How many visitors to Bagni di Lucca today visit the Terme, the thermal waters establishment, at the top of the volcanic hill which rises up behind the town?
A couple of winters ago we were able, through a doctor’s prescription, to have a course of ‘grotta’ on the Italian National Health Service. This meant sitting in a very hot cave heated by the almost boiling waters which came from the hill’s entrails. After twenty minutes we were invited to leave (if we hadn’t already through sheer inability to withstand the temperature) and go and lie down on a camp bed and await both a ‘reazione’ and a tisane.
My ‘reazione’ (reaction) was to fall into a heavy swoon from which I had to be invariably woken up by the attentive staff.
Having dressed we then faced a crisp winter’s morning in Bagni, our pores thoroughly cleansed
My only complaint about the whole process was that the ‘reazione’ area is placed directly above the changing rooms and sometimes there is noticeable noise from the quarters below which interfere with one’s relaxation.
Bagni di Lucca bath have had their heyday, particularly in the nineteenth century when they were favoured by Europe’s most distinguished company of aristocrats and artists. However, when compared, particularly to Montecatini Terme which isn’t that far away, they do not equate.
Montecatini, with its fin-de-siècle plushness, may seem an unfair comparison to make but even with less luxurious establishments the Terme di Bagni di Lucca do not compete very well. The Terme of San Giuliano, formerly known as Terme di Pisa, where Shelley resided for some time and completed his poem on the death of Keats, Adonais, is, in my opinion, a cut above Bagni di Lucca’s efforts.
By 2005 (when these photograph were taken) San Giuliano Terme had completed a thorough restoration and was seductively well-appointed. It needed to for in 1992 it was threatened with complete closure!
The origins of the baths at San Giuliano are very old and date back to at least the time of that indomitable lady, Matilde di Canossa, in the middle ages. It was, however, only toward the end of the eighteenth century that San Giuliano really developed into an elegant thermal establishment. In 1743 Grand duke Francis of Lorraine restructured the baths and built his grand summer villa which is the centre-piece of the terme. People of quality started to visit the baths, including several of the Hapsburgs.
San Giuliano even has a thermal grotto on the lines of Bagni di Lucca. It’s called the grand duke’s hammam and was built in the eighteenth century. The ‘hammam’ was only rediscovered a few years back and its thermal waters drop from a waterfall at a temperature of 38 degrees into a stone basin in which one can take a dip.
If Bagni di Lucca is to return to its former glory then it must realise that it is facing increasing competition from at least one other terme within easy striking distance of it…