The bountiful month of October in the mountains

October is a glorious month in the mountains. The warm, orange light of the sun through the trees, the paths covered with colourful fallen leaves, and the wildlife of the mountains, are a treat reserved for the elves, fairies, and few adventurous people.

The landscape in this season is really something miraculous, when the mesmerising colours of the mountains meet the dramatic and changing sky. The season evolves quickly, and you don’t want to miss any of it!

This is the best time to pick chestnuts, which besides being a fantastic family entertainment, also provides a good source of food. Chestnuts were always one of the major sources of nutrition for people living in the mountains, and could feed families and animals through the cold months of autumn and winter.

Looking for chestnuts is such fun!
Chestnuts roasting on the stove

Of course we don’t only love roasted chestnuts, but we also entertain ourselves with plenty of delicious, hearty recipes typical of this beautiful season.

Home-made pasta drying on the home-made pasta dryer!
Tortelli filled with spinach and ricotta!

We truly enjoy Autumn in Bagni di Lucca and the surrounding area. The neighbouring Garfagnana valley with its woods, castles, quaint villages, and medieval atmosphere is a great place to explore and a very pleasant escape for the family. We feel our spirits lifted whenever we are out and about in the mountains at this time of year.

La Valle di Babbo Natale – our wonderful Christmas event at La Villa!

Today was the first day of our most magical event at la Villa – La Valle di Babbo Natale. The event is organized by a group of young volunteers who work for many months to set up such a beautiful weekend.

The most magical part for the children is Father Christmas’s grotto, which is set up in the ancient, partly underground kitchen of Villa Webb.

Villa Webb is an historic Villa, which hosted the poet Shelley during his stay in Bagni di Lucca. Inside the villa the main hall is converted into a winter wonderland. The children can write a letter, visit Father Christmas’s bedroom (where a log fire burns and a toy train circles the Christmas tree in the corner), decorate gingerbread men, and finally meet Father Christmas in his grotto. We are quite sure, by the way, that this really is THE Father Christmas, not merely somebody dressed up, as you might find at lesser events.

In addition to the splendid decorations at Villa Webb, this year visitors could enjoy a very rich buffet of sandwiches, a traditional doughnut-like pastry which you could dip in hot chocolate, home made cakes, and a wonderful vin brule’ (mulled wine). We loved our sandwiches with grilled sausages and onions!

At Bagno alla Villa (the part of the town above the center, with beautiful villas and great views) there were several stands with nice gifts and Christmas presents. We absolutely adored the make-up girl and the magician! The magic was all around and we all felt like children again. What more could anyone ask?

We really appreciated all the stands and their homemade Christmas presents. As a matter of fact we bought a very nice piece of jewellery at one of the stands.

The party continued down at la Villa, along the main street of the village, Viale Umberto. Children were given a “passport”, a paper that invited you to visit every shop in the village, to stamp the passport and receive a nice gift. Our children loved all of their nice presents, but an outstanding experience was making cookies at the pub ‘La Lira’. The result was absolutely astounding! And each child carried home a bag of cookies that they had made themselves.

In front of the Circolo dei Forestieri the fountain is also nicely decorated for Christmas.

And here is our magical Valley of Father Christmas, nestled amongst mountains and dotted with beautiful historic villas – what great setting for Father Christmas’s real house!

The nativity in Pieve (Bagni di Lucca)

Ho Ho Ho – Here comes one of our favorite events of the whole Christmas season: the nativity! The quaint mountain villages of Bagni di Lucca are amazing spots to recreate the scene of the nativity, and the villagers make a great effort to present their village at its absolute best. The Presepio vivente (Live Nativity) is held, alternately, in three villages: Granaiola, Pieve and Monti di Villa. This year was the turn of Pieve, and our expectations were not disappointed. Pieve presented itself as an authentic village from the past, with displays of ancient professions, roman centurions, musicians, and the final arrival of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus.


Here is a fisher having a rest by the pond.

In every corner of the town, following a marked path, you could enjoy several specialties, such as necci, homemade pasta with ragu, cakes, cookies, sausage sandwiches, local cheeses, vin brule’, punch, etc… all absolutely homemade. Such a pleasure for the senses!

Even misty days can be truly atmospheric up in the mountains.

Children could have a go at making grappa!

Delicious cookies were offered to sample or to buy.

Everyone in the village gave a real contribution to this event, and the result is always a resounding success with hundreds of people queuing at the stop for the free shuttle!

Barga – a beautiful mountain village with a Scottish twist

Barga is rated as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. And rightly so. The town itself is a gem of quaint winding streets, and the views from the cathedral are stunning. The first time I saw it, it reminded me of the view from San Gimignano (Siena), although more dramatic, overlooking hills, olives, and cypresses all the way to the high mountains.

The views from the cathedral, right on top of the village

The medieval atmosphere is evident as soon as one enters though the ancient portal of the village.

Barga is well known for its historical Scottish connection, which continues to  bring many British people to visit, and to live here as well. In fact there are several British or Celtic style shops and pubs.

We are always very happy to drive a few minutes to Barga, to enjoy its quaint shops, well known restaurants, the amazing views, and some of the events that they organise throughout the year (The Chocolate festival, Fish and Chips festival, etc…).

A visit to the natural park of Orecchiella

The Parco dell’Orecchiella is a real gem in the Garfagnana area, with hectares of woods offering a multitude of hiking paths while admiring wild animals and visiting natural museums. The park is less than one hour drive from Casa Tolomei.

Today we decided to go despite an unpromising weather forecast, to beat the closure of the park at the end of October (during October it’s only open on Sundays).

One of a pack of wolf sculptures that are displayed near the visitor centre.

A short walk from the visitor centre, we met with a group of mouflon (a bit like a mountain goat.)

And further along, we absolutely loved our encounter with the bears

The small bear was very curious, or maybe just hopeful to get something nice, like berries?

It was a misty autumn day up there among the summits

The autumn colours were already starting to come out

A few chestnuts in the bag (presently roasting in our wood oven).

We found all kinds of mushrooms and toadstools on the woodland floor. Unfortunately we are not experts but we’re fairly sure these are not safe to eat! We’re still waiting for the day when we’ll find the famous Porcini!

We were really happy that we made the trip up into the mountains, for despite the weather we truly enjoyed the Autumn atmosphere. The park is usually open between April and October (only on certain days during some months.) The entrance fee is very reasonable (in 2019, 2 euros adults, 1 euro children over six) and entitles you to see the animals and other managed attractions of the park. Definitely worth a visit!

A sunny walk from La Villa to “Il Moro”

Today was sunny again, so we decided to explore further paths around our home. We love walking and we’re extremely happy to have so many possibilities just at our doorstep.

The path to Il Moro, a very high viewpoint just a few kilometers from Bagni di Lucca, starts at Il Paretaio, when the road up from La Villa turns down to Bagni Caldi (before continuing to Ponte a Serraglio). We were amazed to discover such a blissfully peaceful, sunny and spectacular path.

Along the way there are some beautiful waterfalls to be seen

All around are amazing views. We could see so many villages perched on the mountains

When we arrived at Moro basso we continued towards Moro alto

From Moro alto there is another path to Longoio, a beautiful village on the mountains of Bagni di Lucca.

We decided to leave Longoio for another time. The sun was slowly setting and we headed for home, enjoying the views of our pretty village in the warm glow of the sunset.

It was yet another charming walk and a great way to enjoy a blissfully sunny day!

A walk to Benabbio

Tuscany is famous for its sunny days, and Bagni di Lucca is no exception. Even in January the weather can be fabulous, with dry, sunny days set against a magnificent blue sky. Perfect weather for a walk in the mountains!

On Sunday the nearby village of Benabbio hosted a festival, called “Festa de Necci”, which celebrates a local product similar to a pancake. Necci are made with chestnut flour and filled with ricotta , nutella, cheese, hams, or whatever you fancy. What a great opportunity for an adventure with all the kids!

The walk starts from above the English cemetery of Bagni di Lucca, which is a real gem and worth a visit by itself. Since the first part of the walk was a bit too overgrown for the kids, we decided to walk for a while along the street up to the beginning of the mule track, a beautiful path amidst woods and fields. This is the very path that our famous guests, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, travelled along to reach Benabbio, riding on mules (well, it was the 1800’s!)

Along the way you can admire the view over Bagni di Lucca, La Villa, and up towards Benabbio, a charming little village higher up the mountain.

We were all very happy when we finally reached Benabbio, and headed straight for the party in the square, for a feast of Necci and mulled wine!

The walk took, in total, an hour and a half. It’s an easy, lovely walk that even kids can manage. If you happen to be in Benabbio at lunch time, you can enjoy a great meal at the famous restaurant “Il Cavallino Bianco”, right in the centre of the village, before you head back to Bagni or continue your walk towards another of our local villages. Still much more to explore in this wonderful area!

La Valle di Babbo Natale – a great family event in Bagni di Lucca

This year edition of “La Valle di Babbo Natale” has probably been the most successful one so far. This tradition was born thanks to the efforts of a group of young people from Bagni di Lucca who devote much time and work to the creation of a magical event,  attracting more and more people every year. Villa Webb looked wonderful as the setting for Santa’s house there was a surprise in every room.

The main entrance of the Villa, with beautiful Christmas trees and toys
Santa’s bedroom
The nativity
A wonderful nativity
Santa Klaus welcoming children in the charming old kitchen of Villa Webb
Kids could sit on Santa’s knee and have a photo taken

There was a bus offering a free service back and forth between Villa Webb and the village center.  The main street welcomed visitors with a beautiful Christmas market and many shows and activities for children.

The Christmas market was particularly charming this year

One of the most successful shows was performed by a street artist playing with fire

On Sunday morning we took part in the Santa’s Run, which is really a beautiful walk from Bagni di Lucca La Villa to Ponte a Serraglio. The participants were offered a Santa hat, a breakfast at the start of the run, and a generous buffet at the Thermal Baths.

Our group, walking with children
At the Thermal Baths we were offered a nice herbal tea made with the thermal water, and many treats to eat

Even the light rain of the afternoon did not prevent people from participating in this wonderful family event, and the Casa di Babbo Natale at Villa Webb was full of children queuing to sit on Santa’s knee.

It has been yet another great weekend in Bagni di Lucca, with much fun to be had for everybody. The village was looking wonderful and was full of visitors. Kids were thrilled and excited, and every activity was well organized, not to mention completely free. Don’t miss this event next year, you’ll love it!

What a wonderful, eventful December (so far)!

December so far has been a very eventful (and sunny) month. Every weekend there is a great event to attend.  The weather has been particularly good, and the villages of our beautiful “Valle dei Presepi e di Babbo Natale” are looking at their best. This weekend we went to Fornoli for the Fiera dell’immacolata on Saturday, and to Barga to the Festa del Cioccolato on Sunday.

The 8th of December is a festive day in Italy, the Festa dell’Immacolata, so we went to Fornoli and visited the traditional “Fiera dell’Immacolata”, a well organized market with stalls selling just about everything, from clothes to shoes, from little pets to Christmas gifts.

On Sunday there were many events around, but we love chocolate too much to miss the amazing “Festa del Ciccolato” in Barga. The village of Barga is one of the most picturesque around – a fortified medieval village set among rolling hills which has retained all its charm.

In the squares and alleys of this beautiful village, there were lots of stalls typical of a Christmas Market.

But the most amazing experience has been sampling chocolate of all types – what a treat!

In the end we couldn’t resist a cup of hot chocolate, which we sipped in one of the charming squares of Barga

In the afternoon we came back to Bagni di Lucca, where the kids attended a fashion show organized in the Square of Circolo dei Forestieri during another Christmas event: Total Look under the Christmas Tree.

We are so happy to have had the chance to attend an array of beautiful, fun events in our area and we’re already counting the days till next weekend, when Bagni di Lucca La Villa will transform itself into the Village of Father Christmas.

The wonderful nativity in Monti di Villa

Bagni di Lucca has a wonderful tradition, the presepio vivente or living nativity scene.  Every year, one of the quaint mountain villages takes a turn to recreate the nativity scene by setting up the entire village to represent past times in an extremely charming way. I have to say this is one of Bagni di Lucca’s best-loved traditions. This year it was the turn of Monti di Villa, a village right on top of the mountains which enjoys amazing views all around.

We arrived early to fully enjoy the charming atmosphere of this amazing set up, which beautifully recreated what could have been a Roman village at the time when Jesus was born.

While walking around the village admiring the nativity, one could enjoy some of the many specialties offered by various stalls, such as homemade tortelli, bomboloni (donuts), pizza, home made bread with local oil, pasta fritta, tigelle, necci (pancakes made with chestnut flour), roast chestnuts, mulled wine, etc…

Even Santa made his  appearance, progressing through the village to check who’s been naughty or nice.

The whole scene is set up to anticipate the arrival of baby Jesus

It was an amazing day, and, as every year, so well attended. Throngs of people kept arriving till late in the afternoon, to enjoy the spectacle of such a magical event in the most stunning setting.

We can’t wait to attend next year’s nativity in another beautiful village of Bagni di Lucca.