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.

A day out around Porto Venere 

Every summer we visit Liguria. It is one of our favourite spots for a day out and we all love it! It is an ideal trip for anyone who likes a bit of adventure.
From Lucca you can take a train to La Spezia. At La Spezia we normally take a train to Monterosso, the first of the Cinque Terre, but this time we explored a different area and took the bus to Porto Venere.

The bus trip by itself is beautiful and takes you in under 20 minutes to Porto Venere, a charming village on the Golfo dei Poeti.

The walks above the village offer amazing views on the gulf.

Porto Venere is a real gem and we love strolling around the village, the port, the church and the castle.

It was a sunny day and we decided to take the boat to the Isola Palmaria for a nice swim.

From the island you enjoy amazing views all around up to La Spezia.

After a walk and a fabulous swim in crystalline waters, we took the boat back to Porto Venere. The trip is very enjoyable, but too short for our kids, so we decided to take the ferry to La Spezia and enjoy another trip on the gulf.

La Spezia is a port city, with a line of palms along the promenade. It feels very “Riviera” like.

From the port we walked to the station along the very charming city centre, with open views on the Mediterranean on one side and dotted hills on the other.

We had a wonderful day at Porto Venere, travelling by train, bus, and boat to enjoy all those amazing views on colourful villages and blue, blue and blue!

The weekly market

Twice per week, all year round, there is a beautiful, colorful market in the square of  Bagni di Lucca.

Every Wednesday and Saturday, the square  is filled with stalls selling seasonal fruit and vegetables, plants and flowers, clothes, shoes, local produces such as honey and cheese, sandwiches, housewares, cleaning products, and much more.

The fruit looks gorgeous at this time of the year, and it smells nice too!

It is a treat for the eyes to walk around the stalls, take a look at all the products, try some specialties and buy some locally sourced fresh tomatoes and salad.

Clothes are very pretty and inexpensive at the market.

I particularly like it at this time of the year, when the air is pervaded by the scent of the linden trees and the square is bustling with people. While shopping at the market, you can enjoy a cappuccino at the cafe, have an ice-cream at the new gelateria, or have a sunny lunch in one of the several restaurants around the market.

A renovated Ice Cream shop in town

After one year, the Gelateria La Primavera re-opened this weekend with a new look.

It was always very busy and well attended by both locals and tourists,  so its reopening was awaited with much anticipation.

The ice-cream selection is very wide and the flavours all look delicious. I had “melograno” (pomegranate), which I highly recommend to anyone who loves a good fruity home-made ice-cream.

La Primavera does not only sell ice-cream. It ‘s also a cafe / bar with fresh pastries etc.

Outside there is a nice patio area with tables and chairs.  There used to be a dance floor at the end of this patio. where locals used to dance at the weekends.  Let’s hope it will be brought back, we could do with some dancing after an ice-cream!

The restored ice-cream shop, right in the centre of Bagni di Lucca Villa, is very welcome  and we do wish them all the best of luck. For sure, we’ll be visiting very often and treating ourselves to a very wonderful Italian ice-cream.

 

 

Azalea Festival at Borgo a Mozzano

The village of Borgo a Mozzano, a few kilometers from Bagni di Lucca, holds every year a very colourful festival, la festa dell’Azalea, or the Azalea festival.

All along the main street there are stands selling local products, food, drinks, clothes and, of course, flowers!

Although the sky was a little overcast, the festival was very well attended.

The villagers decorated their houses and arranged very beautiful displays along the main street – what a treat to walk amongst so many colourful flowers and decorations!

A band played music and danced along the street. We were very impressed with the dancers!

Due to a rainy start to the day, we weren’t sure whether to participate. But we were very happy that we did. We had a great day   at Borgo a Mozzano, enjoying the beautiful displays, the music, the decorations all over the town, and overall the very festive atmosphere of such a pretty village!

 

 

 

Snow in Bagni di Lucca

It rarely snows in Bagni di Lucca, but when it does,  the village and its surrounding look absolutely stunning. Snow was widely predicted and yet this morning, when we woke up, we were amazed at the white landscape around us.

Our garden at Casa Tolomei

We  couldn’t resist the temptation to go for a walk through town and into the woods. It’s the first time since we bought our house that  I saw the fountain in our local park completely frozen.

Parco Contessa Casalini, few meters from Casa Tolomei

From the park we took the path towards the wood, going through Bagno alla Villa with its  colorful villas.

Villa Webb

Villa Ada was immersed in a white wonderland

Villa Ada and its park

Bagni di Lucca seen from the woods looks like an enchanted town frozen in time, surrounded by white hills and dotted with ancient villas.

Corsena, the first settlement of Bagni di Lucca.

The church at Corsena with snow falling.

Back to the park…

…and straight home, for some hot chocolate for the kids and mulled wine for the adults!

Casa Tolomei

Gate to the walled garden of Casa Tolomei

It’s truly a wonder to see how pretty Bagni di Lucca looks under a blanket of snow.  I might even enjoy a visit to the Thermal Bath and head to Abetone for some skiing at the weekend.

Nature rambles around Casa Tolomei

We love nature, and this is one reason why we moved to Bagni di Lucca.  In every season, the scenery around is stunning and the sun is often shining in a blue sky.

Prato Fiorito in the far distance

Just opposite Casa Tolomei there is a picturesque walk along the river Lima The Poets Walk, where Elizabeth Barrett declared her love to Robert Browning.

The Poets’ Walk

When the sun is out, we often head for the woods above our house, which never disappoint, offering a magical setting and a profusion of wildflowers, birds, and stunning views.

Wildflowers along a woodland path

In winter you can admire the snowy peaks of the mountains in the distance…

A vineyard with a view of the snow-capped peaks

…and peep though the leafless trees towards the ancient villages around.

Corsena seen through the trees

The bees are already out in the woods in search of the first flowers.

A row of colourful beehives

A nature ramble is always a tonic for the soul – and we feel very lucky to have so much greenery so close to us.

 

 

 

Casa Tolomei into 2018

2017 was our first year in business here at Casa Tolomei, and as we go towards the next season we’ve been taking a moment to reflect on the challenges of the year gone by. A year ago we only had one upstairs bedroom finished and it took a mountain of work to get the entire floor finished in time for summer, including redoing the terrace floortiles, consolidating crumbling plasterwork, installing a kitchen, and refitting bathrooms, amongst many,  many other tasks.  Having achieved that by July last year, we’re now looking forward to our first full year in 2018!

As a matter of fact, Casa Tolomei has a long history as a holiday rental,  going back to the 1800s.  There have been some famous poets and artists among its visitors. The English poets Robert Browning & Elizabeth Barrett spent two summers at the Villa, delighted, as Elizabeth wrote, with its “comfort” and “beautiful and joyous” surroundings, “very green, very cool, very picturesque or even more. There are the old magnificent mountains and chestnut woods, and a great moonlights – won’t you come and see?”

Many years have passed since then, but the villa,  set “in the heart of the most enchanting scenery,” has kept all its charm, comfort, and beautiful surroundings.  At the same time we have expanded our options to meet our guests needs. Besides bright and spacious suites, this year we are happy to introduce two self catering solutions: a luxurious studio flat, ideal for couples or small families,  and an apartment for 4-6 people, with a big terrace for al-fresco dining, two bathrooms and up to three bedrooms.

Due to the historical interest of the house, and its artistic links, the villa also suggests itself as an ideal location for writers or artists retreats and wedding groups.

 

 

On the Trail of the Brownings

Recently we hosted two well known American authors  at Casa Tolomei. Tom and Laura McNeal were visiting Tuscany during their research for a new novel on Penini,  the son of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.

The English poets and their son were summer residents at Casa Tolomei during the 1850s.  Elizabeth loved the villa and wrote many letters about their stay, whereas Robert wrote some famous poetry in the blue room (his study),  including ‘In a Balcony’.

Penini himself thought he was in paradise, the moment he arrived from Florence. He loved playing in the garden on the swing and having tea parties with his friends on the little stone benches, walking their dog Flush along the river with Wilson their maid and Ferdinando the cook, playing with rabbits and donkey riding.

Tom and Laura are two wonderful people and we were delighted to have them with us. Their enthusiasm for the house and its history was a treat,  and we deeply enjoyed their company.  They are also two great authors.  So far I read Laura’s The Practice House and Tom’s Far, Far Away and loved them both.

Can’t wait to read Laura’s novel on Penini!