Natural-Retro with Great Food Too at Ponte Di Ceserana

The bar and restaurant il Ponte di Ceserana, situated just beyond the level crossing as you turn right to go to Fosciandora on the road from Gallicano to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana is an absolute must if you wish to be transported back to a time-warp circa 1950’s.

The bar gives already you a taste of a by-gone Italy. Its décor must have been untouched since the days of the first old Fiat Cinquina and Claudio Villa’s greatest hits.
The dining area is similarly charmingly retro without any intention.

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However, as with cakes, the proof of the place is in the eating. The restaurant’s wife reeled off what was on offer with a rapid patter in the absence of any written menu but I managed to hear farfalle with cream, speck and ham which I ordered for my primo.

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The dish was delivered beautifully al dente and was delicious.

I was a bit worried by the large bottle of wine placed on my table. I asked the hostess that I didn’t think I would be able to drink it all. ‘Just drink as much as you want’, she answered. It turned out, in fact to be a very good house wine. (I promise you I only took two glasses).

I thought the local wholemeal bread was very good too.

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For secondo there was a delicious local sausage with definitely some Cinghiale (wild boar) in it smothered with beans and sauce.

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The hearty meal was rounded off by some excellent caffé macchiato.

I shared my dining room with some council road workers and an avvocato with his partner. Later a family with small kid entered. This is the beauty of so many Italian restaurants: they are a melting pot of Italian society. I would hate to have to eat in ‘celebrity’ restaurants or places where children are discouraged or where the only patrons are either scaffolders or film starlets.

This rustic milieu pleased me with a sincere meal and all for just ten euros.

There are of course slightly more expensive speciality evenings here too. I noted this fish meal on Fridays.

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And, don’t forget the bar-restaurant is also an alimentari (grocery store) where local products can be found.

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Car parking is just on the other side of the road

02112016 008and if you’ve got time do take the trouble to see Ceserana fortress town which is just one of the several fascinating places in this forgotten corner of yet another forgotten corner of the Garfagnana.

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Aulla and Saint Caprasio

“The destruction was terrible. The only building to survive in any form at Aulla was the church of San Caprasio and the old palace of the dukes of Modena”

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(Aulla in 1945)

So writes Kinta Beevor in her adorable memoir “A Tuscan childhood” (1993).

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Aulla was even more strategically placed than Sarzana in WWII, controlling the railway lines from south, west and east. Bombing raids by the allies started in 1943 shortly after the abortive September armistice when Germany moved in whole armies and occupied Italy as a foreign power.

After this time Aulla was virtually deserted when citizens fled to the safer areas of the surrounding mountains as “sfollati” (evacuees)

The real damage to Aulla, however, was not caused by the allies but by a mortar shell fired by a group of partisans which hit a German munition train with devastating results, flattening the town and killing over 600 Germans and 150 allies.

Bombs still remain to be disovered in and around Aulla to this day. Indeed, only in March this year an unexploded one had to be detonated at a safe distance from the town.

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If it’s not bombs the town has suffered from then it’s flooding as this photograph, from  the disaster of October 2011 when two citizens died, illustrates. Not a very lucky town it seems…

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So what’s the point of visiting Aulla today? Not much, people might say except to change trains. This is what would have been my thought but because of the late arrival of my train from Bagni di Lucca I was unable to catch the ‘coincidenza’ to Sarzana. No coincidence at all! Also no ‘coincidenza’ that the station bar, with its delightful model railway running overhead, had been closed down and cleared only days previously? (See my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/on-or-off-the-rails-to-pontremoli/ for pictures of the model railway and bar).

No coincidence that this super-modern station did not even have a gents or ladies!

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The new Aulla station is an absurd white elephant built some distance outside the town to accommodate the re-aligned La Spezia-Modena railway which has now become a high speed track.

As I had more than an hour to wait I decided to catch the bus to see what Aulla could offer, at least in terms of bars.

My first impressions were expectedly disappointing. Large concrete palazzi, erected in the most unimaginative styles, marked the area where the old attractive town would have been. It was market day so I decided to wander around the stalls which, at least, were not disappointing.

Then I thought there may have been some part of old Aulla still standing. I gazed up at the hill overlooking the town and dominated by the fortress of Brunello where Kinta had spent her idyllic childhood (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/carinthia-in-aulla/ for pictures and a description of the fortress).

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Indeed, around the old railway station, which bombs had failed to destroy, there were some streets that gave a hint of how old Aulla must have looked like.

I was particularly interested in seeking out the church (formerly abbey) of San Caprasio.  I was glad to visit this witness to Aulla’s great past as a major centre on the ancient Via Francigena pilgrim route.

The church and monastery were founded in 884 by Adalbert I of Tuscany and first dedicated to the Virgin. In 1050 it was re-dedicated to San Caprasio (the only church named after this saint in Italy) , a holy hermit whose body was brought here from the Lérins islands off the coast of Provence in order to save it from being despoiled by the Saracens.

Through the ages the church has undergone several modifications and now presents a largely classical appearance.

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Beside it, however, there are substantial remains of the original monastery with ancient columns and vaulting.

In the chapter house there’s an interesting little museum conserving all that was saved from the ravages of WWII.

Where is San Caprasio buried? Archaeological excavations in 2003 have revealed the saint’s tomb with a reliquary containing his bones.

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Other pieces of interest in this well-ordered museum include recreations of a mediaeval abbot, monks and pilgrim, sculptured capitals, coins, ceramics and a stone gospel.

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So if you’re stuck in the concrete and marble desert of Aulla’s new high-speed bar-less and toilet-less railway station don’t hesitate to catch a bus to visit Aulla. The town contains more riches than you might have imagined!

Bathing Competition

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…

Closed for Ever or Re-opening in Bagni Di Lucca?

What’s open and what’s closed in Bagni di Lucca? So many retail outlets have closed in the area since I first moved here ten years ago that I have become used to the sight of shops’ closed shutters and sale signs.

However, not all one sees is doom and gloom.

We’ve welcomed the re-opening of the Circolo dei Forestieri restaurant this year and the Borghesi has re-opened too and is fast becoming the meeting place for a morning coffee (and lunchtime meal) it traditionally used to be.

So is this place open or closed? Unfortunately Daddo’s shoe shop doesn’t seem to ever open again. There’s an ominous sign which translates as “closed for bereavement”, the usual end of trading sale signs and the interior displays a depressing sight of dusty stock.

I was always pleased with Daddo although on one occasion I suffered a slight embarrassment when I bought a pair of shoes there, admittedly at rock-bottom price, for a wedding I was to attend by Lake Garda. We decided to stop to visit the beauties of Mantua and, entering the gardens of that magnificent confectionery of a summer pleasure-dome, the Palazzo del Te, the whole lower area of my left shoe peeled off leaving me with just the sides. Should I take the other shoe off as well and walk around barefoot? That was an option but only for a short while. Fortunately, we did find a shoe place nearby, were able to continue our scooter journey and attend the wedding.

Is the following place closed now? It was a bar I particularly liked as it has a nice open air space in which to savour one’s morning cappuccino. It also sold bus tickets.

Fortunately, this bar is re-opening soon under new management and will be refurbished in the process.

To rephrase a saying “not everything that seems closed is closed for ever.”