Back in the mountains of Bagni di Lucca

Pieve di Monti dei Villa

We are back in Italy.  We have been back three weeks and have hit the deck running. Everywhere so green.  Heavy.  When we first got back, the mountains felt heavy with green, you could hardly see the villages, the roadsides overgrown, great fronds of grass obscuring the road, everything abundantly, quickly growing in the damp late Spring.  Now its full bore into Summer, the grass has been cut, and the swallows are here, joyously swooping through the skies, making their nests and their babies.  We have bought our geraniums and their bloody red blooms are an extravagant sight against all the dripping green ivy over the river.  And the fireflies are out and it feels like we are living in a holiday camp, life a fantasy as you catch up with people visiting from all around the globe, laughing and joking in the bars and lunching at the fantastic local Borghesi restaurant in Bagni di Lucca.

wild flowers - Prato Fiorito

We have been so busy.  Just after we got back we had some dear Australian friends come to visit, so with them, we took stock of this beautiful place we live in, as well as a little inspirational visit to the Marino Marini Museum we love so much in Pistoia.  When they left, we threw ourselves into the renovation of the apartment Jake and Jaqui were living in over the last year.  We want to sell it as we have too many properties and would like to merge them all under one roof.  We are crazy.  We fall in love with property so easily , especially here, but you have to look after them all and improve them and we just go around in circles doing a little bit here and a little bit there – now we are going to use our heads and be a bit more sensible!  Hopefully!

strolling Prato Fiorito

This last weekend was really special.  We had lovely friends from England, two opera singers, come to visit.  We took them up into the mountains along the tiny narrow cliff road toward Montefegatesi.  Along the way we exploded our tyre hitting the curb when a car, racing wildly in the opposite direction, met us suddenly on one of the bends. A couple of old timers got out of their old Panda behind us and gave us an expert and efficient hand so that  before we knew it, we were once again pottering along the spine of the mountain and making our way up to Prato Fiorito.  It was glorious to be up there again.  The grass was long and lush, billowing in the gentle breeze, and the flowers were everywhere, poppies, lilies, orchids, daisies.  While our friends went an extra leg up the bald mountain, we lay and talked and came back to ourselves after all our busyness, the simpleness of life, exquisite.

Holy Jake
Romeo and Juliet, Pieve di Moti dei Villa
Sylvana Oliani the organiser of the festa

That night, 25th June, was the San Giovanni Festa in Pieve di Monti dei Villa.  Jake and Jaqui are now living up there, renting a wee cottage with a wondrous view. They had the job setting up and lighting all the candles in the village and Jake was seconded into the procession, taking turns to carry one of the giant lamps through the cobbled streets and up onto the main road and then down under the ancient archways and back to the church again, the band playing ebulliently, the bells ringing and ringing, the singing thin in the night air, everywhere  aglow from the red candles flickering along our pathways.  At the back of the church is the parish hall and refectory.  It is really Romeo and Juliet stuff, delicate white marble pillars holding up the arches of the loggia overlooking a little courtyard, roses climbing the ancient walls.   People everywhere in the soft candle light, climbing the stairs to the hall to partake in the feast.  What a feast.  Prepared by a handful of village women who had been cooking since 6.00 in the morning, it was ravenously devoured by a good hundred or so people, who later danced into the night, leaving at 4.00 am in the morning…..

The procession
san Giovani John the baptist
Anna e Roberto

The following day we had another visitor, a lovely young cousin we had never met before, and we took the opportunity to go back up to Pieve with her to see Jake and Jaqui.  In a super relaxed state, we all went up to have a beer at Pina and Oriano’s bar.  We sat out on the terrace under the grape vine on those old fashioned twirly chairs, the ducks gobbling and pooping around us.  While we took in the fading view of Prato Fiorito in the soft twilight,  Oriano in his mysterious other world wandered sweetly around us.  Every so often he would remind us, with tears pouring down his face, of the time the SS killed his father, mistaking the backpack and hose he carried to spray his vegetables for a gun.  In the hills there were many partisans so everyone was suspect.  Orphaned immediately, Oriano has a devastating sense of abandonment.  Wartime must be so terrible.  All the old people speak of it here like it was yesterday.  For Oriano, he was homeless and hungry and had no one to care for him. The sorrow in his face is so pitifully sad.   But this day is his birthday, he is 82, and spontaneously as we are leaving, we sing him the birthday song while surprised, he stands like an emperor with his arms outstretched, his eyes shining and his cheeks wet, joyful, and Pina, smiling and delighted as she gently pats his arm.

Pina e Oriano
Oriano 82nd birthday boy

Everyone has gone home now and its Monday and we are trying to be normal about going to the studio to work.  Jake and Jaqui suit it up there and we jokingly say – they’ll still be there in 50 years, but they don’t laugh.  They say instead that it is perfectly possible.

Pina and Oriano's bar in Pieve di Monti dei Villa


  1. Diane Pieri says:

    Can’t wait to tell Pina and Oriano that I saw them this way. Have such a very long connection to La Pieve and these folks. This was the next best thing to being there but will be there soon. Thanks for a great post, bringing La Festa di San Giovanni to us before we get there. So wonderful that there is still devotion to this very old tradition.

  2. Bert Ricci says:

    Thank you for these photos. Oriono is my great uncle, who’ve I’ve only heard stories about. Thank you for letting me see him and Pina.

    Umberto Elia Ricci, Jr.

    1. Hi Bert
      So glad you have seen these photos. Oriono and Pina are wonderful people. They have welcomed us into the area and told us many historic tales of the area. I hope you get over here one day. It’s a very special, time forgotten place and it would not take too much imagination to see how your forebears lived. Cheers Shona

  3. Hannah Simonetti says:

    Pina is the cousin of my grandfather, John Simonetti of Cleveland, Ohio, son of Anita Ricci Simonetti. I had the pleasure of visiting Pieve and meeting Pina when I was very young, about ten years ago. I have been searching around trying to find some pictures and information about Pieve and Pina to show to a friend…so glad I finally came across it. Hope to hear from you, Bert. I guess this makes us cousins of sorts 🙂

    1. Hi Hannah – how lovely for you to be connecting with your family. I will show Pina and Oriano your letter – they will be pleased. Will also do another little post on Pieve dei Monti di villa with more images – it is truly a beautiful place.

  4. Ronald simonetti says:

    Thanks for your wonderful stories, and pictures, of the Pieve.My family of twenty,children and grandchildren,will be in the Pieve on July 22 to visit with Pina ,a cousin of a kind,and Oriano. Your descriptions have only excited our group even more.My brother ,John, and I have visited before and are sons of Anita Ricci Simonetti who was born in the Pieve and a cousin of Pina..How amazing to discover this material on the Internet..Thanks again..

    1. Wow – how wonderful!! We are looking forward to seeing you all here – that will certainly make the village feel alive!

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