Did you know that Lucca is the only town in Italy to be totally surrounded by walls? Behind those medieval ramparts, Renaissance architecture in the form of churches, elegant shops and picturesque piazzas beckon to be explored. When Alan and I were planning a road trip to northern Italy with our friends, Jack and Sue, we stressed to Claudio Fontana of A La Carte Italy Tours, our desire to experience charming destinations located off the usual tourist path. Lucca more than fulfilled this travel request.
Let’s start with the ramparts. Built as a defensive mechanism in the 16th century, today, visitors walk, jog or bike the promenade atop Lucca’s walls. At one time, car races were held here, an event that the Ferrari driving men in our group (Alan and Jack) would have enjoyed watching. If that’s not enough for the active baby boomer, consider climbing the 230 steps of the Torre Giunigi (Giunigi Tower, €3,50 fee required) or the slightly shorter (207 steps) of the Clock Tower. Torre Giunigi is probably the only tower that you will ever see where oak trees provide a leafy crown. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of it to prove my point.
Churches and more churches are scattered behind Lucca’s walls. How many? It depends on the source. Let’s just say somewhere between 87 and 100. That’s a lot of cloisters, chapels, naves and sacristies. After exploring the interiors of one or two, I spent the rest of my visit taking photos from outside.
And outside is the best place to be for soaking up Lucca’s ambiance, even on a cloudy Saturday that holds the promise of storms. Narrow cobblestone lanes open to piazzas where residents and tourists share space on the outside patios of local restaurants. At Piazza del Mercato, colorful buildings circumvent the space once occupied by a Roman amphitheater.
The shops and boutiques attract an enthusiastic crowd. Well-dressed Italian teenagers throng the streets looking for their next purchase. How I wish I had heeded the call of those leather boots that called to me from the shoemaker’s shop window.
During our weekend in Lucca, we stayed at Hotel Ilaria and Residenza dell’Alba. Located behind Lucca’s walls, Hotel Ilaria is built from the Villa Bottini old stables. But our accommodations were in the Residenza dell’Alba, a block down the street in a renovated 14th century church, where glassed areas of the floor display antiquities from the site. Rates include a buffet breakfast plus afternoon aperitifs.
Where did we dine in Lucca? On the first night, we walked around the corner from Hotel Iliaria for dinner at Ristorante Gli Orti di via Elisa. I’m sure our main course was delicious but the item that reverberates in my memory is the desert of parfait “Versilia” drenched in Italian coffee. On our second night, we enjoyed the outside patio of Ristorante Giglio. Dinner outside behind the walls of Lucca. Need I say more?
On this visit to Lucca, most of the members of our traveling group had succumbed to a nasty cold, including me. Of course that means we’ll want to return for more active travel adventures. When we do, I’ll be heeding this Lucca advice from Why Go Italy. Did you know Puccini, composer of Madame Butterfly and La bohème, was born here?
And, how I wish I could have attended Lucca’s 150th birthday this spring. Look at the Lucca birthday photos that Nellie Huang of Wild Junket has posted about the event.
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