Health and beauty springs between land and sea, parks, gardens and villas rich in history and capable of restoring wellness in body and mind, like a casket full of ancient treasures – artistic ones, revealing and displaying the secret of beauty feeding the soul: the aesthetic and harmonic synthesis of art, culture and nature, in constant dialogue on Tuscany’s history.
Versilia, earth and water
With its long white, fine sand beaches and the cool pinewoods of the coast, Versilia has been, since the early 1900’s, the favourite holiday destination of Aristocracy, who built liberty villas all along the coast. Versilia is also an important cultural district, not far from cities like Lucca and Pisa and near historical roads such as the Via Francigena.
Between land and sea, a beautiful green patch is guarded and preserved, the Parco Naturale Migliarino San Rossore Massaciuccoli (a Nature Reserve). Spread out over the territories of Pisa, Vecchiano, San Giuliano Terme, Massarosa and Viareggio, the park is an extraordinary naturalistic complex comprising different environments such as the pinewoods in San Rossore, Migliarino, and Tombolo; Lucca’s scrub, and Massaciuccoli Lake, the only water left from what was the extended lagoon of the deltas of the rivers Arno and Serchio, which with the nearby swamp area, create the most extensive humid area of Tuscany (more than 2000 square kilometres). Tours may be done by boat or canoe, and activities, such as sports, bird-watching, hiking, cycling, and horse-riding around the area, may be enjoyed. There are also buses and carriages available.
Around Pisa: architecture, history and hot springs
While Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa is one of the most visited monumental complexes in the world, just a few kilometres away one may immerse oneself in the beauty of the silence at the foot of Monte Pisano, in Val Graziosa. “Beata solitudo sola beatitudo” (the only bliss is the blessed solitude) is the motto written on the main entrance of the Certosa di Calci, a vast complex built in 1366 as a cloistered convent, then extended in the XVI and XVII century, to the point of being nowadays one of the most important examples of the presence of Baroque art in Tuscany. As well as being a National Museum, it also hosts the Museo di Storia Naturale e del Territorio (The Natural History Museum), founded by the Great Duke Ferdinando I de' Medici in 1591, with important zoological, paleontological, mineralogical and malacological collections.
Departing from Monte Pisano, the geological extension of the Alpi Apuane, one arrives at San Giuliano Terme, whose thermal waters were already well-known in Roman times. The hot springs of Bagni di Pisa, loved by Etruscans and Romans, became known to European Aristocracy from 1743, when the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco Stefano di Lorena, made them his summer holiday and social gathering residence, thus hosting important people such as Gustaf of Sweden, George IV of England, Vittorio Alfieri, Percy B. and Mary Shelley, Ibrahim Pascià, the Duke of York and Carlo Goldoni.
Lucca and its beautiful Villas
A precious casket of uniquely beautiful jewels of incommensurable historic and artistic value, such as the Duomo di San Martino and the church of San Michele, Lucca is entirely surrounded by its original XVI century walls which are perfectly maintained and are an extraordinary monument to the city, now transformed into public gardens. An independent city until 1847, Lucca maintained visible evidence of its development in Roman times (there are several Roman ruins and the hemicycle of the Anfiteatro square) and in Medieval times during the government of the highly cultured Paolo Guinigi, the Duke of Lucca between 1300 and 1400.
Giacomo Puccini was born here in 1858. In the house where he was born are conserved documents, records, portraits and musical instruments belonging to him. He was buried at Torre del Lago, at Villa Puccini (now a museum) which is situated on the shore of Lago Massaciuccoli and the venue of the famous Puccini Festival.
Around Lucca, beautiful villas
Around Lucca there are so many beautiful villas to visit, from Villa Guinigi to Villa Buonvisi, and Villa Reale di Marlia, where the famous Theatre of Verzura is, the favourite residence of Elisa Baciocchi Buonaparte. There is then Villa Mansi di Segromigno in Monte; and Villa Torrigiani di Camigliano, with its wide avenue of cypresses and the theatrical garden of Flora; Villa Bernardini; Villa Grabau; and Villa Oliva. These amazing buildings were commissioned by the proud Aristocracy of the small Republic of Lucca, when at that time the artistic rule to follow was villa with garden and playing fountains, in harmony with the wonderful landscape of the Tuscan hills.
The itinerary then goes to the Garden of Villa Garzoni, rich in fountains and water games, near Collodi, the birth city of Carlo Lorenzini, author of Pinocchio, where in fact the Monumental Park of Pinocchio was built.
Towards Pistoia and Prato
Pescia, the largest city of the Valdinievole, a medieval town famous for its production of silk and paper, is still very important for its Flower Market and the Flower Biennial. In Monsummano Terme there is the third largest cave of Europe. The Terme is composed of three caves: Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, and these form a natural Turkish bath, with temperatures from 24° to 34°, with a hot, humid steam rich in minerals.
Art Nouveau characterizes the city of Montecatini Terme, which, like its thermal establishment, is immersed in nature and inspired by floral and neoclassical concepts, in perfect harmony with the wellbeing given by its hot springs.
In Pistoia, Piazza del Duomo represents the perfect Italian square, as the original buildings that marked social, political and common life have been maintained. The journey ends in Prato, where the only Swebian architecture building of Northern Italy can be found i.e. the Castello dell’Imperatore (The Emperor’s Castle); the frescos by Filippo Lippi in the Duomo, and Donatello’s pulpit.
Pistoia and Prato are two art cities with traces of a glorious past well-maintained and preserved in their historical centres where squares, cloisters and buildings guard wonderful evidence of a magnificent past. Both cities are enriched by a peculiar presence of contemporary art, like Luigi Pecci’s Contemporary Art Museum in Prato, the Marino Marini Documents’ Centre and the world’s richest collection of Land Art in Santomato in Pistoia.