A List of the Twenty One Most……

Do you like going through lists published on the web? You know, like the ten best restaurants in Gubbio or the ten worst fish n’ ship shops in Gloucestershire, or the ten most beautiful women in the world or the ten ugliest men in the world? Do you go through them and enjoy agreeing or disagreeing with them? Of course, they’re just one or two persons’ opinions anyway. Beauty (or ugliness) is in the eye of the beholder.

Recently, fellow blogger, whose site is at https://wherelemonsblossom.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/italys-21k-top-and-secret-destinations-according-to-the-daily-telegraph/, brought me to the attention of an article in the UK’s Daily Telegraph listing the 21 best secret locations in Italy. (I.e. the most beautiful places which deserve to be visited but aren’t on the usual tourist destinations list). The fellow blogger pointed me to the Italian reference to the D.T. site which she wasn’t able to find. It’s actually at

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/italy/articles/secret-italy-places-you-never-thought-to-visit/

Dated April 26th this year the article lists the following places:

  1. Marina di Pisciotta, Campania
  2. Bergamo, Lombardia
  3. Montefalco, Umbria
  4. Gabicce Mare, Marche
  5. Portovenere
  6. Treviso, Veneto
  7. Sovana, Toscana
  8. Lago d’Iseo
  9. Porto Selvaggio, Puglia
  10. Sulmona & Monti della Laga, Abruzzo
  11. Matera, Basilicata
  12. Ravello, Campania
  13. Trieste, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
  14. Gargano, Puglia
  15. Ragusa and Cefalù, Sicilia
  16. Le Langhe, Piemonte.
  17. Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna
  18. Marettimo, Sicilia
  19. Herculaneum and Oplontis, Campania
  20. Genova, Liguria
  21. Venezia segreta (secret Venice), Veneto

To my shock horror I realised that I’d only seen numbers 2, 8, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20 and 21. That’s less than half the places on the list and we’ve been coming to Italy for years.

There are lists of the 21 places on the planet you must see before you get old or pop off. But there’s enough in Italy to keep one going for at least a lifetime (or two if one believes in reincarnation). I wonder how many places you can tick off the list?

The problem is that these places will no longer be secret anymore soon if you don’t hurry to see them..

That reminds me, I’m still looking for a list of 21 ways to become a billionaire within a month!

To see posts on the places on the list I’ve seen consult the following:

  1. Trieste https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/seaview-trieste-style/

OMG that’s the only post I’ve got on the must-see places I’ve seen! I will say this: that all the places I’ve seen on the list are superlative and fully deserve to be there. So the list should be taken seriously by serious travellers.

I did write a poem on the lago d’Iseo, however, when I visited it:

GREBE

(LAGO D’ISEO)

I pitch my tent by the lake shore,

it is the close of day.

The placid dipping of an oar:

as boat slips into bay

 

I dive in the limpid water;

around dark mountains rise

while the setting sun ignites a

rose flame upon the skies.

 

Mother grebe sinks under water,

her little frantic chicks

swim about trying to find her.

Is she up to her tricks?

 

She surfaces and they spin round

in dance of tufted joy.

How could they think she might have drowned

rising just like a buoy?

 

I watch this game over again

until my soup is cooked

and, hungry, no longer remain,

yet still their game is brooked.

 

The chicks’ meal is feather and fish;

excellent digestive

for difficult to swallow dish

of trout: most refined sieve.

 

Tucked in my downy sleeping bag,

waves lapping me to sleep,

into dreamland I slowly sag

as grebes play on the deep.

 

index

 

 

 

 

 

For those living in the Bagni di Lucca area items 5, 7, 17, and 20 could easily be done in a (longish) day trip – ideal now that the days are becoming ever longer.

Perhaps we should have a list of the 21 must-see places in the Bagni di Lucca area.

Let’s start …. Mm so difficult, so much to see!

At the moment I can only make a list the 21 things I must do urgently. Let’s start:

  1. Feed the goldfish
  2. Empty the cat litter tray
  3. Hang out the washing
  4. Pay the phone bill
  5. Wash the living room cotto floor
  6. Plant the onions……

I’ll stop there before it gets too boring for you dear reader……

However, here is at least one place I must see (to): our house in Longoio!

Perhaps you have your own favourite 21 must-see places in Italy? If so I’d love to hear from you!

 

Camaiore: A City of Organs

Camaiore is one of my favourite Tuscan towns and is within easy striking distance from Bagni di Lucca. Not to be confused with Marina di Camaiore which is its nearby bathing establishment – and is one of the few around here with a public pier:

Camaiore has many points of interest and could be combined with a day at the beach which is less crowded than the one at Viareggio (hopefully!). At this moment, however, I doubt there’s anyone swimming. Snow is actually forecast on our mountains. Is May by any chance near?

To get to Camaiore the easiest way is to head towards Lucca, turning right just before reaching the EsseLunga roundabout.

You can also get to Camaiore from Castelnuovo by doing the dramatic route up the Turrite Secca valley and via the Cipollaio tunnel through the Apuans. This is a great way as you pass many picturesque places including Isola Santa

and the now disused Henraux marble quarry.

The first part of the former route is along a beautifully wooded valley road which then rises to reach the heights of Montemagno before descending into the Versiliana plain, approaching Camaiore via a handsome tree-lined avenue.

Stile Liberty (Italian Art Nouveau) devotees shouldn’t miss out on the church of San Martino in Freddana which dates from 1904.

DSCN0318

Camaiore was originally an Etruscan and, subsequently, Ligurian settlement as archaeological finds in the area show. (There’s an archaeological museum in the town but it always seems closed. Its site is at   http://www.comune.camaiore.lu.it/page/uffici/index.asp?IdUfficio=18 but the opening hours are stated as ‘still to be defined’. The museum was originally opened in 1986 but has been ‘under restoration – an ominous phrase in this country – for some years.).

Camaiore was then colonised by the Romans who established a castrum or camp with a typical grid pattern which still exists to this day.

DSCN0274

It was the Middle Ages however which truly brought glory to Camaiore. The town became an important hospitality point on the Via Francigena, the great pilgrim route which links Canterbury to Rome.

In fact, Sigeric the Serious (ordained as priest at Glastonbury and subsequently archbishop of Canterbury from 990 to 994) in his description of the itinerary to Rome to receive his ordination from the Pope mentions Camaiore as stage 27 on the journey. He called it ‘Campmaior’ (major camping ground…). Sigeric stayed at Saint Peter’s monastery just outside Camaiore.

In the thirteenth century Camaiore came under the definitive control of Lucca which strongly fortified it, (parts of the defensive wall still exist), as it led to the City’s secure route to the seaport of Motrone.

When we first visited this delightful town the monument outside Saint Peter’s monastery now known as the Badia (abbey) di Camaiore had recently been unveiled. It commemorates all the pilgrims who ventured (and still happily venture) on the Via Francigena to reach their Papal destination, the basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican City.

This notice states that ‘with the Papal Bull of 21 June 1505 Pope Julius II communicated to the Holy Roman Empire to have given the charge to Canon Peter Von Hertenstein to lead two hundred Swiss soldiers with their captain Kaspar von Silenen ‘to protect our territories’’. The recruits entered Rome on 22 January 1506. Blessed by the Pope the guards began their duties on the same day. Thus were the Swiss Guards of the Pontifical state born.

(PS the word ‘bull’ here refers to the lead seal (bulla) attached to such documents. It’s got nothing to do with the horned variety…)

The church itself presents a characteristic Romanesque basilican plan with nave, two aisles and a semi-circular apse.

However, the first monument to grab one’s attention when entering is the baroque tabernacle to the Madonna of Piety to the left.

There is a copy of a painting by Francesco d’Andrea Anguilla on the left wall. (The original is in Camaiore’s ‘Museo d’arte sacra’).

DSCN0290The atmosphere is wonderfully calm and meditative. We have returned to this beautiful building a number of times. On one occasion there was a wedding being celebrated. What a perfect location to have one!

Camaiore’s town centre streets are full of character and there is a very convivial square on which the Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta is to be found. It’s Camaiore’s main place of worship. I love the fishy fountain in the square.

The Collegiata is, again, of Romanesque architecture. The church was ‘baroquized’ in the seventeenth century but was largely restored to its original appearance last century. By its entrance are a beautiful mediaeval font and a marble water tank.

The Pieve di Santo Stefano is Camaiore’s original church and one of the oldest in the whole Lucchesia, dating back to around 700. Its main feature is the Roman sarcophagus intelligently recycled as a baptismal font. From Death to Life it seems to state!

We have also visited the Museo d’arte sacra (museum of sacred art) which is well worth seeing. (Opening details at http://www.museoartesacracamaiore.it/orari.htm )

DSCN0270

We hope to return to Camaiore in the summer when its biggest event takes place. It’s the Organ festival celebrating the wonderful musical instruments many churches possess in this part of the world, some of which date back several hundreds of years. Details of the festival (translated into English by LuccaMusica magazine team member Francis Pettitt i.e. me) will soon be shown at http://www.luccamusica.it/events/category/festival-organistico-citta-di-camaiore-en/

DSCN0268

Do be sure to visit Camaiore if you’re on your way to Marina di Camaiore. It’s not to be missed!

 

 

Florence’s Giardino Bardini

The Bardini garden is one of the most exquisite in Florence. It forms part of a sort of ‘green-chain walk’ in the city and can be included when buying a ticket for the Pitti palace. I’ve done this route several times with friends and the advantage is that it does distract the visitor from the multitudes of crowds now infesting the often narrow and mediaeval streets of Florence’s centre.

DSCN0077

Extending from near the banks of the Arno towards Piazzale Michelangelo it boasts every type of garden planning from Renaissance to Baroque to Victorian and is lovely at any season of the year most particularly, of course, in spring. The views are superlative, among the best in Florence.

The origins of the Giardino Bardini, which is located on the hill known as Montecuccoli, date back to mediaeval times when it belonged to the Mozzi family. In 1880 Le Blanc bought the garden and its villa, transforming the whole area into a characteristic English garden with lawns and ‘winding mossy ways’. He also had the Kaffeenhaus built where today one can have a slightly expensive caffé.

In 1913 Stefano Bardini, the aristocratic visitor’s favoured wheeler-dealer in antiques and paintings (his Museo Bardini, now beautifully arranged, shows off the collection) became the owner of the garden and restored many of its features, adding some of his own

When Stefano died the property passed to his son Ugo who expired without heirs in 1965. Byzantine legal cases then followed, centred on who should inherit what. Finally thirty one (!) years later the courts decided to award the property to the city of Florence according to Ugo’s original intentions. (No wonder there are so many decaying palaces in Italy – in many cases it’s issues of heredity which have caused their atrophic state.)

By 1996 the garden was in a sorry state but, thanks to private and corporate benefactors, it was opened to the public in 2000.

All these photographs date from our visit there exactly ten years ago today. The garden is, perhaps, even more resplendent now since restoration is still continuing apace.

 

 

Lucca’s Botanical Gardens

Lucca’s botanical gardens were founded in 1820 by Maria Luisa di Borbone who succeeded Napoleon’s sister after the congress of Vienna in 1815 which decided the future of Europe after Bonaparte’s final defeat at the battle of Waterloo. The gardens are tucked away in the south-east part of the city and are bounded on one side by its walls and on the other by the ex-convent of San Micheletto now used as a concert and exhibition centre.

Within the gardens’ small confines are to be found many flowers, plants and trees of some considerable value.

I don’t quite know if this was our first visit to the gardens in April 2006. It might have been. There is something magical about coming across a lovely place for the first time. We might learn more through subsequent visits but nothing can quite recapture the frisson of discovery.

Anyway this is what we saw on that visit ten years ago to the day.

Cacti:

Trees including Sequoia and Ginkgo Biloba:

Some of these trees are no longer there or have been sadly decapitated as a result of the violent hurrticane of February of last year.

The pond was enhanced by lilies and yellow flags:

The flowers included rhododendrons and azaleas:

There’s also a botanical library and museum but we still have not been able to gain access to it.

There’s more on the gardens in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/flowery-lucca/ including the legend of Lucida Mansi and her pact with the devil.

There’s also a web site for the gardens at http://www.lemuradilucca.it/orto-botanico

 

A Scorcher of a Summer?

According to ‘il meteo’ (Italian for weather forecast) we’re going to be in for a scorcher of a summer again. In fact, some say it could be the hottest summer on record. (Incidentally, the Italian for scorching is ‘rovente’.

Depending on where you live or what you like temperature-wise it’s going to be either good or bad news. If you spend your summer in the UK it’s going to be good news with ‘heat waves’ and comfortable swimming even on the beaches of Scotland. In Italy if you live north of the Apennines then it’s going to be variably very hot with more summer storms. If you live in central and southern Italy then it’s truly going to be hot with temperatures rising even above the 43 degrees hit in 2003 and reaching 45.

images

Already there have been above average April temperatures for Italy, although at this moment there is a temperature drop of ten degrees thanks to cyclone Medusa. (It was just five degrees last night). Some people say there is a correlation between the advent of El Nino one year and high summer temperatures the next. This is not completely proven but what is sure is that globe-warming is a fact. I’m, therefore, glad that an agreement was signed between the powers on Earth Day last week. Whether it will be kept to is another matter, however…

Meanwhile, make sure you’ve got enough water stored for your allotment and that the fridge works!

I’ve always looked forwards to summer in Italy. Let’s hope that what Henry James said still remains true for me after this summer comes and goes:

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

Meanwhile, this morning I woke up to this.

I don’t need to tell you the English equivalent of this Italian saying:

‘Rosso di sera bel tempo si spera; rosso di mattina la pioggia si avvicina.’

 

The Marathon – Lucca Style

The Marcia delle Ville is our nearest equivalent to the London Marathon. It’s a Marcia Podistica, which means that you can either walk or run or do a little of both. (‘Podismo’ means the discipline of race walking and running).

index2

Yesterday, while the London Marathon was happening we joined in our version. The only differences were that there was a competitive and non-competitive section (this meant that anyone could join in from the ages of 8 to over 80), that there was a choice of routes depending upon one’s fitness and inclination,

index

and that the idyllic rural landscape we were going through was rather different from the built-up landscape of London.

04252016 038

In fact, the Marcia delle Ville is older than the London Marathon, having started in 1977 while the first London Marathon took place in 1981. It’s organised by the comune di Marlia together with the local club podistico and has grown from strength to strength over the years. It’s truly one of Italy’s largest and most popular family sporting events.

La Marcia delle Ville is a lovely occasion to immerse oneself in a completely Italian social atmosphere. My friend (who invited me for the Marcia, having been enthralled by it on a previous occasion) said that we would probably be the only brits taking part on it and, indeed, we only heard Italian spoken by those taking part.

La Marcia delle Ville is also a wonderful chance to walk through the exquisite gardens of villas of the Luccan nobility which are normally closed to the public, to wander across succulent vineyards and silver olive groves, to pass by isolated Romanesque chapels, to gaze on colourful wild flowers, to witness some of the most stratospheric views of Lucca, to enjoy the social fun of a largely non-competitive event and to witness Italian gregariousness at its very best.

There is, of course, the final point that la Marcia truly gives one even more yearning to do a decent, daily walk of not less than two hours. Most of people’s health troubles arise from lack of proper exercise and there’s nothing better than walking, especially if the countryside is as glorious as the Luccan hills.

Weather-wise, the day started in uncertainty. Cyclone Medusa was threatening us with the worst and there were real doubts whether we would want to take part in it. However, the day cleared and by noon, after a light shower, the sun peeped through. Actually, after the unnaturally hot days we’ve had for April, it was a relief to have a bit of cloud cover. Walking 20 kilometres does take a bit of sweat (and fat!) out of one.

Apart from some very muddy stretches, worthy of a public school rugger field at the start, the rest of our itinerary took us through gravelled paths, some tarmac and, of course, the lovely paths of the Luccan Villa gardens.

I was particularly excited to see the Villa called La Specola, which was an observatory built for the rulers of Lucca. It’s such an attractive building!

La Villa Badiola was another wonder I’d never seen before.

Here are other grand villas we walked through:

At intervals there were ‘punti di ristoro’ (refreshment points) serving tea, water, buns and bruschetta. All free and manned by volunteers. There were even some minstrels.

There was a first aid post with ambulances in case of accidents.

We returned to the starting point at Marlia’s farmers’ market where we’d got our participant numbers and walked triumphantly through the finishing line. We then collected our complementary gifts. Since the Marcia delle Ville is sponsored by a paper mill producing toilet paper, our gift bag included four very fine rolls of … toilet paper. (What else?).

04252016 115

We then went to be fed and watered with everything from water to wine to bruschetta to pasta. The scene was most jovial and it was lovely to see thousands of Italians of all ages having a really good time. There’s a special word to describe country walks and country enjoyments in Italian. It’s ‘scampagnata’ which means a day’s jaunt into the countryside.

Everyone had a great ‘scampagnata’ it seems! We then started our homeward journey. Just in time. I stopped at Penny to do some shopping and saw some rather dark clouds outside. Then I heard a rattling noise on the roof of the supermarket. I looked outside. It was hailing! Cyclone Medusa definitely wanted herself to be heard but she came too late to spoil the fun, thank goodness!

Despite the threatening weather I read in today’s (it’s a national holiday incidentally – Italy’s liberation day from Nazi-fascist oppression with the historic announcement, now seventy-one years old, that ‘la Guerra è finità’ – the war is ended) Tirreno newspaper that over 12,500 people participated in the Marcia delle Ville this year.

Grafico_2015

It’s wonderful how on a local level there’s nothing to beat an event organised by Italians. Why the government can’t learn from its people how to really do things well is something I shall never understand.

img797

(My number bib)

The Beechwood of the Black Fate

Have you ever felt mysterious presences when walking through a wood or experienced unexplained occurrences in your home? Have you actually sighted strange beings? If so, you’re definitely not the only one. Here in the Mediavalle and Garfagnana areas there are many arcane powers and none so able to describe them as forest ranger and keeper of the regional park of the Apuane Mountains, Bartolomeo Puccetti, and archaeologist and explorer, Simone Deri.

Together they have produced a book, published by Edizioni Cinquemarzo, Luca and Rebecca’s publishing firm at Shelley House in Bagni di Lucca Villa, called ‘I Misteri del Fato Nero’. (The mysteries of the black destiny).

04232016 001

The great thing about this book is that it is not simply an academic collection of legends and stories about supernatural beings. It’s a truly readable book to be enjoyed by both children and adults and written in quite easy Italian.

The cover impresses with its illustrations by ‘I Forestelli’ animation studio who have created Italian-style Manga-type characters and several of their illustrations punctuate the book. The exciting thing about the black fate is that it actually exists. The wood of the black fate is a beech wood above Arni and situated at a height of 4,600 feet. It’s unusual that woods in this area get a specific name but surely this one merits it because of the strange happenings that go on within its bounds.

Another great feature about the book is that each section is devoted to a historical or even prehistorical era. The first section is devoted to prehistory as far back as the Neanderthaloids. The second deals with myths and the third with history dealing from the Etruscans to the Romans.

It’s indeed volume one since further books are promised leading one into the mediaeval and post mediaeval worlds. I’m not going to give away the contents of the sections except that Hannibal and his elephants make an appearance (yes, they really crossed the mountains a little above us, traces have been found both in archaeology and folklore) and rich treasure troves of gold lie hidden in unexplored caves.

To improve your Italian here are a few of the terms used to describe these semi-invisible presences.

Linchetto.

index1

(Courtesy of http://www.ailinchi.it/en/the-linchetto.html )

The linchetto is a type of elf inhabiting the areas of Lucca, Versilia and Garfagnana. The elf is not a bad spirit but he likes creating mischief. He gets into your house makes you lose objects and sometimes changes them, takes your bedclothes off at night (has special fun with newly-weds), and delights in driving you a little mad. He also enjoys giving you nightmares and weird visions. He is kind to children but can’t stand geriatrics. According to some historians the linchetto is a descendant of a faun, friend of the woodland god Pan.  If your home is being haunted by a linchetto then the remedy to get rid of the pest is to hold a candle that has been blessed before him, or to hang a juniper twig on your front door. Also, efficacious is keeping a cupful of rice in your house. The linchetto can’t resist counting things and will spend all his time counting the rice grains until he gets fed up and goes away. There’s also a secret phrase which I won’t give away at this stage unless your house is desperately haunted by linchetti.

Buffardello (or Baffardello)

index

(Courtesy of Comune di San Romano)

The buffardello also inhabits the same places as the linchetto but is especially common in Garfagnana. Sometimes he is known by different names. At Gorfigliano he’s called ‘pappardello’ and at Sillano he’s ‘piffardello’. The buffardello is a sub-species of elf but is rather less devilish and more boorish than the Linchetto. He does, however, have an unfortunate habit of stealing wine-bottles from your cellar. The remedy for getting rid of a buffardello is to close all windows, and take in all the washing in case he puts a spell on them. Juniper hung on the front door is also useful as is the usual blessed candle. If the situation is truly desperate then (I’m not having you on!) take a cheese sandwich to the loo and eat it while you’re doing your business and say ‘I’m eating a cheese sandwich and shitting on you’.

Elfo

This is a straightforward elf (if ever elves were straightforward.)

Folletto

Another word for elf.

Fata = fairy, fatina = small fairy.

If you are one of those unfortunate people who don’t believe that there are fairies at the bottom of your garden then think again. The perception of these supernatural beings has been thrown out of you by unimaginative people like disciplinarian parents and strict teachers. Wordsworth knew all about this and in his Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood he writes

But there’s a tree, one of many, a single field which I have look’d upon …. Both of them speak of something that is gone: Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

The foresters keep a book where sightings of linchetti and buffardelli and elfi can be recorded by visitors. Don’t be embarrassed to do so if you see one of these elfin creatures. It won’t mean that you’ll be taken to see a psychiatrist, another of that dreaded horde of people who try to take your dreams away from you. Be grateful, instead that no sightings of bigfoots have been recorded in our Garfagnana forests as they have in other parts of the world (like North America) for bigfoots too exist and even the famous chimpanzee ethologist, Jane Goodall, firmly believes in them.

img796

I look forwards to receiving pictures from anyone who has photographed a linchetto or buffardello. To-date I tried to take a photo of one but the spiteful creature made sure my camera battery went flat!

04232016 002

(Photo taken just before a linchetto appeared and my camera battery went flat)