Friday, April 12, 2013

5 hours in Montecatini Terme, Alto and Centro

Montecatini Terme is only a half hour from Lucca by train.  It's a very old town with an erratic history but it really came into its own in the 19th and early twentieth centuries when its hot springs became increasingly popular with Italian high society.  In the 1920s the town's population was over 70,000. Today it is more like around 21,000 but the town still looks prosperous and well cared for with lots of older style "grand" hotels and spas and top end restaurants, large parks and cafes everywhere.

We thought it would be fun to take a ride in the historic funiculare from Montecatini Terme to Montecatini Alto - the medieval fortified hill town above M.Terme. The funiculare opened with much fanfare in 1898 (Guiseppe Verdi was at the opening) and is the oldest continuously operating funiculare in Europe.  Both Rob and I could hum that famous Neapolitan song we must have heard a translation of when we were kids...Funiculi, Funicula...tralalala..we should be gay (!!!!) 

The ride up the one kilometre long funiculare track gives us great views over the surrounding farms, with their terraced groves of olives and stone farmhouses.

The two red wagons of the funiculare (both over 100 years old) travel slowly, meeting in the middle of the track, one descending and one ascending. It's a very simple mechanical principle that drives it!

Our first close up view of Montecatini Alto.....  At this stage we were travelling at a near 40o angle up the side of the hill in our little red wagon.

At the top funiculare station it was reassuring to see there was some computer technology involved in operating this  very old form of transport.

Our first stop was lunch - at the Ristorante Giardino, sitting in the central piazza in the intermittent sunshine and cold bursts of wind blowing in from the snow covered alps we could just see in the far distance.

I love these locally sourced antipasto plates - the hams, cheeses and salamis are all sourced from local farms and the bruschetta toppings are the specialty of each restaurant.  The restaurant across from us...La Torre.... is a top notch restaurant, serving local food - which is very rich: cream sauces, wild boar, tortellini etc etc - just too heavy for me at lunchtime - so I am happy with my simple antipasto plate for now - with roasted vegetables.

Rob is happy with his coppe amaretti. It's so tough being a tourist in Italy!

It's a picturesque town to explore - very similar to some of the small hill towns we've visited in the south of France - but very quiet today!

This was a very precipitous  bend in the road but we did wonder why they had used the English "STOP" at this point.

These are the only public WCs in Montecatini Alto - maybe in the whole of Italy for all I know - they are LOCKED, of course.  No probs though if you can do it standing up!

The trip back down the hill was very picturesque too.

We had a bit of a wander through Montecatini Terme on the way back to Montecatini Centro Stazione. I was very impressed by the Terme Tettuccio. What a grand and refined environment in which to "take the waters".

 Montecatini's Opera Theatre is very impressive too.

 Naturally this Miro and friends exhibition is chiuso while we are here!

We arrive back in Lucca around 5.00pm, just in time for La Passeggiata.  It seems like the whole town is walking the streets or on their push bikes, eating gelati, shopping, talking animatedly together. Lucca looks beautiful in the late afternoon light. We love staying here.


judy l said...

What about your famous last words about fitting your tummy under the steering wheel of the Golf Rob. Are you going to eat those as well? Must say the coupe looks delicious thou

judy l said...

Missed out the word 'words' after those.