Historic Spa Center in Tuscany:
Bagni di Lucca is a historic spa center north of Lucca in northern Tuscany. The towns and thermal springs reached their height in the 19th century when they were a favorite of Napolean's sister Elisa, Tsar Demidoff, Puccini, and British visitors such as Byron, Shelley, and the Brownings. Known since at least Roman times, the hot thermal waters are believed to have healing properties for several ailments including arthritis and rheumatism. Europe's first casino originated here too.
Bagni di Lucca is actually made up of three main centers along the Lima River and outlying villages in the hills. Most of the historic baths were located in the central part called Ponte a Serraglio. Beautiful villas built in the hills to the east along the Lima River gave this area the name La Villa and today this is the main administrative and commercial center. To the west of Ponte a Serraglio, also along the river, is Fornoli.
Bagni di Lucca Location and Transportation:
Bagni di Lucca is 28 kilometers north of Lucca on the border of the off-the-beaten-track Garfagnana region of northern Tuscany. To arrive on public transportation, take the train from Lucca and get off at Bagni di Lucca station, which is in Fornoli. Then take a bus toward B Lucca Villa to get to Ponte a Serraglio or La Villa.
Where to Stay in Bagni di Lucca:
We stayed in the Magnolia Apartment in Villa Talenti up the hill from Ponte a Serraglio, very near the historic thermal spa area and a ten-minute walk down the hill to the main square. The villa has beautiful views, outdoor sitting area, and swimming pool (read review)
High on the hill in the countryside, Agriturismo la Torre has rooms, apartments, a swimming pool, and a good restaurant.
Bagni di Lucca Hotels (all 3-star):
- Hotel Corona, across the river from New Global Village and Ponte a Serraglio main square, has a nice restaurant overlooking the river. Puccini wrote operas here.
- Bridge Hotel, small hotel just above Ponte a Serraglio main square.
- Regina Park Hotel, in la Villa area, has a swimming pool and garden.
- Antico Albergo Terme, by Terme Jean Varraud, has its own thermal pool..
Historic Spas of Bagni di Lucca:
At one time there were several bathing establishments but today the only one active is Terme Jean Varraud, in the area called Bagni Caldi (hot baths) up the hill from Ponte a Serraglio. It's the oldest spa, dating from before the 13th century but radically changed in the 19th century. Inside are two caves filled with steam from hot thermal pools where water temperatures range from 104 to 116 degrees Fahrenheit. Also available are mud treatments, immersion tubs, and therapies as prescribed by the terme's doctor.
New Global Village Spa and Baths:
New Global Village Spa (Villaggio Globale) in Ponte a Serraglio, is a more modern spa that offers massages and soaks in the private marble tubs filled with thermal water. We booked one hour in the thermal tub room, surrounded by candles, and it was very relaxing. Workshops and meditation sessions are often held at the spa. It was originally built as a hospital for the poor by Tsar Demidoff in the 19th century and is now a center for health of the body, mind, and spirit.
For a free thermal water experience, you can take a shower (no nudity) by the river next to the Global Village parking lot.
Art in Bagni di Lucca:
Bagni di Lucca is being promoted as an art town and special art and cultural events are held throughout the year. It has long been a center for producing terra cotta figurines, primarily nativity and religious figures, and although most are now made in factories there are still artisan workshops like Arte Barsanti, in the same family since 1900, where figurines are still made and painted by hand. During Christmas season there's an exhibit of presepe, or Italian nativities, in town.
During July there's a watercolor contest and exhibit and a poetry festival. Find out more about art events at Borgo degli Artisti in Ponte a Serraglio or in the Grapevine, an English language publication available at the news stand in the main square.
Opera and theatrical performances are held in the municipal theater throughout the year.
The English in Bagni di Lucca:
Bagni di Lucca became a home or favorite vacation spot for many British citizens in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Anglican Church and small English cemetery, across the river from la Villa center, were established in the mid-1800's. 139 people are buried in the cemetary including Rose Cleveland, sister of US President Stephen Grover Cleveland. Antica Farmacia Betti, founded in 1709 and still displaying its antique furnishings, was once called the English Pharmacy. A walkway along the river is now called the Passeggiata Elizabeth Barrett e Robert Browning, named after the famous poets. Today about 10% of the population is from English-speaking countries.