I recommend spending a month in Italy – preferably in a small Tuscan village in October.
My wife Sandy, our friend Susan and I found the experience last month delightful, and anyone who would have the same opportunity as we did, I think, would feel the same way.
Spending that much time primarily in one place gives you the opportunity to soak up the culture and the landscape. And if that place is next to a small river in a valley surrounded by green hills, so much the better.
Bagni di Lucca, the place where we stayed, is a pleasant town north of Lucca and west of Florence. It’s made up of three small villages about a mile apart from each other. We stayed in the central village of Ponte a Serraglio, so small that we had to walk to the next town to buy groceries.
Ponte a Serraglio does have a cafe with outdoor tables and a gelato shop. What more do you need really need? You can go a long way on cappuccino, chianti, and gelato and the occasional pizza.
One of the great advantages of staying in a small Italian town like this is that both life and you slow down. You have time to enjoy the world around you – the trees, the people, the food, the river and the sunshine.
In October the sun is at just the right angle. Throughout the month the typical day’s high temperature was in the low 70s.
We soon realized why Rene Downey, our friend from Los Banos, chose this location for a vacation home and recommended it to us.
Another advantage of this small town is its location, close enough to many places accessible by bus or train. (Notice I didn’t say car. During the month stay I didn’t drive one mile in a rental car. We got around most of the time by bus and train, and occasionally by friends driving us in their cars.)
We discovered that Italy has a reliable and inexpensive public transportation system. From Bagni di Lucca we could take the bus or train on relatively short trips to many different nearby cities: Lucca, Florence, Pisa, Bologna; and the seacoast cities of Viareggio, Cinque Terre, Rapallo and Portofino.
Included in the nearby inland cities is Pescia, where we traveled by bus to meet two other Los Banos friends, Virginia and Aldo Sansoni. The Sansonis picked us up at the Pescia bus station and drove us to their Italian home in Vellano, where they live two months of the year high up on a hill in the same house Aldo’s grandfather lived in.
Aldo and Virginia have renovated the four-story house, originally built hundreds of years ago. They have become part of the community, made easier because they are both of Italian descent, make friends readily, and can speak Italian as smoothly as they speak English. Seeing the Sansonis and being treated so hospitably by them was one of the high points of the trip.
While Sandy, Susan, and I were staying in Bagni di Lucca, my son Mike and daughter-in-law Karen visited us – another highlight. They were on a short trip to Italy. After two days in Rome, they spent two nights and a day with us in Bagni di Lucca.
I thought they might find life in the little village too relaxed, but I soon realized they enjoyed it as much as I did. We took a walk to the next village, La Villa, where we had lunch outdoors in the sunshine on a terrace overlooking the Lima River (in a restaurant has been in business since the end of the 19th century). Mike thought the setting was like a movie location.
After lunch we walked back to Ponte a Serraglio, where Mike and Karen hiked up a winding road to the top of an adjoining hill, amid trees (some changing color), grass and even wildflowers still blooming. They enjoyed the countryside, especially after two hectic days in Rome.
In future columns I’ll talk about other places we visited in Italy and nearby countries. But the heart of our trip was the beauty, relaxation and friendliness of Bagni di Lucca.