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Located in the fertile plain on the Serchio river, Lucca is one of central Italy’s best kept secrets. The hometown of some of Italy’s most famous opera composers, including Puccini, Boccherini and Catalani, Lucca’s charming tree lined cobbled streets and stunning architecture is second to none, even amongst the incredible Italian cities where there’s plenty of competition!
Lucca, also known as ‘Citta d’Arte’, or the ‘City of the Arts’, has an amazing Renaissance heritage of both the visual and musical arts. Many of the city’s most remarkable monuments are located around the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro in the beautifully preserved heart of the historic center where you can also find many restaurants, cafes, bars and souvenir stores.
Lucca – The Ideal Base To Explore Tuscany From.
Although Lucca is less well known by most tourists or expats, it’s perfectly located to visit Florence, Siena and Pisa! Many visitors to Tuscany overlook Lucca which means that during the high season it’s not as overcrowded as some of Italy’s other cities which makes it the ideal base to explore the wider region from.
Lucca has a fascinating history which involved a whole series of conquests over many generations, first by the Etruscans and then the Roman Empire and later by the Spanish Emperor, Charles II as well as Napoleon! In fact, in the early 1800s Napoleon named his sister, Elisa Bonaparte, the Princess of Lucca; which just goes to show the prominence of this small Italian city.
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The interesting historical waves of conquest have left behind an amazing array of architectural heritage in Lucca. The Etruscans, Ligurians and Romans all left their mark on the city. It’s believed that the city originally got its name during the 3rd Century BC from the Ligurian word ‘Luk’, which means ‘marsh’.
Later, when the Romans arrived and made Lucca a colony of the Empire, in around 180 BC, the small town began to take on the characteristics of a major regional hub. The Romans built a grid pattern of roads, with the modern day Piazza San Michele in the place where the original Roman forum was located. You can also see the remains of the Roman amphitheater in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro even to this day!
Following the Roman developments in the city it soon began to thrive and was the site of major historical events including the famous Conference of Lucca in 56BC; where Julius Caesar, Crassus and Pompey agreed an alliance which became known as the First Triumvirate.
How To Get To Lucca.
It’s extremely convenient to get to Lucca from the nearest airport which is in Pisa. From Pisa you can catch a train to Lucca which takes under 40 minutes or else you can rent a car and drive. Alternatively, if you’re traveling from Florence you can catch a train which takes just under 1 hour 30 minutes.
If you do plan to rent a car then you should be aware that Lucca does have quite strict restrictions in place regarding cars in the city center. This means that you can’t enter the ‘ZTL’ area within the historical city center and large fines can be applied to you if you accidentally break the rules! However, there is ample parking outside of the city’s walls so you can easily park your car there and then walk into town.
Unique Ways To Spend A Morning In Lucca.
The following are three unique ways to spend a nice morning in Lucca.
- Mirta Vignatti Arte Contemporanea: Lucca has a long artistic and musical heritage but these traditions are still alive and well! The Mirta Vignatti Arte Contemporanea is a wonderful contemporary art gallery that was founded by Mirta Vignatti in 2001. The artist was born in Argentina but has lived and worked in Lucca for around 20 years. Her gallery is a great place to visit if you want to see how this modern artist has been reinterpreting the cultural heritage of the medieval city.
- Puccini Museum – Casa Natale: This fascinating museum is built in the birthplace of Puccini, one of Italy’s finest opera composers of all time. The museum traces his life and gives visitors an interesting insight into the composer’s personality and musical genius.
- Doma Romana: The Doma Romana was discovered in 2010 and is a important archeological site in the center of Lucca. Within this one site, which is now a museum, you can see how construction techniques in Lucca have evolved since Roman times. With artifacts dating back to the 1st Century as well as original friezes from the Lombard, Medieval and Renaissance periods, the Doma Romana is the perfect way to spend a morning in Lucca before having lunch at a nearby restaurant.
What To See In Lucca.
There’s plenty to see and do within this medieval city which makes it the ideal spot for a vacation in Tuscany. The city is relatively small and many of the main attractions are located in and around the historic center. This means that you can see the city on foot; stopping off to have lunch in local trattorias or an ice cream in one of the city’s gelateria.
Walk Or Cycle The City Walls Of Lucca.
One of the city’s most iconic features are the impressive Renaissance walls. The original defensive city walls were converted during the 19th Century into a beautiful 4km long green park that surrounds the historic city center.
The city walls park is the ideal place for a lovely picnic for lunch but if you want to get around a little bit more quickly you rent a bike from the nearby tourist office at the Piazzale Bettino Ricasoli. If you decide to rent a bike you can even sign up for a sightseeing tour of the city by bike where a multilingual guide will tell you all about the history and points of interest throughout Lucca.
Explore The Historic Old Town Of Lucca.
Lucca was built up around the Roman grid system of roads as well as the old forum and amphitheater. The historic old town is very compact and easy to explore on foot while dropping into cafes, galleries, souvenir stores and a restaurant for lunch.
One of the highlights of the old town is unquestionably the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro as well as the chic shopping street of Via Fillungo that’s packed full of unique boutique stores selling local arts, crafts and fashion items.
Climb The Towers Of Lucca For Unbeatable Views Of The City.
Lucca is famous for its towers which give you superb views across the Tuscan countryside, as well as the city itself. At one time Lucca had more than 130 towers although today only a few still survive. The best known towers are the Torre Civica delle Ore and the Torre Guinigi. Each of the towers has its own aspects of historical interest but they both have great views!
The Torre Guinigi is a beautiful example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture at its finest. One of the most unusual features of the Torre Guinigi is the rooftop garden with oak trees that give you shade while you enjoy the Tuscan scenery around you. The tower is about 45 meters high and has a total of 233 steps to reach its summit.
The Torre Guinigi is open each day from 9.30am and there’s a small admission fee of under 5 Euros per adult. The tower, which is certainly one of the city’s highlights, is located on Via S. Andrea and makes the perfect start to a day spent exploring the medieval city’s heart.
To find out more about visiting the Torre Guinigi you can visit the City of Lucca’s website which details the opening times throughout the year.
Visit The Churches Of Lucca.
Lucca has a surprising number of stunning churches for a city of its size. Ranging from Romanesque masterpieces such as San Michele in Foro to rare examples of medieval classicism including the San Romano on the Piazza San Romano. All of the city’s churches have spectacular interiors with decorative facades and world class artwork throughout.
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Other well known churches in the city include the San Frediano church that was built in the 13th Century and contains amazing Byzantine era mosaics around its exterior. You can also visit the San Martino cathedral which has been a site of pilgrimage for many centuries to venerate the Volto Santo carving; which is also known as the ‘true face of Christ’ and is an important Catholic holy relic. In fact, recent analysis has found that the Volto Santo carving is the oldest wooden relic in Europe!
Another church that should be on your itinerary in Lucca is the San Giorgio in the Brancoli district of the city. The 12th Century church is a lovely example of the unique Lombard-Romanesque architectural style and is home to 4 columns that are mounted on stunning lion sculptures, an ornately decorated baptismal fount and an altar that’s held up by 6 columns with human figures carved into them.
Opera And Music In Lucca.
Lucca, the ‘City of the Arts’ is the home to some of Italy’s greatest opera composers but it also has a modern musical legacy. One of the calendar’s highlights are the huge shows at the annual summer music festival in the Piazza Napoleon that has hosted everyone from the Dave Matthews Band to the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.
Lucca also hosts many live music events, particularly during the summer months, and to find out more about upcoming events you can visit the summer festival’s official website.
The city also puts on free concerts in the evenings during the summer in the Piazza on the site of the old amphitheater. These small concerts are a perfect stop on your way to having dinner in the old city center.
Where To Eat While You’re In Lucca.
Lucca has a superb range of restaurants, family run cafes and gelato shops which means you’ll be absolutely spoiled for choice during your stay.
One of the city’s most popular restaurants is the Ristorante San Colombano, located in the city walls. The Ristorante San Colombano was built in 2004 within the ancient stone walls of the city and incorporates a tower, a lovely courtyard as well as pleasant interior dining spaces. This elegant establishment is modern and has an elegant feel to it with a great menu that includes handmade pizzas, local dishes as well as a good choice of international cuisine. The restaurant also has a cocktail bar and an extensive tapas menu on offer.
Another charming local restaurant in Lucca is the beloved Osteria Tosca that’s situated in the Piazza Cittadella, just a stone’s throw from the National Museum. The restaurant’s terrace has a view of a famous statue of Puccini, the great opera composer from Lucca, and the checkered red and white tablecloths create a cozy atmosphere in the spacious piazza. An ideal choice for lunch, the Osteria Tosca serves authentic Tuscan dishes and welcomes families with children.
If you’re looking for a great gelato within Lucca then Gelateria Veneta is a local favorite that you can’t afford to miss! Located on the Via Vittorio Veneto, the ice cream parlor also allows you to try some of Lucca’s regional delicacies, including sweet almond cantucci cookies!
Staying In Lucca – The Best Options.
There’s many hotels and B&Bs in Lucca although there’s a few that stand out from the rest. If you’re planning to visit during the high tourist season then you’ll need to book in advance to ensure that you don’t miss out on your preferred accommodation.
This beautiful boutique B&B is located in a 14th Century palace in central Lucca with a friendly team of staff who work hard to ensure that your stay is as comfortable as possible. Staff are always on hand to help you book and arrange your itinerary in Lucca as well as being able to assist you with onward travel from the city.
All rooms have free Wi-Fi, a flat screen TV and are uniquely furnished; which gives each room its own special feel. The B&B serves an extensive breakfast in the buffet dining room which is decorated with wood beams and comfy sofas.
The B&B is only 150 meters from the Torre Guinigi so you can get your day off to a great start by climbing the tower to watch the city come to life before you start out on your sightseeing itinerary.
Situated just outside the city’s Renaissance walls, the Albergo Celide offers free bike hire, Wi-Fi and on site parking. Around 0.5 miles from the San Martino Cathedral, the Albergo Celide is a fantastic base to explore Lucca from.
All the rooms are air conditioned with a flat screen TV while the hotel’s restaurant specializes in Tuscan dishes and seafood. You can also enjoy cocktails or tea and coffee on the hotel’s terrace that looks over the city’s walls. The hotel has a spa with a sauna, hot tub and Turkish bath if you want to relax after a long day of sightseeing in the city.
This charming B&B is conveniently situated in the city center and has a large terrace, free Wi-Fi in the rooms as well as air conditioning and a flat screen TV. All rooms have a private bathroom and are nicely decorated with colorful designs and modern fittings.
The B&B offers a great buffet style breakfast which includes homemade cakes, Tuscan hams and cheeses as well as breads and sweets. There’s also a nice shared living area where you can make yourself tea or coffee while pursuing the library in the reading corner.
Lucca – Tuscany’s Hidden Gem.
Lucca is one of Tuscany’s most beautiful medieval walled cities and despite often being overlooked by tourists it’s a wonderful place to spend time. With a lovely selection of restaurants, cafes and gelateria to visit as well as stunning Renaissance and Gothic era architecture to explore.
The city’s famous walls are almost as iconic as the towers from where you can get some of the best views of the city and the rolling countryside that surrounds Lucca. No visit to Tuscany would be complete for the savvy tourist without discovering the unique medieval city of Lucca.