Cascate del Mulino

After a few hectic days, a soak in the healing waters of hot springs sounded like heaven. We made an early start to avoid the crowds at Terme di Saturnia, a group of thermal springs a few kilometres from the town of Saturnia.

According to medieval legend, during one of the many fights between the god Jupiter and his father Saturn, a lightning bolt thrown by Jupiter missed Saturn and hit the ground. The impact of the projectile formed a crater and its heat warms the water that continually fills the spring. The pool from the legend is actually enclosed in the 5-star Terme di Saturnia Spa Resort and from there, the water flows along a travertine channel, called Gorello, for just over a kilometre.

The gentle pace picks up as the water tumbles over rocks at a magnificent thermal waterfall.

Over thousands of years, the cascading water has created terraces and shimmering blue pools.

An old mill house lends its name to Cascate del Mulino (Mill Falls)

which used to consist of two waterfalls. The first is the one beside the mill house and the second one dropped from an elevated terrace (at the far end of this photo).

In October 2014, 140mm of rain and hail fell in two hours, floodwaters brought mud and debris and a landslide damaged the lower terracettes. It took six months to repair the damage and the second waterfall no longer exists. Fortunately, there is still much to enjoy.

The water is a constant 37.5°C, the scientific composition described as, “a sulphurous-carbonic, sulphate-bicarbonate-alkaline mineral water, and includes among its peculiarities the presence of two dissolved gases such as hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide”. We soon got used to the odour, it certainly wasn’t overpowering. We found our own private space in one of the tiered pools, it was impossible to not be relaxed.

There are no changing facilities on site but a huge towel preserved a modicum of decorum, although I did notice one curious observer.

The early start certainly paid off, another couple of hours and it would be standing room only.

Pienza

We took our time driving from Le Grazie to our next destination, Podere Montepozzo, in northern Lazio and stopped to explore Pienza. Established as the medieval village of Corsignano, Pope Pius II renamed and redesigned the place of his birth in the late 15th century. He enlisted the help of architect, Bernardo Rossellino, to create the ideal Renaissance town and it has remained unchanged since that time. We parked the car and made our way to the centre of town,

1.Pienza2.back of Pienza cathedral3.Pienza

the colours of spring brightened the pavements.

On the lookout for somewhere to lunch,

we found ourselves at the edge of the village

20.Pienza21.Pienza

stunned by the breathtaking vista across the Val d’Orcia to Mount Amiata beyond.

22.Val d'Orcia23.Val d'Orcia24.Val d'Orcia25.Val d'Orcia26.Val d'Orcia

Returning to the main square, we couldn’t resist a peek inside the walls of Relais Chiostro di Pienza, an exquisite hotel on the site of a 13th century Franciscan convent. The beautiful ancient cloister

27.cloister

led to the former garden of the friars and the perfect venue for lunch, La Terrazza del Chiostro.

28.La Terrazza del Chiostro

With storm clouds gathering on the horizon, we risked outdoor dining.

The service was impeccable, from the leather bound menu to the handbag holder (hastily produced when I placed my bag on the floor), the unique cutlery

and that spectacular view.

36.Val d'Orcia37.Val d'Orcia38.Val d'Orcia

The meals were delicious, starting with a colourful palate cleanser and a selection of breads.

The pigeon was a work of art with breast, leg and a wing lollipop coated in hazelnut & mushroom powder and the local pork fillet with wild fennel carbonara sauce and seasonal vegetables was mouthwatering.

We finished our meal just in time before the heavens opened and wandered through the opulent interior of the hotel

before braving the weather the short distance to Pienza Cathedral. Built in 1459 on the ruins of an ancient Romanesque church, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

49.Pienza Cathedral

The gothic interior is quite spectacular

with elaborate altars

53.altar

and intricately designed labyrinthine ceilings.

The baptismal font seemed simple in comparison.

I think someone was contemplating a quick confession before we left.

Returning to the car, we found divine inspiration to remind us of our objective.

65.Aperitivo Van

Duomo di San Cristoforo

At the highest point in the medieval hilltop town of Barga, the Duomo di San Cristoforo is well worth the climb.

1.Duomo di San Cristoforo

Built in the year 998, the white marble edifice was enlarged during the 12th and 13th centuries and has been modified further over the years.

2.Duomo di San Cristoforo

The arch above the main entrance is carved with acanthus leaf motifs, the bas relief above the door depicts scenes of a grape harvest. The two lions at the top of the columns symbolise the strength of faith.

3.Duomo di San Cristoforo

The castle-like belltower houses three bells that are still played manually.

4.Belltower

The first thing I noticed about the interior was the absence of seating. The second thing was the ancient faded fresco of Santa Lucia above an elegant marble font.

The stunning wooden ceiling replaced the old one, in the same style, in 1862.

7.interior

The nave is divided into two parts by a large barrier made from red marble slabs framed with decorated white marble.

8.marble pluteus

The 13th century marble pulpit is a spectacular work of art. The front section has an intricately carved depiction of the Annunciation and the Birth of Christ, a Latin inscription explains the symbolism.

12.pulpit,The Annunciation and the Birth of Christ

The other side represents the Adoration of the Magi, the three kings bearing their gifts for baby Jesus. Partially blocking them is a group of figures portraying the four Evangelists; Mathew as the human, Mark as the lion, Luke as the ox and John as the eagle. The human figure on the left is thought to be Joseph.

13.pulpit, The Four Evangelists

Four columns support the pulpit, each with a unique carved capital at the top.

There are two lions at the base of the front columns symbolising the triumph of Christianity over evil and heresy. The left one has a serpent (evil) between its legs and the one on the right is standing over a man (heresy) who is stroking the lion with one hand while stabbing it with the other.

One of the rear columns rests on the back of a midget (the pagan world) and the fourth rests on the floor (the Christian world).

20.midget, pulpit

The long, narrow stained glass windows have many more stories to tell.

A 9th century wooden statue of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of Barga, stands within a niche behind the main altar.

23.St. Christopher

Leaving the church

24.view from door

we lingered a while to appreciate the breathtaking vista across the rooftops to the mountains beyond.

26.view from cathedral25.view from cathedral

Barga

On a perfect sunny spring day, we drove to the medieval walled town of Barga, an easy 45 minute drive from Lucca. We had learned it was easier to park outside these ancient towns and walk in rather than risk inadvertently driving into a pedestrian zone or the wrong way down a one way street. Crossing the bridge, we passed Parco Fratelli Kennedy, named in honour of American President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, both of whom were assassinated.

1.Parco Kennedy

The old stone aqueduct was built in the 15th century to supply clean water for the fountains and crosses the original moat of the old village.

1a.aqueduct Parco Kennedy

Narrow streets and steep steps hinted at what was to come once we were inside the walls.

Beautiful buildings lined the main thoroughfare

4.beautiful building

as we made our way to Porta Reale, one of the three gates in the medieval city walls. Below the observation tower, the gate still displays the ancient coat of arms of the city.

5.Porta Reale

The layout of the town has remained virtually unchanged since the 8th century, buildings at impossible angles hug narrow lanes, mysterious alleyways and stone steps.

We set off through the web of streets with no real destination in mind, happy to amble randomly in the sunshine. An interesting sculpture caught our eye

10.sculpture

outside the Teatro dei Differenti, Barga’s main theatre. Constructed in 1668 it was deemed too small at the end of the 18th century, a new structure was built on top of the old one.

11.Teatro dei Differenti

Along with the theatre, the adjacent buildings have been beautifully restored.

We decided to head to the highest point in the town once we spotted the bell tower of the Duomo di San Cristoforo.

14.Duomo di San Cristoforo

Our quest took us past the immaculate garden of the Palazzo Salvi,

15.Palazzo Salvi16.Giardino di Palazzo Salvi

less opulent but equally interesting plots

17.garden

and the myriad doorways we had come to expect.

We finally reached the cathedral, a spectacular edifice that I will need to cover in a separate post.

30.Duomo di San Cristoforo

The views across the rooftops to the Apuan Alps and the shrouded peak of Pania della Croce were stunning.

31.view

33a.view

Tearing ourselves away, we meandered back to town in search of sustenance, discovering a memorial garden in Piazza Garibaldi, adjacent to the Museum of Memory. A large sculpture entitled La Vedette (in military terms meaning the forward observer) was unveiled in 2009 on the 4th November, a day celebrated in Italy as the anniversary of the end of  World War I.

We reached Piazza Angelio at lunch time, a popular place in summer for exhibitions and entertainment. The particular shape and almost perfect acoustics of the piazza make an ideal setting for international festivals such as “Opera Barga” and “Barga Jazz”.

16th century poet Pietro Angeli, nicknamed Bargeo, watches over the piazza from the corner of Palazzo Angeli.

The offerings on the blackboard at L’Osteria enticed us in, we weren’t disappointed.

41.L'Osteria

With much of the town still to see, we continued our wanderings in a different direction.

45.narrow street

Colourful homes lined the street

48.colourful houses

and some clung precariously to the edge of the cliff.

49.fabulous homes

All had magnificent views of neighbouring hilltop towns and verdant countryside.

50.hilltop town51.views

The aqueduct and Kennedy Park were behind us

52.aqueduct

as the outskirts of town stretched in front.

53.Villa Buenos Aires

The 17th century Chiesa di San Felice, was quite small and understated when compared to others we had seen on our travels.

54.Chiesa di San Felice55.Chiesa di San Felice

Outside the church was this memorial plaque, apparently dedicated to a Scotsman with an Italian name. It seems Barga has a strong connection to Scotland, with many residents emigrating there in the 19th century in search of work when industry in Tuscany suffered a decline. They won the Scots over with their gelato making skills and, coupled with a knack for cooking fish and chips, made great success out of their cafés and restaurants. Over the generations, some returned to Barga and now sixty percent of the town’s 10,000 residents have Scottish relations. The annual Festival of Fish and Chips, Sagra del Pesce e Patate, celebrates this connection for three weeks each July/August. I can’t find any clues as to the life of Mario Moscardini but I assume he made a considerable contribution to Barga.

61.memorial

Working our way along Via di Mezzo, we found an interesting little face peering out from the wall of a restaurant. It is known as a scacciaguai, a folk magic figure that protects from trouble and harm. Hopefully, the charm has worked for the restaurant of the same name.

62.scacciaguai

Three doors along, we paid a visit to Casa Cordati, a 17th century palazzo that was once the studio of local artist Bruno Cordati.

63.Casa Cordati

It is now owned by his grandson, Giordano, and offers rather sumptuous accommodation as well as an extensive gallery on the first floor. The rooms on this floor have been preserved as they were during Bruno Cordati’s creative years, the views were nothing short of inspirational.

Our exploration of this magical town had come to an end as we reached the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata and the 16th century church of the same name. The 19th century façade was badly damaged by artillery shells in World War II and was later restored.

72.Piazza della Santissima Annunziata

There was only one thing left to do to make the day complete.

73.gelati

Tramonte Trails

On an overcast morning, we set off to explore the walking trails around the Villa Boccella estate. The Old Tramonte walk follows part of the old road from Ponte a Moriano to the village of Tramonte.

We passed the main villa

3.Villa Boccella

and as we continued up the hill, the views would have been spectacular on a clear day.

4.Old Tramonte walk

I don’t know what was in the cute stone shed but it looked as though the firewood was well seasoned.

We stayed on the main path with an Acacia forest to our right

7.Acacia forest

and pine walk to our left.

8.Pine walk

Sporadic wildflowers added colour to the verdant setting.

The last thing we expected to find in the Tuscan countryside was bamboo.

15.Bamboo walk

We followed Bamboo Walk until, eventually, the woodland changed as we descended along Valley Walk.

16.Bamboo walk

20.Valley walk

Beautiful irises bloomed sporadically in the sheltered lowland.

The track led to the road, Via Tramonte, at the edge of the estate

and we could see the main villa

25.Villa Boccella

and Limonaia Piccola through the gates.

26.Limonaia Piccola

We followed the stone walled boundary of the grounds,

27.stone wall

past a patch of magnificent wild poppies,

28.poppies

to the entrance that would return us to the limonaie.

31.Via Tramonte

There was another walk that would have taken us across the river

32.River walk33.bridge34.river35.bridge

but lunch time was approaching, it would have to wait for another day.