Posted by: Debra Kolkka | October 18, 2014

Our new balcony

One of the reasons for my visit to Italy this time (not that I really need a reason) was that our little balcony needed renovating. The concrete has been looking very sad and water had begun to seep through into the apartment…not a good look.

With the help of our good friend Paola we engaged a geometra, who decided what work needed to be done and arranged the permits with the authorities, no easy task.

Work was set to begin on 15th September, and it did. The scaffolding took 2 days to put up.

Our new balcony

Our new balcony

Our new balcony

The old concrete was chipped away.

Our new balcony

Our new balcony

New concrete was moulded into place and waterproofing layers were put down.

Our new balcony


New tiles were laid.

Our new balcony

Our new balcony

Our new balcony

Our new balcony

The renovated railing was installed.

The scaffolding was removed.

Our new balcony

Our new balcony

…we have a lovely new balcony.


Our new balcony

Our new balcony

Our new balcony

The builders did a great job and were a pleasure to work with. It is great to have my balcony back, I have missed my view.

Now the whole building needs painting to match the balcony…it never ends.


Posted by: Debra Kolkka | October 16, 2014

Autumn festivals

October is a great month for autumn festivals in Bagni di Lucca and the surrounding mountain villages. In the last couple of weeks I have been to a few with Heather Jarman from Sapori e Saperi.

The Festa della Zucca at Piegaia was a very colourful event. Who would have guessed that pumpkins come in so many shapes and sizes?


Of course there was delicious food being served. We had pasta with pumpkin and other delights.

Festa della Zucca

There were stalls selling all kinds of things related to pumpkins and other things. We met the lovely weavers who made my gorgeous green rug for my kitchen at Casa Debbio.

Festa della Zucca

Festa della Zucca

Later the same day we headed up another mountain to the chestnut festival at Trassilico, the village I can see from my terrace at Casa Debbio.

Here we sampled roasted chestnuts and necci, chestnut pancakes filled with ricotta.

Trassilico chestnut festival

Trassilico chestnut festival

We also met the handsome young mayor of Gallicano who is bringing great new ideas to the area. There are so many wonderful things to see and do in the Garfagnana and David is doing his best to spread the word.

David mayor of Gallicano

Cascio was the venue for the next chestnut festival. This tiny town must be doing something right,  hundreds of people came out on a beautiful sunny day to try delicious specialities of the area, including chestnuts, salumi, polenta, fritelle and castagnaccio.

Cascio chestnut festival

Cascio chestnut festival

The village is in a stunning setting and has some amazing buildings, including a castle on top of the hill, where we enjoyed our dolce.

Cascio chestnut festival

Just before we left a group of enthusiastic musicians and dancers performed for us.

Cascio chestnut festival

Cascio chestnut festival

Don’t miss these local festivals when you are in Italy. Each one is different and it is wonderful to see people come out to join in the fun.

For more on these local festivals go to Bella Bagni di Lucca where I will be writing more about them over the next few weeks.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | October 13, 2014

Rock man

I recently went to the village of Stazzema. I was really looking for Sant’Anna di Stazzema, but went the wrong way and and arrived in the wrong village.

On the way I stopped to take photos of this amazing mountain. It is the same one we see from Vergemoli, but from the other side.

Apuan Alps

I think the rock on the left looks like the profile of a man.

Apuan Alps

Apuan Alps

What do you think?

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | October 9, 2014

Autumn plantings at Casa Debbio

Autumn is here. The early morning view from Casa Debbio is misty and golden.

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

Summer was wet and cool. Some things in the garden grew well and others did not. There was not much success with tomatoes, but the raspberries and strawberries did well. I have been picking the odd raspberry and strawberry every day. Bees are still buzzing around the mint flowers.

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

A handsome spider is building a web nearby.

Casa Debbio

I don’t know the name of these plants, but they grew like mad this summer. I will be planting  more of these next spring.

Casa Debbio

The lavender along the driveway did very well and the house is now full of lavender that I have been busily cutting from the bushes.

Casa Debbio

The geraniums have been beautiful.

Casa Debbio

The mufloni (wild goats) have been coming ever closer to the house and have eaten all the geraniums along the curved wall at the entrance to the driveway.

Casa Debbio

Here is a reminder of my spring plantings.

Casa Debbio

Here are the autumn selections. I bought nearly 40 fruit trees to plant on the terraces around the house.

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

We have apple, pear, cherry, plum, peach, fig, olive, pomegranate and persimmon trees on the various terraces around the house.

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

We are reluctantly cutting down some pine trees. Our friends in Vergemoli have been encouraging us to do this for some time. They are not native to the area and take over from the chestnuts and hazelnut trees. We have a dense group at the entrance to the driveway and Battista and Rocco are going to thin them out so the other trees have room to grow.

Casa Debbio

A large chestnut tree has already become visible after a huge pine was cut down.

Casa Debbio

Rocco will also clear an area soon to plant more olive trees and prepare the terrace below the house ready for my next project…creating a beautiful flower garden, full of peonies, lavender, roses and whatever else I can get to grow.

I am hoping the spring blossoms will look amazing. Some of our terraces are visible from the village and I think everyone will be happy to see Casa Debbio flourishing once more.

Casa Debbio

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | October 6, 2014

The massacre at Sant’Anna di Stazzema

The drive up to Sant’Anna di Stazzema is lovely. The narrow road winds through olive trees, vineyards and pretty villas in the mountains behind Pietrasanta on the Versilia Coast in northern Tuscany. People enjoying the sunny beaches are most likely unaware of the atrocity that occured not far from where they work on their tans.

The little church, which was rebuilt after the massacre, sits peacefully under the trees near the Piazza Anna Pardini, named after the youngest victim of the massacre. Anna Pardini was just 20 days old when she was murdered.

Sant'Anna di Stazzema

This is the story as it is written on the information boards at the site.

“On August 12, 1944, at dawn, 250-300 SS soldiers, belonging to the second battalion of the 35th Regiment of the Sixteenth Armored Division “Reichsfuhrer-SS”  General Max Simon, divided into four columns, and led by Italian fascists, encircled Sant’Anna coming from four different places: three from the mouths of the mountains that surround it, and one low down from Valdicastello, thereby closing every avenue of escape.

On that tragic summer, the town had given hospitality to hundreds of people evacuated from the whole of Versilia, and from other cities such as Pisa, Genoa, Piombino. At the sight of the soldiers the men, fearing a raid, went to hide in the woods, confident that in this way nothing serious would happen to their families.

Instead that morning Sant’Anna di Stazzema was the victim of one of the most heinous war crimes committed against civilians during the Second World War. The violence of the Nazis went down on an entire community within a few hours over 500 innocent people, mostly children, women and elderly people were massacred; rounded up, beaten, locked in stables or in the kitchens of houses, killed with machine guns and hand grenades. Fire was used to destroy and erase everything: the bodies, houses, barns, animals.

The executioners killed grandparents and mothers, sons, daughters and grandchildren. They killed Anna (to whom this square is dedicated), the last born in the county, just 20 days old. They killed Evelina, who that morning had labor pains. They killed Genny, the young mother who, before dying, to defend her little Mario, threw her clog in the face of Nazi who was about to shoot. They killed priest, Innocente, who implored the Nazi soldiers to spare his people in the church square. They killed the eight Tucci siblings, from Livorno, together with their mother.”

Wikipedia adds that Evelina’s baby was cut from her mother’s stomach with a bayonet, pulled out and killed separately . The  massacre took three hours. The soldiers then sat down outside the burning Sant’Anna and ate lunch.

There is now a Museum housed in the old structure of the village elementary  school.  After the slaughter only 10 of the 40 children who attended the school were left alive, so over time the school lost its function, and in its place the museum was born. On September 1991 it was transformed into the Historical Museum of the Resistance.

In the museum are photos of some of the victims and possessions saved from the fires, photos of events in the area, newpaper clippings of the times and stories by some of the survivors.


The priest Sant'Anna di Stazzema

Possibly the saddest wall is the one with the photos of the murdered children and the pregnant women, and the names of those who didn’t even have a photo to leave behind. At the top left is little 20 day old Anna Pardini.

In glass cases are the sad objects found after the massacre. The wedding rings were found in the church square. They were given by the Fascist regime in exchange for gold rings, which Italian families were forced to donate to the nation, to support the war effort.  The doll belonged to Maria Franca Gamba, a five year old girl killed in the massacre. When her body was found she was still clutching it to her.

Apart from the divisional commander Max Simon (He was sentenced to death for war crimes. The sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He was pardoned in 1954 and died in 1961), no one was prosecuted for this massacre until July 2004, when the trial against 10 former Waffen-SS officers and NCOs living in Germany was held before a military court in La Spezia. The court found the accused guilty of the participation in the killings and sentenced them in absentia to life imprisonment. However, extradition requests from Italy were rejected by Germany.

In 2012, German prosecutors shelved their investigation of 17 unnamed former SS soldiers (8 of who were still alive) who were part of the unit involved in the massacre because of a lack of evidence.

I know that in war it is kill or be killed, but these murdering bastards had wives, children, parents and grandparents waiting for them at home. How could they do this? I wonder if their wives, mothers and children knew what they had done.

I hope the killers suffered nightmares for the rest of their miserable lives. I hope they heard the screams and saw the terrified faces  and smelled the burning flesh every time they closed their eyes.

If only we learned something from this horror, but apparently we don’t. Now we have Syria and other hellholes around the world where the murder goes on.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | October 3, 2014

Hand woven from antique looms of Lucca

In Via dell’Anfiteatro is a beautiful shop full of beautiful hand woven items…Tommasi Loom Works.

Some are made right in the shop and you can watch them grow magically from old wooden looms. Lucca was for many years famous for its weaving, but very little is left of this once flourishing industry.

Tommasi Loom Works

Step inside to an Aladdin’s cave of woven delights.

Tommasi Loom Works


There are gorgeous scarves in linen, silk, cotton and wool, a small range of clever clothing and articles for your home.

Tommasi Loom Works


Watch one of the weavers at work.

Tommasi Loom Works

One member of the weaving family finds it all too tiring.

Tommasi Loom Works

I think it is great that someone is carrying on a Lucca tradition. Drop in to Tommasi Loom Works and have a look at these lovely things. I’m sure you will find something you will love.  Via dell’Anfiteatro is the street that runs behind the Piazza Anfiteatro.

Tommasi Loom Works

Via dell’Anfiteatro, 85

(39) 0583 464624

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 30, 2014

Come with me to Calomini

We can see Calomini from Vergemoli, not from Casa Debbio, but from the centre of the village. It is just below the bluff in the photo below.



The road there from Vergemoli has been damaged in bad weather and there have been signs advising people not to use it.They have come down recently and I decided it was time for a visit. The road is like all in the area, very narrow in parts, with some blind corners, but the scenery along the way makes it worthwhile.

Grapevines and olive trees start to appear and Calomini comes into view.


I have visited hundreds of these mountain villages around Bagni di Lucca and the Garfagnana and it still surprises me how different they are from each other. Calomini now has only about 30 permanent residents, but they clearly have pride in their town. It is beautifully maintained…come for a walk through the town and up the steep hill to the church at the top.



There are little garden plots all over the town, with some excellent vegetables and grapes enjoying the autumn sun.

Tended flowers and wildflowers do well in Calomini.

Calomini cats know how to enjoy a Sunday afternoon.

Calomini cat

Calomini cat

This house at the beginning of the steep climb to the church has an amazing view.


It was late afternoon when I was in Calomini and the sun was shining into my camera as I tried to take photos of the mountains, particularly the one with the hole in the top. The origin of the hole in Monte Forato is said to be caused by a clash between San Pellegrino and the devil.

Monte Forato

Vergemoli lies on the ridge between the trees and the mountain. I need to go back one morning for a better photo.



From this point it was a steep walk up to the church.


My reward for the climb was a closed door covered by a blue curtain.


The walk back down the hill to my car was much easier. I will definitely return to Calomini for some morning views of Vergemoli.



Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 27, 2014

Winter windows in Florence

It was a beautiful day in Florence yesterday, warm and sunny and there weren’t too many tourists around. The shops are full of winter clothes and we have had enough cool mornings lately to think they might be necessary soon.

It is a colourful season, which is good to see. There can be far too much black in winter. Come for a little walk around the shop windows of Florence with me.



In the Fendi window the mannequin is holding a miniature head of Karl Lagerfeld as a key ring. Who knew we needed one of these?



Moving on…










Dolce & Gabbana is a favourite again this season. Just as well nothing in the shop would fit me or I might be tempted.




Of course, the accessories fit anyone.


Luisa Via Roma is a riot of colour and fur, both real and faux.




Valentino is always elegant.




Sorry chaps, the menswear was mostly suits and I can’t get excited about those.

I had lunch at the wonderful Obika, the mozzarella bar in Via Tornabuoni. I will tell you all about that some other time.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 24, 2014

Hand made in Lucca

I think it is great to see beautiful things made by hand. There is a shop in Via della Fratta in Lucca where a father and son team make great items from leather. They do handbags, wallets, belts, books and photograph albums.

I met them recently and they happily posed for me.



The day I was in their shop they were doing a roaring trade, which is good to see. Have a look at some of their lovely wares.

They assured me that everything was made by hand. They have help, I think a few other family members are involved. If you are in Lucca, drop in and say hello.


Officina della Pelle…Via delle Fratta 29

There is another shop in Via Filungo at number 196.


Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 21, 2014

Faded glory at Villa Bottini

Lucca is full of wonderful old buildings. I have passed Villa Bottini in Via Elisa many times, but on a recent rainy day I wandered through the old door to the gardens. The Villa was built by Paul Buonvisi in the second half of the 16th century, so it can be excused for looking little old.

The entrance is quite imposing.


The roses in the garden were recovering from a heavy shower.

The house is a box shape with a loggia on top.


The gardens have some wonderful old trees and empty fountains.

After the rain there was more water outside the fountain than in it.



There are a couple of lovely old doors in the wall around the garden.

Best of all,  the crumbling archway leading to an even more crumbling fountain.


The poor old fountain on the back wall has seen much better days.



The area must have been very beautiful in its day, and a delightful, cool retreat on a hot summer day.


Technically Villa Bottini should be a Palazzo, since it is inside the walls of Lucca. (A villa is a country mansion and a palazzo is an urban mansion). However, when it was built it was outside the wall…this wall.



The town expanded and the current outer wall is now on the other side of Villa Bottini and it is within the town boundary.

At the beginning of the 20th century the villa was owned by the Marquis of Bottini. It passed through a couple of other families until it was bought by the Region of Tuscany and was given to the town of Lucca.

The house is open to the public, but the day I was there a private function was about to begin and my visit wasn’t encouraged. I will have to return.

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