It will soon be 16 years since we bought our apartment in Bagni di Lucca in northern Tuscany. It is easy to remember the date when we first found the town. It was 1st March 2003, my 50th birthday.
I am often asked why we decided to buy a house in Italy. The answer is simple, we wanted a base in Europe and Italy was the logical choice for me. I lived in Italy for a year 45 years ago and once Italy gets under your skin there is no shaking it off. My son was born in Sorrento, so there will always be a connection.
We did little research. A friend suggested Lucca so we went to Lucca to look for a property. We found several we liked but they cost more than we wanted to pay. I had seen the name Bagni di Lucca on the internet and it wasn’t far away so we drove 30 minutes from Lucca along the Serchio river to find it.
I remember standing on the bridge in Ponte a Serraglio (one of the villages that make up Bagni di Lucca) thinking that if it looked pretty in winter it was going to be even better in spring and summer.
We liked that it had a bar, a couple of restaurants, a post office, shop and seemed lively and was close to many things we were interested in. There are ski fields 40 kilometres away. It is close to Lucca and the gorgeous Tuscan and Ligurian coastlines and it is easy to get to Florence, Pisa and beyond.
We found our lovely apartment which sits beside the river and is in the centre of our charming village. I can walk across the bridge to our local bar which opens from 6.00am until late and serves excellent coffee, its own delicious pastries, light lunch and evening aperitivo. It is the place where everyone meets.
People ask why we would want to go back to the same place every year. I like it because I feel at home in both countries. I arrive in Italy and I am instantly at home and can get on with my second life. We have made lots of local friends, Italians and foreigners from all over the world who have made Bagni di Lucca home.
We use Bagni di Lucca as a base to travel all over Italy. We have been to almost every region. We do day trips, or stay a couple of nights and usually do a 2 week trip each year. We have favourite places to visit and find ourselves returning regularly to the Amalfi Coast, Venice, Chianti and Portovenere and surrounds.
We also travel to other European countries. We can drive to France in a little over 4 hours and we have driven a few times to Spain and to Germany. A couple of years ago we drove to Croatia, stopping along the way in some fabulous northern Italian towns.
On the way home to Australia we stop in a different place each time. Last year we stayed a week in Copenhagen and the year before that in Iceland. This year we are planning a trip to London, Oxford, Bath, Cornwall and Devon. We fly Finnair, so we stop in Helsinki for a few days each time we travel to and from Italy. It has been a lot of fun to spend time in Finland, my grandfather’s country of birth.
Several years ago we built a house in the mountains near Bagni di Lucca. We began with a pile of rocks and now it is our beautiful Casa Debbio. The house has been finished for 7 years and our garden is an ongoing work in progress. The entire property was covered in brambles when we bought it and it has been a delight to see our garden grow on the terraces around the house.
This is what we started with.
Here is some of our ever expanding garden. We have 350 lavender plants and almost as many rosemary, 65 peonies, olive, chestnut, hazelnut, cherry, fig, quince, apple, pear, peach, pomegranate, persimmon and walnut trees and raspberries, kiwi and tomatoes growing.
We had intended to build it and sell it but the GFC got in the way so we decided to furnish it and rent it. One day we will sell it but right now we love it and I would love to see the garden grow for a few more years. This year there will be more peony plantings and probably more lavender and some artichokes…it keeps getting bigger.
I think buying a place in Italy is the best thing we have ever done. The apartment was not expensive and spending 6 months in Italy would not be possible or as enjoyable for us without it. Being able to spend that time in Italy has opened up a whole new world. I love Australia and it will always be my home, but I love my time in Italy too.
I will be heading off again in about a month, first to snowy Helsinki then on to Bagni di Lucca via Milan. We are planning a trip to Puglia in spring as well as a few other short jaunts. I hope you will follow our adventures on the blog.