NB This is the last post at – this blog now continues at

It is common knowledge that cats can be trained to go for walks on a leash and harness and we have spotted several felines, especially in continental countries where more people live in flats, dragged around town at the end of a lead.


We never attempted this training on any our poor cats in London and never here in Longoio.

However, two of our cats, big black and white Napoleone and little tortoiseshell Carlotta, both rescue cats, respond happily to us when we tell them “let’s go for walkies” – without a leash or harness of course!

Fortunately, the walks are on the footpaths which start just outside our front gate and are without any major road crossing and (hopefully) with no fierce dogs lurking around.

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Yesterday, between one storm and another, our adventurous felines followed us on quite a considerable tour, part of which we’d covered with a friend who’s done a recent post on her visit to Longoio and Mobbiano.

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Of course, there’s no way one can say “heel” or “sit down” to a cat but ours do keep up with us in a remarkable way and thoroughly enjoy sniffing their path through often unfamiliar territory. Those tall grasses and rocks must seem like giants to them!

Cat walks are also a great way to slim down fat cats (both our cats are neutered) apart from giving them special versions of cat nuts for such animals.

The best thing however is that cat walks fit very well into our sense of walking, with lots of stops to look at unusual plants and extensive views and which are gradually becoming shorter and slower. Who wants an over-energetic hound at our age when cats can sense our requirements so much better and decide for us when it  a good time to sit down and have a rest, especially when Longoio is finally returned to!

Our cat walks are so much better than Prada’s or even Balenciaga’s and our cats so much more beautiful and elegant than those things that walk on them in the fashion houses!

PS Blog now continues at



Off-Roading in the Pizzorne

Today’s midday temperatures in Lucca are due to surpass thirty-five degrees centigrade. I was in the city this morning and it was getting hot, hot, hot. What to do? I decided my return home would be via the Pizzorne, a mountain table to the north of Lucca reaching above 4000 feet. The average drop in temperature for every 100 metres one rises is (on average) about half a degree. So could I expect the Pizzorne temperature to be around twenty degrees below Lucca? Well not quite, as heat radiates from the ground and Lucca is not yet at sea level.

However, reaching the Pizzorne via Matraia the temperature was around ten degrees less than Lucca, which made it feel very comfortable!

From le Pizzorne it’s possible to do some great off-road biking or even land-rovering. Starting from the little church near the Aldebaran restaurant by the fountain in the centre of the Pizzorne meadows, if one goes right one ends up at Lugliano and if one goes left one finishes up at Corsena, both of which are villages near to Bagni di Lucca.

I’ve often done both roads but this time, because of heavy winter rains, they were more than usually deeply rutted and I had to be very careful about where my wheels were going. All the same, I made it to Corsena within an hour.

The first part of the route takes one on a track to the right of a stream which, not surprisingly, is called Pizzorne. At a particular point the track crosses over a cement bridge to the left side and continues alongside the stream.

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The road then diverges and sweeps through some wonderful chestnut forests with good views over both the Val di Lima and the Serchio valley.

There are various landmarks to look out for.

This shrine:

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This cross

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Then one spots Corsena’s houses and very soon one’s ass is saved from becoming too sore with the bumpy ride by the miraculous appearance of tarmac. Three cheers for macadam!

The route can also be happily done by mountain bike or even walked. It’s very pleasant whatever transport one use.

One spot of advice – don’t hazard it in winter. The Aldebaran restaurant is usually closed and the road can become as muddy as a rugger field.

There are no restrictions about off-roading this route except as far as hunting and mushroom collecting off ifrom it are concerned. It’s important to know about restrictions. Off-roading in the Prato Fiorito road from Albereta requires a special forestry commission pass and if one is caught without it fines can be tough.

Looking at the maps it’s difficult to know what is a tarmacked and what isn’t a tarmacked road. I’ve been caught out in several occasions because Italian detailed maps are so unreliable and one map often contradicts another. My definition of heaven would be Italy covered by Ordnance Survey maps but, alas, this is still some miles (forgive the pun) away.

What’s the best route to take? Corsena or Lugliano? Sometimes the Lugliano route is easier going than the Corsena one. This happened a couple of years ago when the Corsena route had a lot more landslides and rock falls. For sheer interest the Lugliano is better as one passes the Hermitage of Saint Bartholomew. One can also cut across to Boveglio at one stage and pass by the sanctuary of the Madonna of the snow.

Whatever one decides to do it’s better to go with someone who knows the route, either because they live in the area or because they’ve learnt it from (sometimes) bitter experience.

One of my favourite rides is to go from Lugliano to the Pizzorne and then returned via Corsena as a loop.

It’s much more fun than doing the standard boring Serchio valley routes to Lucca, especially if one’s not in a hurry and wants to stop and have a great cool picnic in the shade of centuries old chestnut trees. But beware; it’s not for the standard saloon car!


How to Get Rid of Excess Fat in an Enjoyable Way

We’ve had two days of rain now – very welcome for our plants but not brilliant for getting around. So I was glad that last Monday I took a trip around the Luccan hills on my scooter

Lucca’s hills to the north of the city are the home to some of the best olive oil and wines in the whole of Italy. They are divided into the ranges to the east of the river Serchio and those to the west.

The eastern hills rise quite steeply and merge into the Pizzorne, the plateau precursors of the main Apennine ridge of sedimentary rocks. I know this part quite well so was keen to explore the western hills which are the precursors of the metamorphic Apuan range. Few river valleys have such different geological formations on opposite banks!

The western hills are pure heaven and have some of the most wonderfully gentle landscapes I have ever seen in Italy, surpassing, in my opinion even Chiantishire. There are delightful wooded lanes,and extensive views towards the Apuans:

There are beautiful Pievi – here at Santo Stefano::

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 Great vineyards:

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Lovely olive groves

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And the best long-views of Lucca I have ever seen:

There is indeed so much to enjoy and explore here that I feel I have neglected this area for the more dramatic parts of the Lucchesia further north.

One place stopped at was Mutigliano, a delightful village which has an unusual feature I’d visited before without realising what it meant.

Last summer I’d gone with two friends to a sagra, or festival, “dei Rigatoni” (a type of pasta) just outside Mutigliano. It was great fun, both for the food and the dancing.

(For more information on the sagra click on

This time I wanted to explore more of the area around where the summer sagra is held. The dance area looked quite different now.

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There were two forlorn eagles, one of which had lost a wing, perched on columns,

There was a Roman-style “altar” sculpted (by Bacelli) with delicate mourning figures:

There was also a collapsing monument with difficult-to-decipher writing on it (but which I later discovered was General Diaz’ proclamation of the great Italian victory concluding World War I at Vittorio Veneto).

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I realised I was in a “Parco della Rimembranza”, a park set up to remember the fallen of World War I and where the beautiful holm-oak woods surrounding the entrance amphitheatre symbolised those who died, but had no grave, in that four-year-long massacre. This memorial was laid out in 1924 by the new Italian fascist government who also designed another similar memorial, this time in an urban setting, in Piazza Verdi just inside Lucca’s Porta Sant’Anna (and which – after much heated debate – is being restored to its original glory).

Strangely, although the Mutigliano memorial park appeared so neglected, its forlornness added to the tragic poignancy  of that conflict from which, clearly, the fascist government hadn’t learnt any lessons when it plunged Italy into a second world war in 1940.

I do feel, however, that, as a token that this year is the centennial commemoration of the Great War, the eagles could be cleaned up and the missing wing replaced.

I plunged into the woods and my spirit was immediately raised by the beauty of the trees.

At odd intervals very good signs explained different aspects of the forest flora and fauna. Some of them had three-D effects and all were good for learning the correct Italian for animal species.

(Moscardino means a Dormouse)

At other intervals there was a fitness activity with indication of how to use it according to different levels of competence – an open-air gym in effect. I tried one or two of them, the only one around to do so, and thought this was quite an enjoyable way of helping to lose some of that “spare tyre” accumulated through the rinfreschi we’d been offered at the start of the week.

Through the woods I could see a large building which once had been the summer holiday camp for orphans of the war…

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Lucca, therefore, has two Parchi Della Rimembranza, both inaugurated on 8th June 1924 by Costanzo Ciano who had collaborated in heroic exploits with poet D’Annunzio in WWI (see my post at The one in Lucca commemorates fallen soldiers from the city and the one in Mutigliano commemorates those from the countryside who died.

I wonder how many of us will remember the parks’ original purpose, whether we  hit the dance floor at the ”Sagra dei Rigatoni”, or exercise ourselves in the surrounding woods, or whether we wait for our bus in Piazza Verdi in Lucca?

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Il Ciocco – a Corporate Hotel with a Difference

Il Ciocco is a large hotel-cum-conference-centre-cum-reception-cum-sports-and-spa-resort approached from Castelnuovo Vecchio, the former home of Italy’s great lyric poet Giovanni Pascoli. (The museum in the poet’s villa at Castelvecchio Pascoli is well worth a visit even if you’re not into his poetry as it gives a great idea of rural living at the beginning of the twentieth century).


I found myself at il Ciocco for a few days in May 2006 to direct activities for a group of students from IPSIA technical college at Castelnuovo di Garfagnana who’d done particularly well in their studies and, thus, were rewarded by being selected to stay at il Ciocco for a “working” holiday.

“Il Ciocco” means log of wood and the well-spread out hotel, founded in the early 1990’s, is built around a nucleus of old buildings which may have included a woodcutter’s hut.

There is a good swimming pool at Il Ciocco which has stunning views, and I gathered my students round it for various activities involving the English language which I was teaching them.

Il Ciocco was originally completely built up and owned by an Italian politician but now forms part of the Marriott group of hotels which has assisted in the upgrading of certain of its facilities

Looking though Trip Advisor I note that the visitors’ comments are mostly good to excellent, which is an improvement, since not too long ago there were several complaints centring on poor service.

My advice is that if you are part of a large group, e.g. an organised tour or a delegation, then the Ciocco is your place since it’s practically the only hotel in the whole Garfagnana area to cater for large assemblies. However, if you are just a couple or a very small family then you might find yourself a bit like a fish out of water or feel neglected.

Having said all this, it’s worth taking a look at the place and making up you own mind since the “tourist centre”, as  il Ciocco brands itself, has many facilities (e.g. Mountain bike, horse-riding and trail bikes) which would not normally be found in smaller establishments or even agriturismo.

Moreover, there are few hotels in the world with such spectacular locations as Il Ciocco!

The verdict of my students back in 2006: they thoroughly enjoyed themselves and even managed to get some work done as well!

Looking back at these photographs, taken two years before the serious economic crisis that overtook so much of Italy Europe, I hope that at least a few of these faces will still continue smiling and that many of my students will have found themselves steady and satisfactory jobs. I also find it quite nostalgic to think that eight years have passed since the enjoyable stay when I was in my salad days as far as my Italian experience was concerned.

R.I.P. Ian

Burials have not taken place in Bagni di Lucca’s protestant cemetery, better known as “Il Cimitero Inglese”, since 1953. There are suggestions that, since over half of the allotted places for inhumation have not yet been occupied, perhaps the cimitero should be re-opened up for non-Roman Catholic burials. This, however, would require a considerable bureaucratic process involving not only religious authorities but also health ones as well since, as I have stated in previous posts, the standard process of inhumation in Italy is to inter the coffin into a ready-made concrete cavity from which it may be easily lifted when the tomb’s lease expires, and the bones of the deceased may be collected and placed in a spatially more economical ossuary to leave space for newer burials.

We visited Bagni di Lucca’s main cemetery near its parish church at Corsena yesterday not just out of curiosity but unfortunately because now, after having lived in the area for nine years, we know several of the cemetery’s current inmates.

There were, however, some persons we had never met but would have liked to meet. Two of these will form the major part of a conference to be held courtesy of the Michel de Montaigne Foundation this autumn at Bagni di Lucca’s ex-Anglican church, now the library.

The first of these persons, Ian Greenlees was, in fact, known by my wife since he was a regular visitor to the Italian institute of Culture in London’s Belgrave square where her father was Secretary-General and where, indeed, she was brought up in the flat which went as part of the job.

Greenlees was born in 1913 into a family of Scottish background (hence the “Gordon” of his middle name) who made their fortune in distilling whisky and he had the luck of inheriting this fortune. He was educated at the Roman Catholic Ampleforth College and obtained a first in Italian at Magdalen, Oxford.

Greenlees taught English Literature at Rome University under a person whose name I can only mention backwards for reasons which will become clearer later on: Zarp Oiram. Ian was appointed Director of Rome’s British Institute in 1939 and evacuated his staff courageously across a Nazi-invaded France back to London in a style reminiscent of certain episodes in Olivia Manning’s  “Fortunes of war”.

Greenlees was put in charge of Italian language broadcasts for the BBC precursor of the world service and also took part in the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 which led to the armistice and the terrible two years of civil war which followed.

Undeterred, he ran a free Italian anti-fascist radio station from Bari (where the Italian Royal family had fled to) and was promoted to Major.

Deeply involved in intelligence operations and with establishing allied-partisan coordination, Greenlees played an important part at the end of WWII in setting up a new government free from Fascist influence. In fact, the “epurazione”, as it was called, never quite happened (as it certainly did with Nazism in the two Germanies after 1945) and has been a major hindrance in the almost seventy years of fragile and too- frequently changing governments Italy has had to endure in a tug-of-war between extreme right and extreme left factions.

Interestingly, one of Greenlees’ friends was Graham Greene who was also a Roman Catholic and who had worked for a short time for MI6 under Kim Philby!

From 1947 to 1954, Greenlees was back working for the Rome branch of the British Council and among his friends was the one who was still Professor of English literature at Rome University and whose name I have had to spell backwards above. Why?

It’s because this club-footed person was regarded as possessing an “evil eye”. Merely by looking at objects he could make them fall down whether they be a porcelain service or even a candelabra. He could turn presumed successes into disasters. Even the mention of his name brought maledictions and more than one death car-crash was attributed to his evil psychic powers.

Just to show you that this belief is still strong among circles who knew him, including my wife and her immediate family, I was severely told off when mentioning his name with regard to a book he wrote which I thought was particularly good. (“The Romantic Agony”). The evil eye of this person caused some disasters at London’s Italian Institute itself! I would need to write a separate post about this sinister character whose house has now been turned into a museum and who was also a highly influential writer on interior design.

To return to Greenlees: he was also a friend of Norman Douglas, the travel writer (whose last words where he died in Capri were “keep those fucking nuns away from me”).

From 1958 to 1981 Greenlees was director of the British Institute in Florence, which he expanded with his assistant, who was none other than (ex-Sir) Anthony Blunt (one of the Cambridge pro-Russian spies and subject of that brilliant play by Alan Bennett called “ a question of attribution” if you didn’t know.)

My wife remembers Ian Greenlees as being powerfully instrumental in starting the appeal for aid to help flood-struck Florence in 1966, in collaboration with London’s Italian Institute and her father. In particular, pumps were sent out from the UK.

Together with Agatha Christie, Graham Greene and Kenneth Clark he also wrote a strong letter to The Times in defence of the traditional Roman Catholic mass at a time when the newly sainted Pope John 23rd was heading the Concilio. (The traditional RC Mass is in Latin with the back of the priest mostly to the congregation, doesn’t dumb down the horrors of hell and adds loads more mystery to the liturgy.)

For me, the best thing Ian Greenlees did was to help form LIPU (“Lega Italiana Protezione Uccelli”), the Italian equivalent of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds).

When one thinks of the mass slaughter of migrating birds then in vogue in Italy, with the regular eating of blackbirds, thrushes etc. at the dinner table and the nonchalant attitude towards hunting them practised even by that great composer Puccini (“I love hunting wildfowl, good libretti and beautiful women.”) this was truly a revolutionary act.

One of the mysteries regarding Greenlees is what happened to much of his huge collection, not only of books (which are said to have totalled 28,000), but also to his paintings (including three Sickerts etc.) and objects d’art (Chinese ceramics mainly.)

Greenlees’ collection was housed in the huge villa he’d bought in 1969 in the old part of Bagni on the hill above the town and the original centre of the spa. He lived there with his long-time partner Robin Chanter. In the winter Greenlees, with Robin, moved to Anacapri which was also Norman Douglas’s, Graham Greene’s and Elizabeth David’s favourite place, escaping the depressingly damp winters of Bagni di Lucca (in the same way that I moved to Vietnam, earlier this year, I suppose…)

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Apart from my wife’s teenage memories, and those more substantial ones of her sadly deceased dad, the only other person I’ve met who knew Greenlees is Sam Stych, at almost 98 years of age, still of sprightly mind, although rather less mobile. Recently Sam, who still lives in Bagni di Lucca, was interviewed with regard to Greenlees and he told us of the outcome of the interview.

“I came to the conclusion that although I spent years with Ian as a close neighbour – indeed it was he who suggested I purchase this property in Italy when I retired – I never really knew him and nor did anyone else. He was a very cultured and courteous person but you felt you never really got to the heart of the matter and the man in most ways remains a mystery.

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The Time obituary writes about Greenlees:

“He was an unambitious man but he mastered the art of being happy and knew how to impart this gift to others. He hated war, the army, nationalism and public schools.”

And yet Ian Greenlees was heavily involved with all those things he hated… an enigma indeed!

As for Robin Chanter, that name must remain for another post which, regrettably, has to involve a fatal car-crash as predicted by the unmentionable name.

I looked out across Bagni di Lucca’s cemetery and thought to myself “why surely how many lives remain mysteries to us, even more when death takes then away from this world”, and cast my eyes upon the lovely green hills surrounding this place of peace and tranquillity in this wonderful beginning to Italy’s most glorious month, May.



Holy Mountain!

In Italy there are many holy mountains.

The holy mountain is, indeed, a theme that permeates world religions.

From the Hindu seminal Mount Meru to the Jewish Mount Sinai of the Ten Commandments to the Christian Calvary there is something given to high places which elevates them even closer to the God many people worship.

I’ve come across several sacred mounts in Italy.

For Italophiles, who doesn’t know the Sacro Monte di Varese, for example? Yet, in the Lucca region I’ve had difficulty in finding such religiously sanctioned places of ascent unless they be, of course, hermitages such as I have described in my previous posts.

For CAI, the Italian Alpine club, of course, every mountain ascent is a kind of act of worship and so it should be. I’ve loved climbing mountains in every part of the world, from the Isle of Skye to the isle of Bali to the Panie from Isola Santa and my biggest dread in old age remains that I may not be able to climb many more of them.

My belief remains, however, that every mountain is sacred, regardless of what religion you follow (or don’t!), because it brings you enormous satisfaction in climbing it, reaching the top and then just looking at the wonderful view encompassing you around. It’s then that you feel you are a cut above the world, above its problems and worries and so much nearer to the ethereal everness of creation.

At the same time, there are sacred mountains which serve particular liturgical purposes, and, if they are of the Christian catechism, they tend inevitably to be associated with the ascent of Christ to the Mount of Calvary and His death (and Resurrection). There is one such mount near Longoio. It’s called Monte Calvario, has a cross at the top of it and was once associated with Good Friday penitential processions. I’ve described in in my post at

Since such places are there just for the looking and for the asking I don’t need to tell you about one sacred mountain I ascended yesterday.

I realise that posts are meant, in every respect, to inform those who read them, but in this case I will keep the exact location of my holy mountain secret in the hope that it will encourage anyone reading this to discover their own sacred mountain in Italy which, at the last census, counted well over a thousand.

The holy mountain I ascended yesterday, shortly before yet another hail storm of astonishing thundering violence and frightening lightning struck, is placed in a remote part of the northern region of Italy – an area wondrous in its depictions of the paintings of some of the greatest of Venetian painters.

I ascended it to reach a sanctuary built around 1700 in the place where the mediaeval castle of Monte Fiascone (1283) once stood. The sanctuary, of quirky architecture, with several weird faces on its buildings, was sanctioned by the archdeacon, Monsignor Giandomenico Cumano, in honour of Saint Francis da Paola, a Franciscan monk and the founder of the Minimi order.

Yes, there is more than one Saint Francis and this one was born in 1416 and died in France in 1507. Ever been to Goa to meet up with Saint Francis Xavier, for example?

The church crowning this holy mount is accessible by following a (very overgrown) paved footpath flanked by the chapels of the Stations of the Cross. (The Stations of the Cross, in case you weren’t sure, describe the last moments of Christ after he was condemned to death until he was taken down from the Cross and buried in a rock tomb).

For the benefit of those who don’t remember them, the stations, which figure on the walls of every Catholic Church in the world from Spitsbergen to Patagonia, are:

  1. Jesus is condemned to death
  2. Jesus carries his cross
  3. Jesus falls the first time
  4. Jesus meets his mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls the second time
  8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his garments
  11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross (Deposition or Lamentation)
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Some of these chapels on the route I took are just wayside shrines whilst others are veritable tiny shelters, very useful for refuge from hail storms. It’s a steep climb but so rewarding!


The large square in front of the sanctuary is bound by a support wall decorated by seven arches that hold the cells that served as an infirmary for the sick who suffered from the plague, or so tradition vouchsafes.

The tomb of the founder, who died in 1725, and works by local painter Francesco dall’Oglio and other unknown artists, are in the interior.

Regrettably, of course, I was unable to see these as the sanctuary was closed until certain Sundays in May but, at least, I reached the top.

The best thing about reaching the top of a mountain or sanctuary is the view – of course it is!


In that respect every mountain top remains to me sacred in the extreme.


PS I give no prizes for guessing where I was…

Lucca’s Secrets?

The Italian journalist Corrado Augias, well-known for his presentation of documentary TV programmes on RAI is also the author of a series of books (still, alas, not in English translation) called “I segreti di Roma”, “I segreti di Parigi” and even “I segreti di Londra”, which all make fascinating and informative reading.

As a lover of secrets I also look forwards to reading the books in English on the secrets of Florence, Tuscany and London written by Niccolò Rinaldi and mentioned in a recent post by Debra Kolkka.

The definition of a secret is something which is kept apart from general knowledge, either on purpose or because it’s not considered important for any mention, or even because it’s actually been forgotten. Regarding London, I would put the anti-nuclear bomb underground headquarters of HM government as the first type of secret – although much of it has now become a tourist attraction, rather like Churchill’s  war-time basement rooms in Whitehall.

Of the second type of secret I would put some of the great public administration works regarding London’s sewage system as worthy of mention, especially the great pumping station in Erith, south London.

Of the third type of secret I would put many, many Victorian gothic revival churches, art-deco villas and even abandoned underground stations. This third type of “secret” represents for me the one most neglected and the one most at threat of disappearing entirely.

What secrets then does a city like Lucca hold? Would they be enough to fill the covers of that book mentioned recently by Debra Kolkka in her post? Does Lucca have any secrets? Why of course it does! Like any old and historic city Lucca has all three kinds of secrets and in some considerable quantities too.

Of the first type of secret – the one once considered secret on purpose for such a long time – I would definitely put the intricate and lengthy system of underground passageways which burrow their way through the walls of the walled city par excellence. A few of these are open to the public at particular times. For example, the passages under the bulwark of San Regolo can be viewed when they are open for the Murabilia garden festival and I managed to walk a few hundred yards of them on a recent visit to the botanical gardens which hold another secret (type three) which I mentioned in another post on those wonderful gardens.

Of the second type of secret I would put the old pumping stations and the dams which have prevented Lucca from flooding. One of these can be seen near Porta Santa Maria but most of them are situated along the overflow canals regulating the unpredictable Serchio river as it enters Lucca and some of them can be seen clearly on the cleverly designed “river walk” which is being opened up throughout the length of the Serchio.

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Of the third type of secret there are as many as one cares to mention, particularly in a country like Italy which, too often, regrettably neglects so many of its greatest “minor” gems because it has a literal surfeit of them (over halt of UNESCO’s cultural goods are in Italy!) Of these, in Lucca, I would mention the church of Santa Caterina near the west end of the city – the church which the tobacco factory workers would drop into for a prayer or an illicit meeting with a loved one and which, fortunately is now being restored and revalued and, thus is, no longer such a secret. But the nearby tobacco factory still remains a secret, however. How many of us have entered its neo-gothic forms or admired some of the plaques on its façade? What a great museum of cigar making in another era it would make (with the usual health warnings of course!),

I still have to decide what types of secrets the following items come under. They are all highly fascinating and alluring features for me when I visit this city which, in many respects, is a whole secret unto itself, walled within its ramparts and with a population which leads its own secret lives so different from the more public community displays one gets in places like Pisa or Livorno.

Some of these are the other towers one can climb up, quite apart from the Torre Guinigi (the one with the holm oaks on top – evidently this used to be a regular feature in mediaeval times when a law forbade defensive towers from beating a height limit. The inhabitants found a way round it by saying “my tower is unfortunately the same height as your one but the trees I’ve planted on top of it are higher than yours!”  Among these towers are the campanile of the baptistery of San Giovanni and the Torre delle ore (the one with the big mediaeval clock on top – in my opinion even more of a marvel than the Torre Guinigi.)

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The others of the “hundred” churches one can never get into and visit represent a great neglectful secret. We all have our own list of these. When will we get into them for a visit?

The “hidden” theatres which have been closed for ages but which now can be visited on a special visit to its forgotten and once-used places of entertainment represent another Luccan secret.

Unusual workshops, from making mediaeval psalteries to binding manuscripts (including Puccini’s when he was around) to making the original bucellato, or fruit cake, abound everywhere just for the discovery of the curiously inclined.

Scouring the basement of houses in search of Roman walls, temples and even villas is revealing. There is at least one of these basements now open to the public thanks to the initiative of the proprietor who discovered the archaeological remains when they were restoring their home and where roman banquets are now served (no dormice on the menu, dormice lovers please note!)

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Unusual buildings which have been made redundant abound. I’ve mentioned the tobacco factory but this has actually moved to a new location outside town and people still have their choice of doing their lungs in if they wish on inhaling the excellent “Toscano” cigar which now comes in various flavours, including liquorice and grappa.

More unusual is the executioner’s house near Porta Elisa which gave adequate work to its occupant before the death penalty was finally abolished by a liberally –minded Tuscan grand-duchy. It is now fortunately being restored, not because the post of grand executioner has been reinstituted, but because it will provide a pleasant refreshment and information point on the walls.

One secret which must be known to at least a few is the fact that the statue of Maria Luisa di Borbona in Lucca’s Piazza Napoleone has the body of Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon’s sister, but the face of Maria Luisa – a fine example of statue recycling after a regime change. (Fortunately in London Nelson still remains Nelson!)


I would be most interested in hearing about other features, buildings and places which other visitors to this exquisite city may consider secrets of some sort. I’m quite sure that after my breakfast more secrets will come to mind and I might even mention them in a future post.

In the meantime there is no secret about today. It is Italy’s liberation day – a national holiday to celebrate its reprieve from Nazi-fascist oppression. All I can say about today is that thank goodness that war didn’t last much longer than it did otherwise there would have been a lot less beautiful villages and towns and a lot less secrets to mention in this very public but also very secretive country!


(Florence 25th April 1945)