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.
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.
The Thermal Baths of Bagni di Lucca have a long history and have attracted visitors from far and wide for centuries. The waters are highly curative and having a treatment in an original thermal establishment is a special experience – the ancient thermal grottoes, for example, are really magical.
From Casa Tolomei you can reach Le Terme at Bagni Caldi via a beautiful walk though the woods, romantically called the “Via dell’Amore” . The walk takes you uphill and then down again, somewhat steeply at times. Start from the park (Parco Contessa Casalini) and go up past the Villa Ducale and Bagno alla Villa.
It continues upwards through the woods…
On the way, you can enjoy wonderful views of the rooftops of Bagni di Lucca
At the “Paretaio”, (where there used to be a cafe/bar a long time ago), continue around the curve and start to go downhill, following the sign for Bagni Caldi
After few hundred meters you reach the beautiful Thermal Baths of Bagni di Lucca. You can take the steps down after passing the partially restored church.
It is a great walk to reach a special place.
Furthermore, we’re pleased to announce that guests of Casa Tolomei benefit from a 15% discount at the thermal baths. Note that booking in advance is highly recommended.
Bagni di Lucca is an ideal location to spend time around Christmas.
During the day, you can head to the slopes of Abetone for a day of skiing in one of the most famous resorts in Tuscany, only 40 kilometers from the Villa.
Alternatively you could spend a day at the thermal baths of Bagni di Lucca, enjoying the natural grottoes (caves that are like natural saunas or vapour baths), the thermal waters of the pool, or some of the various other treatments offered. From Casa Tolomei you can easily reach the Thermal Baths by car (5 minutes) or on foot by a romantic walk in the woods called the via dell’amore, or path of love .
For New Years Eve you could rent the entire floor of the Villa and have a wonderful dinner in the grand sala, or dine in one of the many great restaurants around, all of which are just a few meters away.
Halloween is not an Italian tradition but here, in Bagni di Lucca and the surrounding area, it is well celebrated.
Bagni di Lucca La Villa has several themed displays (Pub ‘La Lira’ pictured) and, on the 31st, children traditionally go around the town ‘trick or treating’.
In Ponte a Serraglio, Bar Italia offers a Halloween buffet from 7 p.m. In Fornoli there are two Halloween events: a Horror Movie Night at the Daiquiry Pub and a Halloween Night at the Cafe’ Catene.
But the biggest and most famous celebration is at Borgo a Mozzano, which puts on, amazingly, one of the biggest Halloween parties in Italy!
The event lasts for several days and peaks on the 31st. Along the winding old main street, decked out with banners and spooky regalia, you can find food stalls, live music, magic shows, games, and haunted houses.
The Academic Theater of Bagni di Lucca, built in 1790, hosted events of primary importance in the past. Giacomo Puccini himself played the piano here, when he visited the spa town he loved so much .
Every Sunday between October 15th and November 12th the theater shows an animated children’s film, after which adults and children enjoy a delicious ‘merenda’ with sweet treats and mulled wine. Today the snack was further enlivened by a magic show featuring fire-breathing and giant bubbles.
There are still two Sundays to go, with “Pets” on November 5th and “Zootropolis” on November 12th. It’s an opportunity not to miss if you’re in the area with your kids!
Fall is a wonderful season to be in Bagni di Lucca. Under the golden light of a warm sun, the valley is full of autumn color, the atmosphere scented with the first woodsmoke and hints of the caldarroste (roast chestnuts) and vin brule’ (mulled wine) warming in the corners of ancient villages.
There are many sagre (festivals) around in this period, often celebrating chestnuts – a typical product of this area which is used to make some wonderful recipes! Here is a list of selected sagre in October:
15/10 Festa del Vino, Fosciandora / Festa della Castagna, Careggine
21/10 Sapori d’Autunno, Pieve di Fosciandora / Mondinata al Ponte, Borgo a Mozzano
22/10 Sagra della Castagna, Lucchio
29/10 Castagnata CAI, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana / Castagnata in Riva al Lago, Pentecosi, Pieve Fosciandora