenines, and the intriguing Bagni di Lucca - the local town where we were based.  "Bagni di Lucca" means the Baths of Lucca, and was always known for its healing spas.  Bagni was a stop on the Grand Tour bar none.  The list of luminaries who stayed there in the 19th and 20th centuries reads like a list of the great and good: Byron, Shelley - there's a plaque above the house where he stayed - the Brownings, Dumas, Strauss, Napoleon's family, a US President's family; Liszt played in the casino - the first casino in Europe where the forerunners of games like roulette were invented - and nearby Lucca's most famous son Puccini heard music there that inspired him to write Turandot.  The English adored the place, and there's an English church (built in Gothic style to resemble a palace) and cemetery.  But the church and cemetery give a clue as to why I describe this place as intriguing: the church is now a library that we couldn't seem to get in, and the cemetery can only be visited by appointment.  For this is now a faded former stop on the Grand Tour.  The grandest Bagni villa - Villa Fiori - where party-goers once revelled, is now boarded up.  We couldn't get into the casino, either, or the theatre (yes, little Bagni also had its own theatre). None of this detracted too much from visiting the place, though you had to imagine how things used to be (other than for the cantilevered housing perched at the entrance to Bagni which remains at its impressive best).  Just up the road is the spectacular Ponte di Maddelena or "Devil's Bridge", a structure whose shape has to be seen to be believed, and a chain and wooden bridge which was the foreunner of suspension bridges worldwide.  All in all, Bagni and its environs make for a diverting and different vacation, as well as being beautifully positioned for visiting classic Renaissance Tuscany.  You may wish to try them.

Jonathan Lipman

Lawyer moonlighting as author of Polska Dotty; or, maybe the other way around.

Website: polskadotty.wordpress.com/

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