My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Behind The Walls In Lucca

2011/05/10by Donna Hull

Updated: 10.01.2014

Lucca, Italy

Entering through Lucca’s walls

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.

A church in Lucca, Italy

One of Lucca’s churches

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.

Stroll the Piazza del Mercato in Lucca

Piazza del Mercato

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.

Have you visited Lucca? Post a comment to share your experience. We’re definitely going back — without a cold.

Click road trip in Northern Italy to read more about our 10-day journey. Use our suggestions to plan your own Italian road trip!


A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of My Itchy Travel Feet: Breathtaking Adventure Vacation Ideas.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark H May 10, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Wow, only town fully enclosed by town walls. I love the main square of this beautiful Tuscan location.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 10, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Mark, Lucca is a delight to visit. And it doesn’t feel touristy at all. I need to go back for those leather boots.

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Nellie Huang May 11, 2011 at 9:51 am

Thank you so much Donna, for including my post on Lucca’s 150th birthday celebrations. It was definitely a great time to visit Lucca, with the pride of the locals displayed in full glory. I especially enjoyed the flag-throwing ceremony that was traditional and extremely impressive.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 11, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Hi Nellie, thanks for stopping by. Your Lucca photos were wonderful. They really captured the spirit of the day.

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Sandy2118 May 11, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Wish we had been able to include Lucca on our trip. You have inspired me to try to go there next time. Sounds fabulous.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 11, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Sandy, I hope you’ll visit Lucca on your next trip to Italy. I could spend days there.

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Lisa Carter May 11, 2011 at 6:54 pm

A friend rented a villa outside of Lucca a couple of years ago and I spent two weeks with her there, exploring the area and Lucca. It is a stunning little town with *the* most amazing restaurants. I would go back in a heartbeat. Thank you for the photos and reminder of a lovely, lovely trip!

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Vera Marie Badertscher May 11, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Donna: I missed Lucca on my trip to Italy–almost went there because there is a fantastic cooking school I wanted to sample. However, I’m puzzled by your comment that it is the only city completely surrounded by walls. When we traveled in Le Marche region, we visited town after town encircled by the original medieval walls. Second thought, I’ve been watching the Borgias, and just last Sunday, the French army burned and looted Lucca!! (back in the 15th century)

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 11, 2011 at 8:13 pm

My research said that “Lucca is the only city in Italy entirely surrounded by walls.” Perhaps it is the word entirely that makes the difference?

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Melanie McMinn May 11, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Interesting. Must be any number of partially wall surrounded cities, I suppose. Looks like a great place to explore.

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nopotcooking
Twitter:
May 11, 2011 at 9:19 pm

You always go to the most amazing, beautiful places. I’m having you plan my next trip!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 11, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Brette, that would be fun. I hope you like off-the-beaten path destinations because that’s where we like to go.

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Sheryl May 11, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I love Italy and cannot wait to return there. Lucca is going on the list of must-sees. It sounds beyond wonderful.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 11, 2011 at 10:37 pm

If you visit Lucca on your next trip to Italy, let us know what you think.

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The Roaming Boomers
Twitter:
May 12, 2011 at 12:42 am

We LOVED Lucca. Wish I was there now!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 12, 2011 at 12:46 am

David, what’s your favorite tip for visiting Lucca?

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Merr May 12, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Oh Donna! I want to visit Lucca, thanks to your post. I was in Italy 30 years ago (am I dating myself??) and loved it. But being, ahem, older now, I believe I would have a deeper appreciation for the history.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm

You’ll certainly find plenty of history in Lucca!

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Roxanne Hawn May 12, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Looks beautiful. Have not been to Italy at all … yet. Maybe some day.

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Jane Boursaw
Twitter:
May 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Lucca sounds wonderful – and a great place to be if there’s an invasion taking place! Would love to get to Italy some day and will definitely put Lucca on the must-see list.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 12, 2011 at 10:34 pm

An itidbit fact about those walls: During medieval times, there was enough underground space to house the citizens, in case of attack. Or, so said our guide. After briefly searching the web, I can’t corroborate that piece of information.

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Ruthpennebaker May 12, 2011 at 7:15 pm

i can’t tell you how wonderful Lucca sounds and looks. next trip!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 12, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Hope you get the chance to visit Lucca, Ruth.

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Anonymous
Twitter:
May 13, 2011 at 7:55 am

I was in northern italy in January – and must have missed out on this church filled town!  I can’t believe it’s the only town surrounded by walls – that seems impossible!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 13, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Sherry, there are other walled towns in Italy. But is one is “entirely” surrounded by walls.

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MyKidsEatSquid May 13, 2011 at 7:36 pm

I’ve never even heard of Lucca, Italy. Sounds amazing. And 87-100 churches, sounds like a fun place to explore.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 15, 2011 at 3:36 am

There’s so much to see in Lucca. We barely scratched the surface.

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Good. Food. Stories. May 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm

We did a quick day trip to Lucca – I remember the beautiful trees atop one of the monastery towers. Would have love to have seen (and eaten!) much more!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 15, 2011 at 3:35 am

The food in Lucca (and the rest of Italy) is so good. The emphasis on local products and specialities is obvious.

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Arlzeek May 14, 2011 at 11:45 pm

 We visited Lucca and stayed in the area for about 4 days at a charming hotel between Lucca and Pisa.  Almost the entire staff at the hotel were women.  Did you know that bike rentals are available for riding around Lucca? 

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
May 15, 2011 at 3:34 am

Yes, I did know about the bike rides in Lucca and hope to do that on the next visit.

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Michael Hodson June 5, 2011 at 5:11 am

I love Italy, but this spot was a new one for me. Added to the list. Thanks.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Michael, Lucca is a beautiful city to explore. Although tourists go there, it doesn’t feel like a tourism magnet – lots of local charm.

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Raisondart June 16, 2011 at 6:50 am

We just got back from Italy.  Stayed outside Panzanno, in the Chianti region, between Florence and Siena.  Lovely time.  But I will say that I prefer France and our little village in the southwest.  

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henry October 6, 2011 at 2:49 am

wow this place is beautiful

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Charli l Wanderlusters May 23, 2013 at 1:03 am

Lucca has long been on my radar and can you believe it, my parents went there without me last year. Admittedly I was in Australia at the time but, sheesh! Thanks for re igniting my desire to visit. the walled city fascinates me I can’t wait to explore and soak in the charm.
Charli l Wanderlusters recently posted..Confessions Of A Divemaster In TrainingMy Profile

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Kerry Dexter
Twitter:
May 29, 2013 at 9:34 am

my favorite town with walls in Derry in Northern Ireland…but Lucca is beautiful too. thanks for reminding me about it.
Kerry Dexter recently posted..Celtic Connections 2013: ImagesMy Profile

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