La Cova

This is my fountain of life. It saves me as it’s saved so many from the past: from ancient Romans to Michel de Montaigne, to Shelley and to Puccini with their stomach complaints, their neuroses, and their over-indulgences.

Its waters are hot, soothing, pure, coming from the entrails of a volcanic mountain and they will cure everything from kidney stones to most stomach complaints. And it’s free! Just stop and drink….

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Every winter as I scooter down the extra-cold high street of Ponte a Serraglio to my various activities teaching English they save my hands from freezing. I always stop there and their warmth is balm to my spirit.

With water at 37.1 degree centigrade it’s great for one’s digestion, for one’s one-too-much G & T and, strangely enough (when cooled down a little), for one’s tomatoes in the orto.

Long live La Cova waters! It’s one of the finest reasons for living here. I could never be elsewhere now.

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“You really got me” (Bagni di Lucca) as the Kinks sang in that wonderful song by Ray Davies.

I wish I could paint the extraordinary green colour as the sulphuric waters hit the hard magmaic stone. Artists you have a go!

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PS La Cova means “brood”.

“Covare” is when hens (or my ducks) lie over their eggs waiting for them to hatch. Might be a useful beverage for those wanting kids?

Food for Thought

Every year there’s a special day (this year it was November 29th) which takes place throughout Italy called “Giornata Nazionale Della Colletta Alimentare”. (National Food Collection Day). This is the eighteenth year it’s running. The object of the exercise is to help needy families by contributions of food.  On this day members of the local voluntary “Misericordia” associations (helping the sick, giving first aid and running the ambulance service) stand outside supermarkets manning cardboard boxes with names such as pasta, riso, piselli, etc. written above them. The public using the supermarket are invited to contribute something which is not perishable (and not alcoholic it seems either!)

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I asked one of the volunteers which items would go best. He replied pasta, rice, sugar and tins.

It’s unfortunate that perishable fresh fruit and veg cannot be included as this would have made for a healthier diet but at least there are many people in Italy who will not go so hungry this year.

The collection is done on a very efficient system. There was a retired Alpino soldier at the entrance to Penny Market with helpers for the food collection just outside the supermarket.

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Outside there was a weighing machine to weigh the filled-up boxes:

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And there was the usual paperwork to be filled in:

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I thought it was a splendid effort. Perhaps these schemes exist in other countries.

If figures are required as to how many people are poor in Italy, (the usual expression is “quelli che non arrivano alla fine del mese” – those not able to get by to the end of the month) then the estimate is just over eight million, 13.6% of the total population. In terms of family units that’s almost three million families, which is over eleven per cent of Italian households. That more than one family in ten in Italy is below the poverty line is both scandalous and tragic – and the situation is getting worse daily.

If you are not sure of what the definition of poverty is in Italy then, simply put, it’s when a family unit of two people has a total income inferior to 999 euros per annum. That’s 795 pounds sterling. When it’s added that Italy is unsophisticated, when compared to the UK, in social welfare benefits (there’s very little…), that its economy is now the most stagnant in the EU, when the unemployment figures declared yesterday were the highest in recorded history (at 13.2%!), that things aren’t getting any cheaper, that the monthly second-hand stalls market in Bagni di Lucca, after a shy start is now crowded (see my post at ….. I could add even more figures but they are too disheartening.

I hope that if you were in Italy yesterday and shopped in one of the over ten thousand supermarkets under this scheme you were able to contribute and help someone with their next meal. The National Food Collection Day’s web site is at


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Volcanic Baths in Saturn(ia) and Go-Karts in Civitella

Next day’s itinerary took us first to Scansano, famous for its Morellino wine. The hilltop town is also very attractive and we enjoyed a welcome break here.

There is an interesting museum with a collection of Etruscan items and a section on wine-making.

I’d seen a picture of the cascatelle of Saturnia (little waterfalls) and was determined we should include this on our itinerary. The cascatelle are fed by hot thermal springs and emanate a smell of bad eggs. They are very curative for a variety of ailments (mainly back-ache) and also very relaxing

The “little waterfalls” were gushing and despite the number of people enjoying the warm waters we too found a place and for about half an hour I had the pleasure of a hot waterfall pouring over me.

The waterfalls are free which is not the case with Saturnia terme, an exclusive hotel and golf course complex we skirted on our way to the actual town of Saturnia, which is quiet and attractive.

The borgo of Saturnia should not be missed – it has a good section of Roman road – part of the Via Clodia – going through its Etruscan-era gate:

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Near Saturnia is a jewel of a hilltop town, Montemerano, happily free from those busloads of tourists that infect those other attractions of Tuscany like San Gemignano.

The parish church is quite beautiful and contains a number of valuable pictures including a Lorenzetti.

The church also has a quaint Madonna called the Madonna della gattaiola or the cat-flap Madonna. The story goes that a priest needing a new door for his house found a plank of wood with a discarded portrait of the Madonna on it. Being also a cat owner the priest decided to use the panel with one small modification, – a round hole in the bottom right of the painting which one can still observe today to serve as a cat-flap. This is surely a prime example of a picture that is admired for something that is missing from it!


Our journey now took us towards the coast. We wanted to experience the fun of crossing the two tomboli that have roads on them out of the three that connect Monte Argentario to the Italian mainland. In one of the two lagoons a windmill had been built.

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Orbetello is a fine old town and famous for the pioneers of Italian flying boats.

Monte Argentario is a beautiful place. Once an island, it now hosts marinas and a surfeit of time shares and parking is a real problem….it’s not quite our place we decided.

Before returning to our hotel we looked into Civitella Marittima (marittima means that the place is in the Maremma, not that it’s near the sea), a nearby hill town. Here the inhabitants were celebrating the Palio of the carretti – or hand-made, non-motorised go-karts This is another example of the inventiveness of Italian palios.

I realise that the idea of the Palio is also to release tension between the various parts of a town and avoid such shameful phenomenas as Britain’s (and the USA’s) regular inner city riots. Setting off steam in this way is a great way also to attract visitors and turn the different elements of the town into a real community.

We wandered around looking at the stalls and eating Donzelle. These are not maidens but a variety of delicious fried bread.

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There were the usual artisan stalls and some less usual fashions displayed.

Returning to our base we realised that this was to be the last night in this area before proceeding next morning to Florence.

Saint Luke’s of Lucca

I had my first experience of Lucca’s new hospital last week when a highly slippery paste, concocted of lime seeds and rain (thank you Bagni di Lucca comune for not keeping the roads clean…..), caused me to part company with my scooter on the last curve before entering Bagni di Lucca from Corsena.

The damage to the scooter was minimal but I didn’t realise the damage to myself until sometime after when, having picked myself up and dusted myself down, I biked towards Lucca after having met my wife who now became a pillion passenger.

Arriving at Ponte a Moriano, I noticed some increased pain. A visit to the pharmacy prompted a further visit to the Green Cross there whose staff promptly strapped me onto a stretcher in one of their ambulances and drove my wife and me to the Ospedale San Luca near Lucca.

Fortunately nothing was broken but a deep gash to my left elbow left me somewhat dangerously open to infection. Stitches, plastering and scanning followed and it was some six hours before I left the new establishment.

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As we had no idea where we were except that we were somewhere to the east of Lucca we were at a loss on how to get back home (the scooter had, of course, been left at Ponte a Moriano), until a guardian angel in the form of a hospital pathologist stopped his car alongside us and asked if we needed any help. Not only did the pathologist drive us all the way to our car parked at Bagni di Lucca station but also detoured to a pharmacy to get my medication.

My verdict on Lucca’s new hospital? It is North Tuscany’s aims to rationalise its hospital system into four new super-hospitals. These are, respectively, Apuane, Lucca, Pistoia and Prato. Lucca and Pistoia have already been completed and the other two are in the offing. There has been lots of discussion and back-biting about the new hospitals which are all being built to roughly the same plan.

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The arguments against them are that:

  • The current hospitals still work satisfactorily so why fix them?
  • The new hospitals will take longer to get to, especially in emergencies. (There is even a level crossing before one gets to San Luca!)
  • The old hospitals had fine architectural features, art nouveau embellishments, and great traditions.
  • The old hospitals had more beds
  • The new hospitals will have obvious teething problems which will clearly take some time to sort out
  • Existing neighbours of the new hospitals won’t like being next to buildings with loud ambulance sirens at all times of the day and night.

The arguments for the new hospitals are, predictably:

  • They will have more up-to-date medical equipment.
  • The buildings will be easier and more economical to maintain

The proof of the cake is in the eating and I found all the staff very helpful and sympathetic and resigned to their novel fate of working at San Luca.

There are some redeeming architectural features, however, in the new hospital.

There is an impressive entrance foyer with outside shuttle bus service to Lucca town centre (about twenty minutes away)

There are some fine escalators.

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Signage is good:

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There are attractive waiting rooms:

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There’s a good bar selling excellent focaccia sandwiches (a canteen is to follow)

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There’s a nice chapel for Catholics

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There’s an alternative ecumenical centre for other religions including eastern ones and for atheists to worship in.

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There’s an up-and-coming exhibition area showing the amazing archaeological finds uncovered during the hospital’s building dating back from Etruscan times to the modern age.

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Indeed, part of a Roman wall forms a feature of the central courtyard, which is a rather pleasant area to be in.

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The hospital has a Saint Faith’s feel about it. If anyone remembers the episode on the compassionate society in that memorable comedy series “Yes Minister” one realises that this hospital is so efficient because it has an excellent administrative and maintenance staff but, apparently, rather less in the way of medical staff and patients… (Am I being unfair?).

So, without dying to get into the hospital again, I feel that it will provide a useful and worthy Italian National Health experience for anyone who needs to avail of its services – which reminds me I have to be back there tomorrow. Must try another of the bar’s rucola-filled focaccie this time….