Lucca is a captivating medieval walled city located in Tuscany, one of Italy’s most visited regions. The selection of a destination city can be either measured in hours or in days… day tripper versus slow traveler.
We encourage the latter whenever possible… so stop and smell the pizza!
The Day Tripper’s View of Lucca
With a relatively tight timeframe, the challenge is to see as many ‘highlights” as possible during a brisk march through town and checking off the must-see sites within the city’s walls such as…
The Statue of Puccini and his home/museum, or the Church of San Michele in Foro, or the Cathedral of St. Martin, or the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro (Roman Amphitheater), or the Torre delle Ore (Clock Tower), or the Torre Guinigi (Tower).
If time permits the day trippers may add a brief walk (up one ramp and down the next) on the tree lined pedestrian promenade known as the city walls… yep, been there done that… check the box and take a few pictures with your cell phone.
OK… you can say that you have just “seen” Lucca… but have you?
The Slow Traveler’s View of Lucca
Lucca is a fascinating city with a history dating back into the Etruscan and Ancient Roman times.
On our first visit to a destination, in addition to the normal research, one of our go-to options is to arrange for a private orientation tour.
We were fortunate to find Wanda Martinelli with “Lucca Tours” who met us on our first day and set our tourist compass for the rest of our visit.
We enjoyed a four hour walking history lesson which was enhanced by this talented storyteller who loves her work and is very proud of her ancestral roots.
Through Wanda, we were immersed in the real vibe of this area and were now armed with a list of the best restaurants, shopping, museums, concerts, must-see churches (there are nearly 100!), and sources for survival provisions such as wine, bread, pasta, cheese, and deli.
Views along the Walls of Lucca
Bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation inside and on the walls and, fortunately for us, our apartment rental included two bicycles.
We rode numerous times on the 2 ½ miles long, flat, garden-like pedestrian promenade situated on top of the ancient defensive walls that were actually designed by… Leonardo di Vinci no less!
Run, walk, ride or simply stroll along this elevated structure affords you with amazing views of the entire city below… very much worth the time and effort… and a little exercise doesn’t hurt.
On our travels we came across an exceptional photography exhibit featuring “Henri Cartier-Bresson” and as we continued our bike ride we observed numerous, large sculpture installations throughout the city that were created by the Italian artist “Rabarama”.
As a slow traveler you can simply… stop and smell the pizza!
The “Pizza da Felice” pizzeria is a popular small establishment and there is always a line to get in but well worth the effort. They specializes in creating pizza with a unique chickpea crust topped off with fresh, local ingredients. Also on the menu are the more traditional pizzas using a dough crust.. our favorite was overflowing with prosciutto… do not miss this one!
With a relaxed timeline we were able to enjoy a lite lunch at the renowned sidewalk café “Gli Orti di Vialisa” which has been a staple of Lucca for over three generations and serves regional specialties such as their version of Bruschetta Lucchese, Polpette di Nonna Bianco (traditional fried meat balls) and the unusual Sformatino di Verdue con salsa di Fegatini (vegetables pudding with chicken liver sauce).
On another occasion, we dined at the “Ristorante Giglio” which offers an amazing culinary experience with entrees such as Tortino ai Funghi… ricotta cheese and mushrooms in a pastry crust with chickpea sauce, and Polpo Croccante… grilled octopus with celery and black olives, and Mussels Risotto Zafferano… saffron risotto with mussels and followed by Maccheroni Lucchesi… squares of fresh pasta with porcini mushrooms.
How do they stay in decent shape still amazes us… must be all that bike riding and walking!
Lucca’s Favorite Native Son – Giacomo Puccini
Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in Lucca on December 22, 1858 into a very well-established musical dynasty dating back to his great-great grandfather.
He grew up in Lucca and developed into what has been noted to be “the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi”… and that is saying a lot!
His birth home has been restored and turned into a small museum, but more importantly, his musical legacy is presented throughout the area in venues ranging from the Annual Summer Opera Festival to daily recital concerts held in various locations in the city.
We were fortunate to enjoy an intimate recital of “Madame Butterfly” in the Church of San Giovanni which was also the church where he was baptized. The setting was stunning and the acoustics were perfect.
The performances are varied from day-to-day and best of all the tickets are reasonably priced and readily available.
The Cathedral of Saint Martin
The legend goes something like this… in the 14th century the powers-to-be held a “contest” among a group of well-known artists tasking each of them to sculpt a support pillar for this Romanesque cathedral with its elaborate marble exterior.
When they were finished no winner was declared and no one was even paid for their efforts… and the powers-to-be got away with it, too.
The Cathedral also contains the most precious relic in Lucca… Volto Santo di Lucca is a wood crucifix with the image of Christ and was carved by Nicodemus, a disciple of Christ.
The medieval walled city of Lucca can be seen in one quick day but the essence and warmth of Lucca requires the investment of days rather than hours. Think of it like consuming a special meal or a good bottle of wine… savoring rather than gulping makes the difference between a memory and a digital image.