Today the old Bernabo thermal baths were open to the public for viewing, completely refurbished with all the massage tables and oils and candles and gently running water into ancient marble baths.
I wish I could ‘write’ smell and sound. All our senses were cocooned in the perfumes of oils and music that wrapped themselves around us, creating such a feeling of well-being and beauty. I love the renovated ornate paintwork already lifting in the humidity and creating organic earthiness in this pristine, elegant environment.
We met lovely Marisa Frullani, soon to be new proprietor of this establishment when the permission is finally passed. She explained that these particular waters were healing for skin ailments which is why there was such an emphasis on the baths.
I state the obvious because the ‘Jean Varraud’ thermal establishment , up the hill, is not about emersion in baths but is more about curing respiratory ailments so you go into the caves where the hot humid air from the hot pools steams you inside and out. After a couple of days of these sessions, you come out of the caves feeling like your lungs are open, deep and empty. Its such a peculiar but exhilarating feeling. The waters of the Bernabo are supposed to be high in curative properties and are known for their healing of skin diseases like psoriasis, rosacea, dermatitis etc. so emersion in the baths is the go. There is even a story of a leper being healed long ago, when he drank regularly the waters and lay in its pools, at a time when the Benarbo springs were a local secret protected by the villagers under straw and twigs.
The Bernabo is part of some really interesting history. Known for its thermal springs since Roman times, the Bagni di Lucca area has always been famous and popular throughout Europe. But perhaps its most glorious period was in 1805 when the French came in. Napoleon’s younger sister, Elisa, married to Felice Baciocchi, built the spectacular villa Reale with huge stables at Bagno alla Villa. With money, power and a big vision she created new roads, pretty pathways, parks, and buildings, modernizing all the spa establishments and creating a luscious and delightful summer escape for the rich, cultured and privileged of Europe. She employed Italian and French technicians, architects and engineers to work throughout the town and in 1812, Charles Sambucy, an architect, was commissioned to extend the Bagno Bernabo and to make it and the other establishments into modern medical centres. The Bernabo was completed in 1812 and takes its waters from the side of the hill of Corsena in Ponte a Serraglio, on the beautiful scenic treelined road that also takes you to the antique thermal baths of Docce Basse, currently being restored, San Giovanni also being restored, and the Jean Varraud which is in use but in need of a little uplift.
Marvellous to me, how important it is to have benefactors in life who have the power and the glorious vision to change things, to make life beautiful. What an honour it would be to have the privilege to sweep aside the protests of the small minded and even the practical to make instead something for history and for all those who partake in its creation, to be more greatly improved and in love with a wonderful life.
Last night the casino opened again with new owners. It is the first casino built in Europe and Roulette was invented here. It is a relatively small but lovely building with a gracious and elegant interior, spoiled only by intrusive slot machines, but perhaps these are a necessary evil. There was a hint of an old world in the late night as jazz wafted out over the river, the lights golden in the blackness, and people gently promenading everywhere along the river and the passerella. This old town was alive.