Posted by: Debra Kolkka | January 2, 2017

Make the most of your trip to Italy

I think Italy has more beautiful things per square inch than anywhere else on earth. You would need more than one lifetime to see them all, but you only have three weeks…what to do? Because I spend so much time in Italy I am often asked for recommendations.

For first time visitors to Italy you really can’t miss the obvious places, Rome, Florence, Venice and the Amalfi Coast. I would split the 3 weeks into 4 lots and spend around 5 days in each location. Use each one as a base to explore the area.

Spend a few days discovering the delights of Rome, the Colosseum, the 2,000 year old Pantheon, Villa Borghese gardens, the Vatican….the list goes on.

From Rome a day trip to Orvieto would be a good idea. It is easy to access by train and an excellent town to explore. It is known for its magnificent cathedral and underground caves. It sits high on a Tufa plug and offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

An easy day trip by train would be to Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port. It was abandoned in the 5th century and left to decay.

Ostia Antica

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most gorgeous places in all of Italy. A drive along the coast road is both terrifying and magnificent. Take the local bus and admire the skills of the bus driver as he navigates the twists and turns, but be sure to sit on the sea side of the bus for the most stunning views. Sorrento or Amalfi are good jumping off points to the other delights to be found…Capri, Positano, Salerno, Pompeii…

Florence is one of the most visited cities in the world for good reason. It is chock full of renaissance art and architecture. Try to book ahead if you want to visit the Uffizzi art gallery or see the real David in the Accademia, but don’t be concerned if you don’t make it there, just wandering the streets of Florence will enchant you.

Walk across the Ponte Vecchio early in the morning before the crowds arrive and watch the rowers on the Arno or stand in front of the Duomo and be amazed. You can climb to the top of the dome or the bell tower for great views.

Day trips from Florence could include Pistoia, 40 minutes by train from Santa Maria Novella station. Pistoia has been named City of Art and Culture for 2017 and there will be lots of events happening in 2017.

Siena is an easy bus ride from the centre of Florence. The Sita bus will drive you through the glorious Tuscan countryside and drop you right in the centre of the city. Don’t miss the cathedral, my favourite in Italy.

Venice has to be seen to be believed. Riding down the Grand Canal on a good day will be an experience you will never forget. I was there one October day and city glowed gold in the afternoon sun. Buy a 3 day pass for the ferries and get to the outer islands of Burano and Torcello for a different Venice experience.


Verona is a short train ride from Venice and is a beautiful town to visit. Take a quick look at Juliet’s balcony and then wander the streets gazing at the stunning buildings and stop for a snack in the Piazza Delle Herbe and watch the passing parade. If you have time, see a show in the ancient Roman amphitheatre.

Padova is another place that is easy to reach from Venice by train. You need to book ahead to see the Scrovegni Chapel with frescoes by Ghiotto…you won’t be sorry. Padova is a flat and easy to navigate and has much to offer.

It is very important not to try to do too much while in Italy. We can be tricked into thinking the country is small and the distances between towns are not great, but you don’t want to spend all you time travelling. Part of the joy of being in Italy is sitting in a piazza with an aperitivo and taking it all in.

I would suggest avoiding summer. It can be very hot and crowded, try spring and autumn.

I was going to share some of the more obscure places, but the post is already too long…another time. There are several posts on all of the places mentioned in this post. Go back through the archives by looking in Categories or typing a name in the Search box.



Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016

I think many people will be pleased to see the end of 2016. So many of the people who have been part of our lives in so many ways left us this year. For me the hardest to say goodbye to were Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. Perhaps it was just that they were the last in a long line of people lost.

I was named after Debbie Reynolds, I was born around the time of Singin’in the Rain, the movie that made her famous. I have loved her movies and the bits of her life she shared with us. She really packed plenty into her 84 years.

I remember taking my 4 year old son to see Star Wars in 1977. I was as hooked as he was as soon as those letters appeared across the screen…and what was not to love about Princess Leia? My son grew into the nickname Chewbacca. He is very tall and has long dreadlocks and does excellent Chewbacca impressions.

These women and the other famous people who died this year will leave lots of people with happy memories. For most of us, friends and family will remember us for a while and that will be it. It must be intesting to think that you would leave lasting recorded memories through movies or songs or good (or bad) deeds.

Possibly the only lasting thing I might leave behind will be our garden at Casa Debbio. It is now 3 years old. The blackberry bushes that covered the property were torn out by the very strong and hard working Alfredo.

Alfredo clearing brambles

I reluctantly had some large trees removed from around the house. The people from the village reported that pines are not native to the area and have shallow roots meaning the trees can easily be blown over in strong winds.

Our lovely friend Bardhi planned the first part of the garden, on the terrace beside the house.

Casa Debbio

Filippo and Rocco cleared the terrace below the house.

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio Filippo and Rocco

It has been a delight to plant things and to watch them grow. I particularly love the weeping cherry that turns pink each spring, with more blossoms each year.

I am excited that peonies like my garden and put on a spectacular show for me. I just want to stand and stare at them when they bloom.

Our latest terrace is coming along very well. I think it will be even more beautiful next spring and summer. It will be years before it is looking the way I want it to, we keep adding bits,  but it will be fun to watch the progression.

Casa Debbio

One day the 60 fruit trees we planted will grow tall and bear lots of fruit. We already have figs, cherries, pears and quince. This year we will plant another 100 lavender and some more pomegranate trees along the driveway.

The residents of Vergemoli love to come up and see the progress. They are happy to see the property live again. I hope the garden continues to delight for many years to come. I hope someone will love it when I am gone.

Have you thought about what you might leave behind?

I hope we don’t lose too many treasures in 2017.

Happy new year anyway…get out there and do it while you can…and may the force be with you.


Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 27, 2016

2016 travels

2016 has been a busy year for travel. We started off early in the year with a trip to Tasmania in a bid to escape Queensland heat. Our first stop was with our lovely friends Roz and John at their gorgeous seaside house in Binalong Bay…a very beautiful part of the world. (Click the names in bold type to see the original post)

Binalong Bay

Then it was to the other side of the island to some friends we met in Italy, Michael and Kathy. The lucky devils have their own rainforest, alive with pretty birds.

Australian bird

Further south we stayed at Macquarie Harbour, former penal colony…what a tragic past for such a beautiful place.

Macquarie Harbour

Not long after I headed off to Italy, via Helsinki, of course. I had a couple of snowy days before making my way south. There a white duck had made himself at home with the wild ducks

Helsinki duck

I stayed in heavenly Bavaria with my friend Moira. She took me driving through the postcard perfect country side to Bad Tolz, just one of the quaint towns in the area.

Bad Tolz

Then it was over the Alps to Italy.

flying over the Alps

Bagni di Lucca beckoned and I arrived to cold winter days. I love this winter view from my balcony.

Ponte a Serraglio

The daffodils have bloomed on my balcony for the last time. They were taking over the pots and now live at Casa Debbio. Time to plant some new ones.

My daffodils

We had one snowfall in late winter and the road to Casa Debbio was a bit difficult to navigate, but it does look pretty with its snow blanket.

Casa Debbio in snow

My friend Paola and I visited Arezzo, one of my favourite towns in Italy…I have many. We were there for the monthly antique market.


I couldn’t get any takers to join me to see the Donkey Palio in Torrita di Siena, so I went alone…what a treat. I am going again in 2017. As well as the hilarious donkey race there was music, flag throwing and great constumes.

Torrita di Siena

Torrita di Siena

This is one of my favourite photos of the year…I love the expressions on their faces. This little town knows how to put on a show.

Torrita di Siena

I found it difficult to drag myself away from Casa Debbio in the spring while my peonies were flowering.

My peony

… but Calabria and Sicily called. We drove south stopping first in Ischia where our friends Paul and Stephanie had invited us to stay. We absolutely loved Ischia and can’t wait to get back to see more…and to see them in Lucca in 2017.


We visited Pizzo, Scilla and Tropea on the Calabrian coast.

The ferry to Sicily proved to be remarkably easy to find and use and soon we were in Taormina, probably the prettiest town in Sicily. It has an incredible ancient theatre with views of Etna.



The coastline is pretty.


The ceramics in Taormina are exquisite.


We drove a couple of hours south to Ortigia, the tiny island off Siracusa and found we liked it even more than Taormina. It seemed more authentic and certainly less crowded with tourists.


By this time we had developed an addiction to granite and cannoli.

Ancient ruins in Sicily make the trip worthwhile all by themselves. We visited Agrigento, Segesta and some amazing Roman mosaics I haven’t written about yet.


We hadn’t expected the exquisite countryside we encountered in Sicily. I think early spring would have to be the very best time to visit. Everything was green and lush and in many places the wild flowers were as high as the car.


Scicli was an unexpected delight. Our good friend Luis from Paris Boheme had suggested and and we were so glad he did. It is one of the Baroque towns in southern Sicily including Noto and Ragusa…Scicli was our favourite.


Cefalu on the northern coast was another place in Sicily we really liked even though a fierce wind kept us off the beach and any other exposed place. Fortunately the narrow streets offered protection.


On the way back we dropped into Pentedattilo, a ghost town in Calabria, where the wind almost blew us off the edge.


We don’t need any excuse to stay along the Amalfi Coast. This time we called into Salerno…


…and Amalfi, surely one of the most delightful places on earth.


We revisited Bagnoregio, sitting in a precarious position on a disappearing tufa plug. I wonder how much longer it will last.


La Foce is one of the loveliest gardens in Italy. It makes me want to rush back to Casa Debbio and plant more flowers and trees.

La Foce

On my way back to Italy in September I revisited Fiskars, a town in Finland inhabited by artists and craftspeople and previous home to those orange handled scissors.


In October I rediscovered Pistoia and fell in love with the town. It has been named city of Art and Culture for 2017 and it is easy to see why. It has much to offer and is not overrun with tourists….yet. Thank you Michela for showing me your lovely home town.


On my way back to Brisbane I managed to be in Helsinki for the first snow of the season, lucky me!


Throughout the year there were many visits to lovely Lucca, fabulous Florence, marvellous Modena, Castiglione Garfagnana with Victoria, Bologna and Parma with Cathy for the antique fare (I’m going back with a truck next year) Main Beach, and lots of day trips. 2017 is going to be just as busy.

As well as Finland and Italy we will be travelling to Iceland,  something entirely new for us…I can’t wait for it all to begin.




Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 23, 2016

On writing a blog

About 7 years ago I launched into the unknown and began Bagni di Lucca and Beyond. I knew nothing of blogs, had never written anything much and had little interest in photography.

I enlisted the help of my friend Liz’s son and the blog was born. The initial reason for starting it was to inform friends staying at our Bagni di Lucca apartment about things to do in the area.

Ponte a Serraglio

Nobody was more surprised than I was when the blog gathered a following and people from all over the world began leaving comments. The blog expanded to include my travels in Italy and beyond.

Bagni di Lucca was being left behind, so I started Bella Bagni di Lucca to concentrate on the group of villages that make up the town where I now spend 6 months every year. I also began Beautiful Helsinki, just because I love the city. I go there 4 times a year, on my way to and from Italy. I have a connection with Finland as my grandfather was born there.

One of the fun things about writing the blogs is the number of people I meet along the way. Some have become friends online and others I have met in person, something I didn’t expect at all. I was delighted the first time someone stopped me at Bar Italia in our piazza to tell me they read my blog.

Best of all are the readers who write to me to tell me their stories of Bagni di Lucca. Last century many people left the town and went to live in USA. I get dozens of emails and comments on the blog telling me tales of parents and grandparents who left to make a new life. They left looking for a better life, but never forgot where they came from. They tell me photos and stories on the blog help to connect with a past life.

Many people let me know they have come to visit Bagni di Lucca because of my blogs. I take this responsibility quite seriously. I try to present the villages as they are. My photos are not enhanced or coloured, they show things in their true light.

I have been to all the villages in different seasons and find something delightful in all of them. I try to give as much information as I can to help people enjoy their time in the area. I receive lots of questions about the area and I try to find answers to all of them.

Most of my meetings with blog followers have been positive. I have had coffee or aperitivo at Bar Italia with readers who have come to stay. Many tell me they felt immediately at home and had fun recognising places and faces they have seen in the blog posts.

Not all meetings have gone well. One fellow leapt to his feet when I arrived and said in an accusing tone that he hadn’t expected it to be windy and they didn’t like the house they had considered buying and they wouldn’t be staying. I beat a hasty retreat.

Another interesting contact was with a blogger who came to stay with Jim and me for a few weeks. She went on to write posts about her stay in both our apartment and Casa Debbio without mentioning us at all. It was as though she stayed in something she booked from Trivago. We were surprised to say the least.

Apart from these, it is the interaction with people that is the motivation to continue writing. Without conversations with readers there would be little incentive to gather stories to share.

I have little idea how the whole thing works. The number of followers keeps growing, but the number of hits daily does not. Clearly some people sign up but never actually look at the posts, which is a puzzle. I try not to worry about the mechanics and just enjoy writing and taking photos.

Thank you to all the readers, especially those who take the time to say something in the comments section or send me personal emails. I hope everyone has a great Christmas and that 2017 is a wonderful year with lots of travel…and perhaps a few rainbows.


Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 17, 2016

A renovator’s delight

When I wander through the ancient villages and the countryside around Bagni di Lucca I see hundreds of abandoned houses. I find them fascinating and wonder about the people who lived in them.

I came upon this crumbling treasure on the way to Prato Fiorito. It was part of a little group of buildings that would have been a farmer’s property.

abandoned house

I can imagine a young family moving into the newly finished house, planting a garden, keeping animals. Did they like living here? Where did they go and why?

Abandoned house

The stone walls would have required months of back breaking work and now they are left to fall apart.

abandoned house

Care was taken with the door and windows. Was the house a cool refuge in the summer? Were they warm by the fire in winter?

I hope the people who lived here had some happy times. They certainly lived in a beautiful place. I hope they had time to sit and admire the view when they weren’t working.

abandoned house

abandoned house

abandoned house

They must have missed it when they left.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 11, 2016

A visit to Prato

I visited Prato many years ago and I remember thinking it was an interesting city that deserved more exploration. In October I dropped in for a few hours. It is on the train line between Lucca and Florence, making it very easy to get to.

I left the train at Porta Serraglia, on the edge of the old section of Prato, a very good place to begin a walk through the city.

Just a short walk from the station is the magnificent cathedral of Santo  Stefano, built on the site of an earlier church. The current structure dates from the Romanesque period of the 12th century.

Santo Stefano Prato

Santo Stefano Prato

The external pulpit was added between 1428 – 1438, built by Michelozzo and decorated by Donatello.

Santo Stefano Prato

Santo Stefano Prato

The church houses frescoes by Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi and Agnolo Gaddi.

Santo Stefano Prato

The Piazza del Duomo is enormous. A lovely fountain forms the centrepiece.

Piazza del Duomo

Mazzoni keeps a weary watch over the piazza often with the help of pigeons sitting on his head.

Piazza del Duomo

Piazza del Comune is the heart of Prato. The square is home to the medieval Palazzo Pretoria, which is now a museum. It was built in the 13th century from red brick. An external staircase, clock tower and white stone gothic style additions happened from the 16th century.

Palazzo Pretorio

The imposing white marble statue of Prato’s famous merchant, Francesco di Marco Datini (1335-1420), dominates the square.

Piazza Comune Prato

The lovely Fontana del Bacchino is tucked in a corner. It is a copy of the original by Ferdinand Tacca, which is now kept in the Palazzo Comunale.

Fountain Prato

The streets of Prato are easy to navigate and there are many interesting buildings to keep your attention. There is good shopping and inviting cafes and restaurants.



A short walk from the Piazza del Comunale is the Castello dell’Imperatore, the only example of Swabian archicture in northern Italy.

Castello dell'Imperatore Prato

It was built on the site of a small fortress. The castle is attributed to architect Riccardo da Latina, who also designed castles in Augusta, Syracuse and Catania. It was never finished because Fredierick died and the workmen left. It has served as a home , a war veteran’s shelter and a prison.

Castello Prato

On my way back to the station I came  upon a part of the old wall. Some of it had been put to use as an external wall of a house.



Prato has a long tradition of textile manufacture. There is an excellent textile museum, which I intend to visit on my next trip to Prato.

The city is still involved in textiles. It has the second largest Chinese community (after Milan) in Italy. Chinese immigrants first arrived in the 1980s and 1990s to work in the textile factories. There are around 3,500 workshops where approximately 45,000 Chinese workers are employed, legally and otherwise.

This community is outside the historical centre and has a thriving market area with lots of good Chinese restaurants. I realise that people don’t usually visit Italy to eat Chinese food, but when you stay for months at a time it can be a treat to eat something other than Italian food. I’ll show you one of these in another post.


Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 7, 2016

Presepe Vivente…Living nativity

The beautiful village of Pieve di Monti di Villa, one of the hamlets that make up Bagni di Lucca hosted the Presepe Vivente this year. The whole village stepped back in time and the residents from the area donned costumes and took up their ancient tools to create a living nativity.

I was very sorry to be unable to attend, but we have the next best thing. Two local photographers were there and I can show you their gorgeous photos.

Paul Anthony Davies from San Cassiano took these photos.

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Here is the work of David Bonaventuri from Montefegatesi.

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa


Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

Presepe Pieve di Monti di Villa

I truly love these events, especially the way people of all ages are involved to create something beautiful. I’m sure everyone who attended had a wonderful time.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | December 4, 2016

Summer Pop Up

Summer has arrived in Brisbane. The days are hot and steamy. I have been busy making cool cotton and linen clothes, perfect for this time of the year.

My summer Pop Up will begin on Friday 9th December and be open until Saturday 17th December.

The shop will be open at Sarva , 239 Boundary St (corner Corbett St) West End, from 10.00am until 3.00pm every day.


Drop in to say hello.

Sarva West End


239 Boundary St,

West End.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | November 29, 2016

Beach shacks

I grew up at the beach at Main Beach, near Surfers Paradise in Queensland. When we moved there in the 1950s the houses reallly were shacks made of fibro or timber.

Highrise buildings eventually made their way to Main Beach. A few were built on the beach side of the street, but at one point the local government decreed that nothing over 3 levels could be built, a good idea.

Recently the wife of a millionaire retail business man decided to build an 8 storey building on beside the beach. Local residents, including us, put up money to fight the request.

Needless to say, we lost and madam got to build her building. It is the big one on the right. The little white one is possibly one of the original shacks with a makeover.

Main Beach

I think it looks like an 8 storey toilet block.

Main Beach

Very few of the original buildings are left. This one is opposite where we used to live. It is a rejig of the one that was there then.

Main Beach

My father built the one below in 1968 for his friend George. My little brother used to go to work with Dad occasionally and mostly got into mischief. He was only 2.

George's house

I remember the timber house that was George’s old house. We had barbecues there every Sunday afternoon when Dad, George and their mates would return from fishing with a boatload of snapper and other local fish.

I also remember the cyclones in the 1960s when huge seas took away several metres of George’s backyard. As kids we thought it was great fun to watch a wave come in and crack a big chunk of land. The next few waves would carry it away.

That all seems to be forgotten now, even though big seas still threaten the coastline regularly.

This morning this was the front page of the local paper.

Gold Coast Bulletin

I can’t believe the council would be so stupid as to allow a 50 storey building to be built so close to the beach. It appears a precedent has been set by our retail millionaire. I won’t be stepping into one of their shops any time soon.

The 2 houses the 50 storey building may replace are old and tired and clearly need to be updated,  but not by a monster that will cast a shadow over the beach by early afternoon.

Old houses Main Beach

At least the council can’t stuff up the beach…or can they? There are plans to develop the spit, which would be criminal. This is the last bit of relatively building free land on the coast…leave it alone.

The spit Main Beach

We don’t want it all to look like this.

Surfers Paradise

Fortunately some things stay the same. I ran into Col the wormer this morning. He has been collecting worms for bait for about 50 years. He must have been scouring the shore when I used to swim there as a 12 year old, but I don’t recall seeing him.

I see him  regularly now and he has many tales to tell. I wonder if there will be a wormer to take his place when he finally gives up. (See more about Col here)

Col the wormer

I hope the council sees sense and stops this ridiculous building from going up. What do you think?

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | November 24, 2016


Florence has an excellent new rubbish bin system. There is a row of bins in the street where I catch the bus to Lucca.

The above ground part of the bin is compact and neat.

rubbish in Florence

While I was waiting for the bus one day I saw the truck come along to empty the bins.

rubbish in Florence

rubbish in Florence

This system is much better than the small bins that were there previously. They were often full and overflowing onto the street. This seems to be working very well.

I wonder if it is in other Italian cities.

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