Be still my heart! You truly should not visit Tuscany without a couple days to spend and fall in love with the medieval commune of Lucca. The enchanting walls alone will warm your entire being with it's embrace!
My first adventure to the Tuscan region was one that included renting a car and braving the insane Italian drivers - note to self "take the train whenever possible!" However, to fully be able to take in the charming small villages and glorious picturesque countryside, then by car you must wander. Just keep a firm grip on the steering wheel and at your evening stopping point - be sure to drink a lot of wine to adjust your nerves!
After securing parking in a lot outside the walls and a quick taxi ride to the Airbnb - it was time for libation and lunch! Why take the taxi? Lucca, like may other Italian towns is a ZTL (limited traffic zone). No worries if you are driving as parking in lots outside the city is oh-so-easy. The Airbnb I booked was literally overlooking the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro which seems to always be bustling with a fantastic energy.
As you are walking around Lucca near the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro you would almost never know that it was once the site of an ancient, 2nd century, Roman Amphitheater - gladiators and all! It is now home to wonderful little shops and divine eateries, with apartments surrounding the upper levels that exude the true Italian lifestyle. As you walk along the outside of the piazza occasionally you will see the amphitheater ruin remnants. And if you are lucky, like myself, you may book an Airbnb apartment with original wood beams AND original Roman wall!
After getting checked in, quickly settled and since we were anxious to explore, pizza and vino were in dire need! Having an apartment right on the piazza makes it perfectly easy to step right outside your door and right into another fantastic place to devour sustenance. The most pleasant thing about the Piazza is being able to dine alfresco and inhale all of the glorious goings-on in the square. Let's just say that after crazy driving day from Firenze, stopping at Trattoria Pizzeria Bar da Gherardo just inside the north gate of the piazza, sinking blissfully down into a seat outside, sipping on a crisp, sparkling Prosecco made it feel as it was heaven and all was right in the world!
A fantastic surprise on our second evening was live music in the Piazza, and I mean there was good 80's flashback rocking going on! Sitting on the tiny apartment balcony, people watching, drinking limoncello and other spectacular Italian beverages all while gettin' down and watching the young and old dancing in the piazza was definitely an evening to remember. I will never forget the sweet, older Italian woman dancing in her seat to songs like Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" - a treasured moment indeed!
Any evening, or any time of day for that matter, is always a good time for gelato! As I mentioned, the apartment location was ideal and even moreso as it was about 10 steps away from the best gelato in Lucca, Gelateria Anfiteatro. While all of their handmade ice creams are out of this world, the Pannacotta flavor is molto delisioso!
I have to say that my final warm and intoxicating night in Lucca, was while enjoying the best gluten free pasta at Trattoria da Ubaldo and watching, and listening, to a group of Italian children laugh, play and spin in the center of the piazza - I knew then I was head over heels!
The Walls, 4 kilometres of tranquility, otherwise known in Italian as La Mura di Lucca, that will have you in literal "love at first sight". These historic, Renaissance-era walls built to once protect Lucca are now a pedestrian pathway around this quiet and mesmerizing town. Wake up early or take an evening stroll and you will never want to leave. You can even rent a bike from many rental shops in town, but my go-to is Cicili RAI right next to one of ramps up to the wall top.
The Lions - I am lioness and the historic lions all throughout Italy comfort my soul. The lion statues along the Walls of Lucca have a silly and somewhat ferocious demeanor that at times I can relate to just a bit. Albeit my local inquiries, I have yet to learn their significance to Lucca. If you know, please share a comment!
Either along the walls or in the Botanical Garden there is always something alive and festive in the air. During the summer you may be in for a musical treat, or perhaps if you are a lover of all things Botanical, then attending Murabilia in early September will be a dream in itself. Plants, Plants and more Plants! Also vegetables, organic cosmetics, flower art & flower hats, hand-carved bird houses, teas and cheese, chocolate and wine to name a few other goodies - oh my! To learn more about the events along La Mura di Lucca visit (http://www.lemuradilucca.it/eventi).
The Columns of the facade - There is a legend to explain why all the columns of the façade are different. According to the tale, when they were going to decorate it, the inhabitants of Lucca announced a contest for the best column. Every artist made a column, but then the inhabitants of Lucca decided to take them all, without paying the artists and used all the columns
Chiesa di San Giovanni e Reparta which is a 12th century church and the Archaeological site excavations beneath the church revealing original church ruins dating back to the 1st century B.C. featuring remains of a Roman domus and exquisitely intact sections of mosaic flooring, though the 10th century high medieval period and a crypt.
COMBINED TICKETS PRICES The combined ticket includes Cathedral + Bell Tower + Museum + Baptistery and Church of Saints Giovanni and Reparata (archaeological area and bell tower Full: € 9.00 Reduced: € 6.00
Hungry after all of that fantastic bit of ancient Lucca histrory? My favorite little spot closeby for lunch and Prosecco fuel is Trattoria da Nonna Clara. The menu, ambiance and staff are beyond delightful!
Via Fillungo - Shop, Drop & Stroll!
While I could list every shop that I adore, my absolute heart and sensory-stopping favorite, so that I can leave with even more of an "essense" of Lucca, is Villa Buti Profumi e Candele at Via Fillungo 22. My newfound signature scent is one of their Perfumes of Lucca, "Piazza San Frediano". All of their incredibly crafted products are MADE IN ITALY and "harmoniously created in the heart of Tuscany."
While not part of the shopping on Via Fillungo, I have an uncontrollable addiction to each and every outdoor market in Italy! Here is a little "market-must" list for your next visit:
For fresh food items, clothes and household goodies you do not want to miss the market every Wednesday & Saturday held outside the walls at Piazzale Don Baroni. Keep in mind that it starts early and ends around 12.00 or 13.00 with some vendors packing it up by noon! I have not had the opportunity to visit the Antiques Market on the 3rd Sunday and preceding Saturday held within the walls along Via del Battistero. However, this is a "must" on my next visit!
*Shopping Note - "most shops are closed on Monday" - some shops & markets only accept cash.
In my opinion, the view from the top of the Campanile Bell Tower is the best views of Lucca! Certainly, you can't go wrong from trekking up to the top of them all. I would have to say, however, that you should be mentally and physically prepared for the climb! The Campanile is 217 steps to the top! Also, to save being able to hear anything after, keep in mind if you go up that the bells will ring at 12 noon! This incredible tower in included the Combo Ticket price for the Cattedrale di Ssan Martino as mentioned above.
My second favorite tower in Lucca next to the Campanile is Torre Guinigi. This 125-foot high and 230 steps to top, 14th-century tower and former residence is one of the few left remaining of the 250 towers that once existed within the ancient city. Built by the Guinigi family, who were wealthy silk merchants, they chose to add a beautiful tree garden to the rooftop to symbolize birth and renewal. Beyond worth the workout climb to the top for 4 Euros to stand amongst the trees and take in more stunning panoramic views of this enchanting city!
Additional fun extras...
For you music lovers, Lucca is the birthplace of composer Giacomo Puccini (La Boheme & Madame Butterfly) and a visit to the Puccini Museum "Casa natale di Giacomo Pucini" is very worth having on your visit radar.
Also, the Lucca Summer Festival is one of the most important, and FANTASTIC, music festivals in all of Italy and held annually usually during the month of July. Previous festivals have featured Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, James Brown, and Elton John, who will once again grace the stage in 2019 on his farewell tour!
And for you Cosplay-loving freaks, the Lucca Comics and Games festival is Europe's largest!
This is only a small fraction of why Lucca stole my heart and I promise you - you will want to linger and fall more in Love with Lucca too!