The Tuscan Tunbridge Montecatini
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
TUSCANY is commonly called the Garden of Italy, and the Valley of the Nievole the Garden of Tuscany. Montecatini is situated in one of the loveliest corners of this valley; hence it follows, by the rules of the syllogism, that Montecatini is a very beautiful spot. It was the glories of the Val di Nievole (" one tufted softness of fresh springing leaves ") that drew from Mr. Ruskin one of his finest word pictures. Here it is, so that the reader may accurately know what his eyes will daily behold if ever he come to dwell in this Valley of the Olive and the Vine.
" The Val di Nievole is some five miles wide by thirty long, and is simply one field of corn or rich grass land. . . . Undivided by hedges, the fields are yet meshed across and across by an intricate network of posts and chains. The posts are maple-trees, and the chains, garlands of vine. The meshes of this net each enclose two or three acres of the corn-land, with a row of mulberry-trees up the middle for silk. There are poppies, and bright ones too, about the banks and road-sides; but the corn of the Val di Nievole is too proud to grow with poppies, and is set with wild gladiolus instead, deep violet. Here and there a mound of crag rises out of the fields, crested with stone-pine, and studded all over with the large stars of the white rock-cistus. Quiet streams, filled with close crowds of the golden waterflag, wind beside meadows painted with the purple orchis. On each side of the great plain is a wilderness of hills, veiled at their feet with a grey cloud of olive woods; above, sweet with glades of chestnut; peaks of more distant blue, still to-day,' embroidered with snow, are rather to be thought of as vast precious stones than mountains,' for all the state of the world's palaces has been hewn out of their marble."
Montecatini is situated in the modern Province of Lucca. It is reached from Florence-on the Pistoia-Lucca-Pisa line—in about an hour and twenty minutes, and from Leghorn in about two hours and a half. The place is divided into two very distinct and different parts: the Baths of Montecatini, situated by the Station, and Montecatini Alto, a very ancient township and famous fortress of the Florentine Republic, which is about two miles distant, perched high in front of us on the sheerest of hills. It is to the Baths that fashion-able Italy flocks during the season of May to September. The afflicted of gout, dyspepsia, rheumatism, and liver, come there to be cured; but they are an insignificant minority, for it must be owned that the vast majority of the gay crowd who so steadfastly go through the cure seem to have nothing whatsoever the matter with them. To tell the truth, Montecatini is an extremely pleasant place in which to enjoy oneself; the cure is really only an agreeable pastime, and so, the wish being father to the thought, a widespread belief has grown up that the cure once a year is a very desirable measure as a preventive against all possible ills of the body. 'Tis the unusual case of cure being better than prevention. I am free to admit as an undoubted matter of fact, that the cure does seem beneficial even to the perfect in health. The average sound man leaves Montecatini with a clearer eye, a fresher face, a rosier tongue, and an appetite that is resented when he gets home. He also leaves with the resolve that he will certainly return next year, and so it comes to pass that he goes on returning all the years of his life. Indeed there are hale, hearty old gentlemen there, habitues of thirty and forty years' standing, fine sound specimens of that vanishing class, the Tuscan gentleman farmer, who, it is to be feared, would worry themselves into a serious illness if anything occurred to hinder them from resorting to the annual prevention of the Montecatini cure. There are those, too, who say that besides curing the body, the waters of Montecatini strengthen the brain and quicken dull wits, but this theory has not, that I could hear of, found favour with Dr. Grocco, the leading physician of the Baths. Perhaps he fears that an acknowledgment of it would cause a too formidable inroad of dunces and dunderheads, who might be hurtful to the sick, and would certainly lower the tone of the sound.
The cure consists in drinking waters and taking baths. There are a number of pump-houses, very elegant some of them, mostly the property of the State, but now under the management of a private and very enterprising company. The principal of these are the RR. Terme Leopoldine, the Tettuccio, the Rinfresco, the Bagno Regio, the Olivo, the Regina, and the Savi. The only springs of importance in private hands which are now open, are the Tamerici. There is nothing to show that the waters of Montecatini, like so many other springs in Italy, were known to the Romans. They first appear in history in the 14th century, when the waters of the Tettuccio alone had been discovered. Montecatini for a long while fell into neglect and disrepute. It was Peter Leopold, the second Grand Duke of the House of Lorraine-Hapsburg (reigned 1745-1790), who raised Montecatini into the front rank of watering-places, and to him entirely it owes its present beautiful aspect and flourishing condition. The Terme Leopoldine, so called in his honour, is a fine red-brick colonnaded building, still redolent of all that simple elegance peculiar to the 18th century. As we enter the handsome vestibule, so strongly has the place preserved its original character that we fully expect to see a crowd such as Chesterfield saw at Bath or Chatham at Tunbridge Wells, an assembly wearing wigs and patches, ivory-hiked swords, satin knee-breeches, paste buckles, laced stomachers, and Pompadour gowns.
The waters of the Terme Leopoldine are only used externally. The Tettuccio is the favourite morning lounge. Here the waters of the other springs, Olivo, Regina, and Savi, may be had in fiaschi, so that many people do not budge outside the great rendezvous all morning. The Tettuccio is of considerable dimensions, tastefully laid out with plants, and sheltered from the fierce heat by vast expanses of canvas. The hearty cheeriness of the Tuscans is proverbial, and the din of some two thousand Tuscan voices in one and the same covered inclosure is a new and startling experience. All the voices are discussing, with obvious relish and unnecessary detail, symptoms, and the present progress of the cure; all the owners of the voices are apparently in the most robust health—certainly none of them are affected in the lungs. Only once in the morning is the babel of voices hushed for a moment. " Eccolo! eccolo I" one hears on all sides. There is no need to say who is meant. Verdi, attended by Boito and Tamagno, has entered the establishment, and a moment of reverent silence falls upon the gossiping crowd. Verdi never misses his ten days at Montecatini every July, and he attributes his long life of eighty-six years and his hale old age to the beneficent effects of a regular sojourn at Montecatini. The Rinfresco is the afternoon lounge. It is a pleasant garden with the great spring of crystal clear water bubbling up in the middle. Here the voices do not drown the band; the serious part of the cure is done with for the day, and an air of something like peace has come over even vivacious Neapolitans and Sicilians. The waters of the Rinfresco are drunk copiously during the afternoon, but that is only a make-believe business. The water is perfectly harmless, and has no other effect than of doing what its name implies — refreshing. There is a delightful little swimming bath at the Rinfresco, a daily dip in which is perfectly consonant with the cure.
The waters of Montecatini are limpid as crystal, and free from all smell. They are salt to the taste, but pleasant and palatable, having no trace of astringency or bitterness. They are essentially refreshing, and seem at the very time of drinking to convey a savour of health and the conviction of their curative powers. A bilious subject once exclaimed that he hungered for some of the waters of Montecatini, and the paradoxical phrase is certainly the most forcible I ever heard expressive of thirst. The Tamerici, Savi, Olivo, and Regina waters are powerfully aperient; Tettuccio is mild, and if taken alone must be consumed in great quantities; Rinfresco, as we have seen, is more or less of a formality. A 50c. ticket admits once a day to all the springs which belong to the Company; there is, of course, a further small charge for using the waters which are private property like the Tamerici (30c.). At all the springs the poor are given the water gratis, and there is even a section of baths for them at the Terme Leopoldine.
The cure is differently carried out by different people according to fancy and the Doctor's orders. The waters should be taken fasting, and more than one kind of water is nearly always recommended. Here is a programme of a cure drawn up by the present writer, based on practical experience and the happiest results. Ailment: a "touch of liver," but the programme is equally suitable to people in the soundest health.
Rise at 6 A.M. Sally forth at 7. Stroll, very leisurely, to the Tamerici spring (1 mile). Drink one glass of water, and pass a quarter of an hour. Then on to Olivo, Regina, and Savi. Drink one glass of water and pass a quarter of an hour at each. Then to the gay rendezvous at the Tettuccio. Drink four glasses of water and pass a couple of hours reading, chatting, overhauling people, and listening to the band when it can be heard above the din of voices. Stroll, always very leisurely, back to the hotel. Lunch 11 to 12. Smoke, chat, and read 12 to 1. Sleep soundly, during the great heat, 1 to 4. Out again. Crawl gently to the Rinfresco. Have half-an-hour's paddle in the plunge. Drink two glasses of water for the sake of appearances. Then another gentle stroll or drive, or better still take the Funicular Railway up to Montecatini AIto and get a breath of mountain air. Dinner 7. Afterwards to the Varieties, to the ball at the Casino, to the travelling circus, the travelling conjuror, or the travelling concert-giver. Bed when you please. N.B.—Everything to be done very leisurely: there is no hurry in the world, and the heat is great.
Many people fear a cure at a watering-place on account of the severe dietetic regime to which they are subjected. But the famous Dr. Grocco, the leading physician at Montecatini, is not over severe. You may not eat oysters or tunny, but then who wants to eat oysters in August, or tunny outside of Lent. If you insist upon having eggs, they may not be hard boiled. Croute-au-pot and bouillabaisse are on the forbidden list, but the most fastidious gourmet can hardly object to the many varieties of plain consommes and purees for ten days. You must do without eel, carp, lobster, salmon (which cannot be got in Tuscany even if wanted), and cuttlefish (which no Englishman would look at even if provided); but there is surely no occasion to grumble when one may still eat mullet, soles, whiting, trout, and dentale. Beef, mutton, veal, chicken, turkey, pheasant, snipe, pigeon, quail—all may be freely eaten. It seems at first sight as if there were nothing else left to prohibit; but pig, boar, hare, goose, duck, teal, and liver are taboo. It is only in the matter of what we drink that the Doctor is a trifle severe. For ten days we should try and be content with a simple table wine, white or red—no whisky, no punch or negus (in a Tuscan August, too—what a deprivation!), no wines of Spain or Portugal or Sicily, and above all, no liqueurs.
There are excellent hotels at Montecatini. The Locanda Maggiore, a vast and handsome 18th century pile built by the Grand Duke Peter Leopold, is the principal one. In this building are situated the Post-Office, the Theatre, and the Casino. The Pace is another first-class hotel. Both are near the station, whence a beautiful avenue of ilex and maples, flanked on either side by rich gardens and picturesque villas, leads past the Terme Leopoldine and the other pump-houses, straight to the rendezvous of the Tettuccio. There are other excellent hotels, and plenty of pensions and lodgings.
The moving spirit of Montecatini is Dr. Pietro Grocco, whose name will be well known to readers of the Lancet, for he enjoys far more than a merely Italian celebrity. He resides in Florence, where his clientele is enormous, and he is in constant requisition all over the Kingdom. But the passion of his life is Montecatini, in whose waters he has unbounded faith. He is to be found at all hours during the season, either at the Locanda Maggiore or in his consulting - room at the Tettuccio. In the interests of busy London patients I recommend his arrangements for receiving interviews to the busy physicians of Harley
Street. Let us say that he receives at the Tettuccio at 9 o'clock, and that forty of us want to see him that morning. His vigilant custos gives to each of us a number in the order in which we arrive. Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, say, will wait their turn at once; but it is obviously useless for say Nos. 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, to wait at the beginning of the morning, and they go off to drink the waters and hear the band. Dr. Grocco's system is that the lowest number in waiting should have precedence of all others. No. 23, we will say, returns while No. 31 is consulting, and 23 goes in immediately after 31, much to the annoyance of 32, who has been waiting half-an-hour and knew nothing of the system. But the arrangement works well: it sets the patient free, and saves time, temper, mental anxiety, and a world of weary waiting.
Very delightful are the excursions which may be made from Montecatini. The visitor should by no means fail to drive over to Collodi and see the garden of the Lucchese Marquis Garzoni, famous in Italy, and the very model of an Italian garden with its statues and busts, its fountains and falls, its fantastic beds and borders, and its noble terraces. Busy little Pescia, too, is close at hand; so is artistic Pistoia; and industrious and beautiful Lucca is not far distant. Eight minutes in the newly built Funicular Railway brings one to the summit of Montecatini Alto, 1300 feet above the level of the Tyrrhenian Sea, where a complete change of air may be had for the minimum of bodily exertion. The Funicular runs every half-hour, or every quarter of an hour if there be four passengers. This easy access to hilltop breezes forms one of the great charms of residence at the Baths. There is now a good restaurant in the old-world township, and it is pleasant to stay up there and dine, and see the sun set over the wonderful panorama of the Valley of the Nievole. The echoes of music and laughter, the shrill cries of children at play, the songs of home-going peasants, the rhythmical rumble of the ox-waggons, the jingling bells of country carriages, the cheery crack! crack! crack! of the drivers' whips—all these sounds rise up to us here where we are, mingled with the melodious hum of insects and the ceaseless soothing sing-song of the frogs and the unwearied cicale. It is a moment of peace and blissful beauty such as is only to be found in this Garden of the Garden of Italy.
But the most remarkable sight near Montecatini, distant only three miles, is the Grotto Giusti at Monsummano. The Grotto was discovered accidentally in 1849, and the discovery of its healing properties was likewise due to chance: a rheumatic peasant, one of the first crowd of curious sight-seers, came out of the Grotto with his pains wonderfully the better. The Grotto is situated at the base of Monte Monsummano, on property which belonged to the father of Giuseppe Giusti (1809-1850), the pet poet of the Italian Revolution. It is covered with a splendour of stalactites and stalagmites, and stretches a thousand feet or more into the bowels of the mountain. The entrance to it is now covered by a handsome bathing establishment which adjoins a first-class hotel, the Vittorio E manuele. For the Grotto is nothing else but a huge natural vapour-bath. It is a sovereign remedy for gout and rheumatism, especially, people say, for the former. The temperature ranges from 80° F. at the entrance to 950 F. in the nether regions, and this variation, coupled with the fact that it descends to a considerable depth, has suggested to the lively Italian imagination to divide the Grotto into three parts, Paradiso, Purgatorio, and Inferno. I could not help observing as I entered that the Paradiso was empty, and that there were but few souls in the Purgatorio, while in the Inferno there was scarcely sitting room. The Inferno is an imposing natural vault comfortably arranged with chairs and benches. It is paved with wooden boards and with the good intentions of count-less patients who have here forsworn forbidden meats and drinks. The whole Grotto is lit by electric light, which finely throws out the fantastic extravagancies of its myriad stalactites and stalagmites. Science, the physician in charge told me, cannot account satisfactorily for the heat in the Grotto; it does not as might be thought proceed from its many hot springs, for the water in these is below the temperature of the air. The Grotto of Monsummano has attracted much attention in Germany. Unlike Montecatini, plenty of foreigners come here, excepting only Englishmen, which is strange considering the large legacy of gout which our three-bottle grandsires have left us. The treatment after an hour's perspiration is various: rheumatic patients are tucked away in blankets to perspire yet more; others are played upon by the powerful douche or revel in a dip in the splendid plunge. A bath in the Grotto is, as will be seen, an agreeable and interesting variant to the daily round at Montecatini.
The Baths of Montecatini are in no need of visitors. Some 40,000 people, nearly all of them Italians, come here every season, and there are days in July and August when it would be unwise to arrive without having first secured rooms. It is singular indeed that no foreigners come to this delightful place. In part, I suppose, it is not sufficiently well known, in part the summer heats of Italy strike terror into the hearts of Northerners, but I never yet met the Englishman who had tried Montecatini that did not go away with its praises on his lips, and its health-marks writ large on every lineament of his countenance.