Not far from the Porcari Industrial estate is an idyllic countryside which goes under the name “Parco delle cento Fattorie Romane” (Park of the hundred Roman Farms). In a unique flatland landscape of flowery meadows punctuated by poplars, willows and oaks and crossed by little canals and dykes reminiscent of the East Anglian fenland amazing discoveries have been made of remains of Roman era agricultural estates preserving their ground plans and cultivation patterns intact. Our Cinquina braved unmade roads and swampy tracts to reach one of them: the “fossa Nera” or black pit – an unattractive name for such a beautiful spot.
This is an area of Lucca province that is quite unknown to your average tourist (although it provides happy walking country for local dog-owners and pasture for the few shepherds living here).
I had come across the park a couple of years previously but had not realized it was so near the paint factory where I teach business English – its tranquility was worlds away from the bustle of industry and the noise of motorway traffic. The day we chose was ideal with a big sky populated with impressive cumulo-stratus – just like Constable loved to paint!
We drove towards the Pisan Mountain through narrow unclassified lanes to reach the village of San Ginese with its church standing proud upon a hillock rising above what was in ancient times a lake. From thence, after a Campari and soda, we arrived at Sant’Andrea di Compito to see the last of the Camellias blooming. Charming Sant’Andrea is in a delightful valley and has its own microclimate favouring the oriental shrub (of which tea is an off-spring). The Camelletum is a gorgeous garden on the way up to Monte Serra hosting hundreds of hybrids (many named after aristocratic names such as Contessa Torrigiani who either cultivated or favoured them). Again, I had been here before and noticed this time that its different areas had now been name after famous local musicians like Geminiani and Puccini. Regrettably, I also observed that part of the garden had suffered under a large landslide which had destroyed part of a path. The disastrous effects of so much rain falling earlier this year (twice as much fell in February and March as in the whole of the previous year!) will take some time to repair but I am sure Sant’Andrea will be up to its task as its appearance shows it to be a proud and caring place.