A classic round trip to take by car from Longoio is the Bagni di Lucca – Passo Del Trebbio – Collodi –Capannori – Marlia – Brancoli – Borgo a Mozzano circuit.
Yesterday was a somewhat rainy day – the rain has continued through the night and well into this early morning. Our walk to the top of Monte Incoronata was, therefore, out of the question and we took to four wheels instead.
There are so many sights on the round trip that it would be difficult to fit them all in one day. We did, however, manage to see a fair number of them.
Our first stop after BDL was Benabbio which, if one gets away from the main road cutting through the large village, contains many delightful sights.
The castle has been the scene of archaeological digs since 2008 which have revealed much new information on the Lupari dynasty living there. Indeed, only yesterday we received a report on the recent digging season from Antonio Fornaciari who is the principal coordinator.
Because of the unceasing rain we decided to give a walk to the top of the hill overlooking Benabbio, where the castle is situated, a miss and headed instead for the church museum where among other beautiful objects there is a pair of beautiful wooden statues representing the annunciation and by Pietro D’Angelo who was no less than Jacobo della Quercia’s dad! Alas, this was closed since the priest was away in Lucca and he was the only one to hold the key. Perhaps Sunday after Mass would have been a better time to find him.
However, we were not too disappointed for the austerely wonderful parish church, dedicated to the Assumpted Virgin, was open with its several treasures. The jewel among these is the gorgeous triptych hung high above in the apse and complete with predelle and rich frame. It’s attributed to Baldassarre del fu Biagio Del Firenze and dates from 1469. The mixture of sienese type golden background and fully formed renaissance figures is very endearing and shows how hybrid the art in this border country was.
The church’s font is situated in a gracious renaissance “tempietto”..
There are several other beautiful pictures in this church including one of the Madonna with saints by Giuseppe Antonio Lucchi, a local painter from Diecimo influenced by Tiepolo, dated to 1771.
Among the other features of this sometimes overlooked village is the Eden theatre which Princess Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon’s sister, attended and in which Totò (that Norman Wisdom of Italian comedy) performed, no less.
Benabbio has a very nice web site (in Italian) at http://www.benabbio.net/.
After a morning coffee there in the bar once owned by the much-lamented late mayor of BDL, Antonio Contrucci, we continued over the Trebbio pass to the fortified village of Boveglio. We’d now entered into the province of Pistoia.
Despite its proximity to Bagni di Lucca there’s no bus service top BDL from Boveglio; one has to take a bus down to Ponte dell ‘Abate and then another one to Lucca and then yet another bus to BDL. I’d experienced this tedium since Boveglio was my original introduction to the area in which I have now been living for ten years. For, in the winter of 2001, I got the chance of first experiencing life in this part of the world when I was offered accommodation in Boveglio and an interpreting job at a conference on the voluntary sector in Lucca’s ducal palace.
I remember it as being a very revelatory experience but also a very cold one! The only way to reach BDL was via a very snowy mountain road on the scooter I’d borrowed and it was clearly a baptism of fire (or rather ice) for me.
Boveglio seemed a ghost village when we visited it. No humans were visible there. At Boveglio’s top there is a watchtower complete with clock. This tower linked up with others in the area to set up a precursor of our early warning systems in the case of enemy attack (usually from Florence or Pistoia).
There are three main narrow and very steep streets leading from the watchtower to a main square where there is the place’s only bar.
We were astonished at the grandeur of many of the houses and the elegant entrance porches.
Boveglio’s bar once provided my lifeline to the outside world in the form of a telephone tucked away behind the main hall. No cell phone or internet links for me then! The bar owner recognized me after all these years (fourteen of them!) and confirmed the fact that Boveglio, like so many hill settlements, is, sadly, rapidly reducing its number of permanent inhabitants.
The bar’s terrace has the most wonderful view over the village and the surrounding mountains. It’s easy to see how Boveglio is a walled settlement: the outer row of houses can be closed up to provide a defence against the enemy and there are a couple of fine entrance archways which can be easily manned in the case of attack.
Strangely, the parish church is placed well away from the village in a valley below it. I remember this church as having some fine carved pews and paintings but there was little inclination to visit it now.
Our next stop was Villa Basilica – the main settlement of the area and possessor of one of the finest churches in the area. I’ve covered Villa Basilica in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/noble-villa-basilica/ . I’ve also written a post about the rebirth of its castle at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/a-spectacular-castle-is-reborn/ . So there’s little I want to add here except that the church, in my opinion, remains unbeatable in terms of its virtuoso carving of candy-stick-like columns and interior mystical atmosphere.
I do recommend, the little shop in the main square, however, which prepared us excellent focaccia sandwiches which we ate under the awning in front the shop.
We were hoping to see the butterfly house at Collodi – at least we’d be dry inside it but the butterflies weren’t there and would only return in March. No matter, we had a look around this Pinocchio-infested town (the author was brought up there) and I managed to get a first edition of the most read book in the world after the Bible (facsimile, of course!).
Going through Borgonuovo I was saddened to find the house where Saint Gemma, that o-so neglected saint from Lucca, was born closed and apparently deserted. Where were the nuns I wondered who’d shown us around the house and convent not so many years ago?
By the roundabout which leads into that tedious road, Viale Europe going to Marlia, is a Chinese shop selling everything from clothes to bath salts. Prices are very reasonable and we all had a little shopping spree there.
So onwards we proceeded and returned home to an even more precipitating Longoio. At least we didn’t spend the day looking at the rain-drops flowing down our window panes!