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Quaintly Curative: The Baths of Bagni di Lucca

■ 27 October 2012 by James Martin

Bagni di Lucca, the baths of Lucca; I’ve spent the past couple of days there. I say there, but there’s really no there there. You see, Bagni di Lucca is a loose confederation of villages tied together by their proximity to curative waters gushing from the earth. So you can say you’re in Bagni di Lucca when you’re really in Ponte a Serraglio, which is where I really was—staying as I was in the corner of a villa called Talenti. You see, I could have also been in a town referred to as Villa, which is sometimes called Bagni di Lucca because it is bigger than the other villages and has some shops and a tourist office—but I wasn’t.

Now that we’ve cleared that up…

The area is quite interesting. The landscape is incredible. Artists flocked here. Brits came for the sun and the waters. Puccini composed here, in a hotel that flourishes still today.

Now things are more subdued than they once were. But worry not, artists are slowly making their way back. The Casino, Europe’s first licensed casino they tell me, has been restored.

But still, when people think about “the cure” they think of Montecatini Terme. That’s because it has been all gussied up for the nouveau riche. It has a certain elegance to it. Russians love leaving their newly minted money there.

But Bagni di Lucca has always been a place for artists, seekers, dreamers, and other people not particularly known for their economic prowess. You can’t have a conversation about the history of the place without hearing the phrase, “for the poor” or some such—a quaint reference to a time when religious people actually acknowledged the existence of a book called the New Testament and were so eager for entry into heaven that they gave up their wealth for the opportunity.

You see, in the early 1800s the Russian Prince Nicolaj Demidoff made the arduous trip to Bagni di Lucca to cure his gout. The waters, besides curing him, evidently made him quite crazy; he decided that the poor needed these cures as much as he did and built a hospital for them. Talk about being behind the curve.

This kinda largesse wasn’t just a one-time deal, it probably started with countess Matilde di Canossa in the 11th century and then continued:

In 1510 a certain “Bernabo da Pistoia”, a rich man but with a horrible skin disease, immersed himself in the spring where the villagers took to heal sick animals and came out cured. Bernabo built at his own expense this establishment that bears his name. ~ Bagni di Lucca

And get this: even the casino was built so that the profits could keep the spas in business treating the poor.

Perhaps if these guys had paid more attention to the more expensive dancing girls and the profits available in the derivatives market they could have built something modern, something luxurious, something off limits to the poor, as modern “religion” (and pop politics) dictates.

In any case, as a poor scribe, I can recommend one thing: Get thee to Demidoff’s hospital and slip into one of his original marble “vasche” (after they fill it with healing waters, that is):

villaggio globale vasca

Yes, this is where, for a mere 15 euros a person, you can relax in the healing waters in Nicolaj Demidoff’s hospital, now called Villaggio Globale, Global Village, a holistic healing center.

Of course, what you see in the picture is a rather naked view of the 19th century vasche. When you reserve a place, they come in and fill the tub with the healing spring water (or tubs, if there are enough people in your party), then dim the lights, place candles all around the outside of the tubs, and play some of that relaxing, new age music. You can pretend you’re a Roman emperor or the Queen of Sheba. Be as silly as you want—nobody can see in.

healing water spring ponte di seraglio pictureAnd I tell you, afterwords I’ve never felt so relaxed in my life. The waters are good for your skin and for rheumatism. My joints never felt better. I wanna go back.

And that picture over there to the left? See the water gushing from the wall? Its the free healing water; the poor (or anyone, really) can use it as long as they’re not naked. (They check, I’m told.) It’s between the Villaggio Globale center and Demidoff’s crumbling temple on the other side of the stream.

So, get thee to Bagni di Lucca and get soaked. It’ll do you some good: Villaggio Globale

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Quaintly Curative: The Baths of Bagni di Lucca originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Oct 27, 2012, © James Martin.

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