Bagni di Lucca


Bagni di Lucca is a quaint spa resort which boasts a strategic location in the luxuriant nature and tranquillity of Garfagnana, only 28 km from Lucca, 37 km from Abetone, 60 km from Versilia and 65 from Pistoia. Its surroundings are dotted by many villages worth a visit such as Coreglia Antelminelli and Barga, both at a distance of 28 km. Although it is only 152 m above sea level, Bagni di Lucca spa enjoys the same pleasant climate of mountain villages, reason why it has been nicknamed 'the Tuscan Switzerland'.

Bagni di Lucca spa is not only the ideal place to find peace, tranquillity and great weather, but also to experience the benefits of its waters: in addition to treating various diseases, they offer the perfect chance to escape the daily frenzy of modern life for a few days. It is precisely because of its spas that Bagni di Lucca has a rich past. Its history began in the Bronze Age and crossed many eras, even reaching times when this small mountain village was actually the most important spa centre in Europe. To fully appreciate this, it suffices to simply consider who its past visitors were and why the town received another nickname: 'the land of Princes and poets'. A few names? Montaigne, Byron, Shelley, Heine, Mr and Mrs Browning, Carducci, Montale, Puccini from the world of culture; Princess Elisa Bonaparte, the Dukes of Bourbon and the Grand Dukes of Tuscany among its noble visitors. These are just a few names, the full list of personalities would be too long to include here! Let’s try to picture it: Bagni di Lucca – Scholars versus Royals!

Football aside, sports enthusiasts can choose from a range of exciting activities, including paragliding, quad riding and of course Bagni di Lucca trekking. There are two interesting itineraries along the two canyons of Strette di Cocciglia and Orrido di Botri; and as Garfagnana is a land of mysteries and legends, do not forget to visit the Maddalena bridge, better known as the Devil's Bridge.

THE HISTORY OF BAGNI DI LUCCA: PELLEGRINI, BARI, PRINCES AND POETS. The liaison between Bagni di Lucca and its water is lost in the mists of time, since the beneficial properties of the waters were already known at Etruscan and Roman times. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Thermal Baths of Bagni di Lucca followed a similar fate and underwent a slow decay. Luckily, they were rediscovered by the Lombards and Matilda di Canossa played an important role in boosting the restoration and further development of the spa buildings. At the time, Bagni di Lucca was located along the Via Francigena, the ancient route that led pilgrims to Rome: the Duchess was very keen on sheltering them to the point that she had the Maddalena bridge built to allow them to easily reach the baths.

It was precisely the benevolent nature of the Countess that sparked a chain of events that led to the establishment of the first ‘casino’: I know it sounds strange and I bet you are wondering what pilgrims have to do with gambling. Let me explain: when the waters run in the vicinity of the baths, gambling activities propped up associated to a whole range of illegal affairs. On the other hand, the Countess had taken to offering travellers a meal and a hot bath. But who paid for this? Those in charge of making ends meet for the Republic of Lucca certainly asked the same question! It was decided to contain public order crime by confining gambling to a dedicated place and at certain times: this was basically the beginning of the first casino which not only financed the baths but also the meals of the pilgrims! As the saying goes: it’s like killing 'two birds with one stone'!

People quickly realized how important the Baths of Lucca were and the ensuing dedicated efforts made them become, in the fifteenth century, the busiest ones in Europe. Their success grew incessantly with both visitors’ numbers and prestige steadily increasing to include rulers from Europe, popes and men of culture. A significant boost in the growth of the spas came, once again, thanks to a female figure: Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, the Duchess of Lucca and Piombino from 1805 to 1814. The Thermal Baths of Bagni di Lucca became the summer capital and that is way the most prominent men in Europe used to stroll along its streets. But the heyday was reached at the time of the Bourbons: a new casino was opened and many hotels and guest houses sprang up together with a series of buildings (the Anglican Church, the English Cemetery, the Club de Anglais casino) that attracted a large group of citizens of the British Empire in Garfagnana: they were the ones who gave this place the name ‘the Tuscan Switzerland’. Sadly, following the loss of the Grand Duchy and, even more after the Italian unification, Bagni di Lucca ceased to be the summer capital and became a mere local municipality. The loss of this privilege led inexorably to a slow decline. Fortunately, the gradual understanding of the significance of spas in the light of the modern concept of 'wellbeing' gave new impetus to the restructuring of many buildings, testimonies of a past that must not be lost.

THE THERMAL BATHS OF BAGNI DI LUCCA TODAY: TREATMENT, WELLBEING and MEDITATION. The spa complex of Bagni di Lucca is made up of as many as 25 thermal springs, all of sulfate-bicarbonate-calcic type, some of which are warm and flow with temperatures ranging from 54 to 37 °C. Not all of them can be used, but there is still plenty of choice! The Bagni di Lucca spa consists of the Jean Varraud Thermal Baths and Casa Bocella – the latter has National Health Service treatment available - and offers a diverse range of therapies and treatments. You can have steam baths in caves where the temperature ranges from 42 to 54 degrees, with water flowing at 54 degrees Celsius. What are these treatments good for? They are indicated in the treatment of ear, nose and throat diseases, dermatological conditions as well as rheumatic, gynaecological and vascular pathologies. Depending on the condition, treatments vary from inhalations, mud baths, steam baths or the well-known water therapies in the Bagni di Lucca swimming pool. If your kids are affected by minor conditions of the respiratory tract, here they will find a welcoming atmosphere where therapies will feel like a cheerful game. Nowadays spas are not just for waters therapies but instead you can enjoy moments of relaxation and pampering. The Bagni di Lucca spa offers a number of compelling combined treatments both for couples and individuals. Surrounded by a magic and refined atmosphere you can indulge in massages, baths and sensory showers, beauty treatments and feel spoilt while drinking herbal teas and champagne. In short, at the Wellness Centre of Bagni di Lucca you will feel like you have nothing to envy to the princes and princesses who regularly visited it in the 1800s!

Well, back to our era! The 'Global village of Bagni di Lucca' opened in 1988 and conforms to the latest trends in terms of well-being and physical and mental health inspired by the principles of the communication expert McLuhan. These are applied at the holistic centre of Bagni di Lucca for the attainment of human potential development. Meditation at Bagni di Lucca, practiced according to Buddhist, Sufis, yoga, Christian doctrines is the cornerstone of this approach.

The nineteenth-century Bernabò Spa Centre offers a range of therapies and treatments mainly dedicated to skin health. It is named after a nobleman from Pistoia affected by dermatological problems who was able to alleviate his condition thanks to these waters: in recognition, he commissioned the construction of this complex. The waters, with a temperature of 39 degrees Celsius, are used mostly for hot baths. At the entrance of the structure, you can admire a fantastic roof terrace that enchanted the German poet Enrich Heine so much to induce him to describe the view in verses: 'I have never seen such a beautiful valley, especially from the terrace of the baths, where the blacks cypresses are and leads down in to the village'.

WHAT TO SEE IN BAGNI DI LUCCA. The town stretches along the Lima stream and is crossed by several bridges that connect the two sides of  the town. Villa, an area of Bagni di Lucca, is appreciated for the sixteenth century Palace della Lena, seat of the Bagni di Lucca municipality and the 'Circolo dei Forestieri'. The latter is now a restaurant, but it once served as the casino of Bagni di Lucca during the winter season. It seems that Giacomo Puccini found inspiration for some of his works here. The Anglican Church is also in the area.It was built in the 1800s for the many British tourists who visited Bagni di Lucca. Permission for its construction was granted with great difficulty and on condition that its appearance did not resemble a church - indeed though it does not look like one it holds a record for being the first Anglican church built in our country.
Make sure you visit the Villas in Bagni di Lucca, which used to be inhabited by the elite of European nobility: Villa Buonvisi built in 1570 and currently home to a kindergarten, Villa Ducale converted into private apartments and Villa Mansi where Paolina Bonaparte once stayed and now in private hands. The Bernabò Spas, with their modern Bernabò Centre, are instead located in Bagni Caldi; likewise are the Docce Basse thermal centre (presently under renovation) and the Jean Varraud Thermal Baths. Villa Fiori in Bagni di Lucca and its beautiful park dotted with peculiar small towers are in Ponte a Serraglio, as is the Demidoff Hospital built in 1828 which houses the 'global village' and the troubled - due to its many openings and closings - Casinò di Bagni di Lucca.

Ponte delle Catene (Bridge of Chains) can be found in Fornoli and has a very interesting history. Commissioned by Carlo Ludovico di Borbone, it represented a very futuristic structure. The use of iron for similar buildings, in fact, was not common at the time. Lorenzo Nottolini, the architect who designed it, went to Britain to study similar bridges though he maintained a more classical architectural style in his version.

SURROUNDINGS. Bearing in mind that Bagni di Lucca municipality is made up of 15 hamlets, there is naturally a lot to see in the surrounding areas. You can start with Lucchio, located 16 km away, along the SS12 road. To reach the village you will have to pass through other small towns that may be worth a stop such as Casoli, Limano, Vico Pancellorum. Lucchio has been named the invisible town: it is so highly perched on the mountain that it can only be seen once you arrive near it. It is virtually uninhabited in winter, but comes alive during the summer. Indeed, its charm is most likely to derive from its eerie silence. With a short but intense climb, you can reach this magical fortress from the village. After catching your breath from the steep walk, you will find yourself breathless again, this time with astonishment: the 360 degree view of the valley is just wonderful. Other small villages to visit in the area are Brandeglia, Benabbio, Granaiola Lugliano.

From a naturalistic point of view it is definitely worth going for a hike in the Orrido di Botri nature reserve. It is the deepest canyon in Tuscany and, as the name suggests, challenging to cross. It is said that some of Dante's Inferno atmospheres were inspired by this inaccessible area. Do not be put off - there are also paths two hours long suitable for everybody. If you are a daredevil, head to the narrow Cocciglia Gullies and its 'Canyon Park' for a real adventure: cableways and rope bridges will take you on a fascinating adrenaline-filled journey between the banks of the Torrente Lima.

BAGNI DI LUCCA EVENTS. Are you wondering when is the best time to visit Bagni di Lucca? Each season evokes a different atmosphere and there is no better opportunity to discover its peculiarities than the thrilling Bagni di Lucca festivals. The events range from art as in 'Homage to Women' held in March, an exhibition of sculpture, painting and photography. Naturally, there is a medieval theme festival, the 'Palio of the Lima valley' held in June, where participants challenge each other like in the past with an arm crossbow. But if you really want to relish the 'flavour' of these areas you are best going to a nice country fair. I recommend the 'Sagra dei tortelli' in June. In case you are wondering, ‘tortelli’ are a strictly handmade Ravioli pasta, stuffed with minced roasted meat and mixed with spinach, topped with a sumptuous meat sauce! What do you think, isn’t this alone a good enough reason to justify a detour to Bagni di Lucca?

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