From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 5
La Lucchesia
With only six months before our return to Texas and an uncertain future, we began exploring the Province of Lucca more in depth. Sue, Anne, the dog and I had been to the city of Lucca many times before to bargain for items at the antique fair, which is held the third weekend of each month. However, we had not spent much time north of the city in the Alpi Apuane, the Serchio Valley, or the Apennines.

The contrast between the Provinces of Pisa and Lucca is simply amazing. Going from one to the other is like entering a whole new world. One may be suffering intensely from the heat and dryness on the flat, Pisan coastal plain at the Tenuta di Tombolo. A wonderful ancient church is located here at San Piero a Grado, where St. Peter first landed his boat when blown off course on his voyage to Rome. Within a short time, you can find yourself at a much greater elevation upon arriving at the winter ski resort and summer vacation town of Abetone on the flanks of the Alpe Tre Potenze. Some peaks rise to a height of around 6,000 feet above the Serchio in this area of the Province of Lucca.

Small mountain towns and villages in provincial Lucca seemed to be caught in a time warp harking back to the 19th Century. However, these villages contrast greatly with the larger and more sophisticated towns of Barga, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, and Abetone and also with the coastal cities of Viareggio, Massa and Carrara.

In the 1970s, most mountain roads were all but deserted in this part of Italy except for an occasional three-wheeled cart or moped. Farmers still worked their fields with hand tools and cut their hay with scythes. Hay cones dotted the picturesque landscape, and the local inhabitants looked as if they had stepped out of paintings seen in museums.

In the Luccan hills, we didn’t have to rely on C-Rations because the local fare was delicious, hearty, and inexpensive. Even today, meals here are a bargain, and include freshly baked bread, an enormous plate of pasta with a choice of garden-fresh sauces, a savory meat dish, and a vegetable that may have been hand picked from the garden only hours before. Beverages included are: a bottle of mineral water and more wine than should be drunk at a single sitting, followed by caffè espresso or cappuccino. The same meal in Venice or the Chianti Country would cost at least five times as much!

In nearly every Alpine village that we entered, we would be greeted by friendly people with fond memories of their encounters with American soldiers during World War II. We soon learned to take the Bronco on these trips rather than the Volkswagen bus, the sight of which would sometimes bring on looks of anxiety and even fear. After having read the inscriptions on several monuments dedicated to the Partisans and other local inhabitants who had been executed by the Nazis, we realized why the sight of a German car might be a cause of concern.

The other most important thing about the reality of ever finding a house at all, much less the perfect house, was the fact that in many villages at least half of the houses were abandoned and could be had for a song. Elsewhere, prices have escalated during the new German invasion into Tuscany, which this time was a real estate invasion that brought money instead of servitude and death.

In some of the areas we searched, houses could be had for as little as $100-$250, but none of those had a view. The most expensive that we looked at was in the village of San Romano. What made the house interesting was an ancient stone-paved road that actually went under it. The large two- or three-story house covered the road like a bridge. The property also included a surrounding forest of significant proportions. The asking price of $17,000, however, was far beyond our possible reach so the quest continued.

Updated December 21, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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