The rain came down in solid sheets of ice cold water.
The thunder and lightning cracked overhead and then the hail started to pelt sideways. None of this slowed the careening Italian traffic.
I cowered in a shop’s narrow doorway and realised I wasn’t walking into Lucca today!
Lucca was a jewel lingering tantalisingly on my horizon as I walked the Via Francigena to Rome. Almost everyone I spoke to said it was a ‘must-see’ and it was, even if I could only see a little of it in the teeming rain as I arrived.
Lucca is in the northern part of the Tuscany region of Italy. The word ‘Tuscany’ evokes so many pictures in my brain. While Lucca is not on a hilltop surrounded by rolling countryside, it is chock full of glorious stone buildings resonating texture and warmth. I love how the architecture is so three-dimensional in Italy. It has depth, contrast and character with all the myriad of earthy colours and textures just screaming out to be touched. Australian architecture is so one-dimensional in comparison. I probably haven’t used the correct architectural terms here, but there is a tactile quality to the old buildings.
Anyway, Lucca is just plain stunning.
I stayed in a small apartment one step off via Fillungo – the stylish shopping strip that connects most of the piazzas and main sights of the city. It is a handy street to orientate yourself by as it almost dissects the old city neatly in half.
Lucca is a walled city and it is possible to walk around the whole city on top of the ramparts. Construction of the current set walls commenced in the early-1600s. They were built on top of many earlier versions of walls, starting from around 2BC. The walls stretch for just over 4km and are completely level, so very easy to navigate. There are three original gates providing entry to the old city and I can imagine these locked up tight to keep out marauding armies.
Like many other Italian cities, Lucca is immensely walkable. Actually with the narrow and twisting streets, it is preferable to walk or cycle – one day I saw a car stop, the driver lean over and fold in its side mirrors, before edging along the narrow street! That’s how narrow the streets can be in Italy.
There are 27 churches to visit within the walled city including the imposing cathedral that was under renovation when I visited. I was happy to skip the religious icons and amble through the many piazzas and past the bustling cafes. Be prepared to pay tourist prices for your daily coffee and pastry fix and I was shocked to pay double for the same delicacies that I had been enjoying for much less up to that point.
Lucca is a real art and craft hub. I fell in love with the many ceramic stores stocking brilliantly coloured platters and bowls featuring Tuscan scenes and mesmerising sunflowers. Yes, impossible items to carry safely in a backpack.
The streets have a happy vibe and are full of the sound of many different languages as visitors stroll about. The locals also make their presence felt, chatting with friends and completing their daily passeggio with their dogs in prams or handbags! Obviously the passeggio relates only to the human, not their animal.
For music lovers, Lucca is home to Giacomo Puccini. He was born here in 1858. At 7pm every night in the Church of San Giovani, a concert is held celebrating his music. Tickets are €25 and are available from the church direct or online. I recommend you book, especially if you are there in peak tourist time.
For a different perspective of the city, climb the Guinigi Tower. Surprisingly, it has a number of full-size trees growing on top – 45 metres above ground. Or visit the Museum of Torture. Italians seem to have a fascination for torture or are happy to celebrate a very blood-thirsty past as I saw a number of Museums of Torture in the cities I walked through on my journey south. I am not sure this is a thing to promote, but each to his/her own.
Another highlight of Lucca is the Piazza Anfiteatro. This stunning piazza is an interesting oval shape and is a humming centre of the community. The piazza is bordered cheek-by-jowl with cafés, shops and apartment buildings – all constructed in warmest stone or painted in the softest pastel colours. Again, I marvel at how it all works together. So many different colours and styles of architecture and yet it is all in harmony and is so visually pleasing. I am sure if we tried to build something like that today, it would look a complete mess.
More stunning sculpture in the centre of the piazza gave an additional focus for the eye and for children to run to and pat before racing back to their parents seated at a nearby café. Life is Italy is lived outside in public and everyone is welcome to join in.
While Lucca may not be the secret corner of Italy that some people long to discover, and then keep to themselves, it is definitely worth a visit.
Just be prepared and take your umbrella!
What is your favourite corner of Tuscany?
What: I stayed at Mimi Apartment, Via san Giuliano 6, Lucca. €72.50 per night, including good WIFI. It is right in the heart of everything and a short walk to most sights.
Where: Lucca is located in the Tuscany region of Italy.
When: 1 September. Wildly wet and stormy and even the locals couldn’t believe it.
Why: A rest day was scheduled and I didn’t want to miss out on this beautiful city.
How: I walked into Lucca (well mostly), but it is well-connected to all modes of public transport including an excellent train system.
Who: Every nationality known to man.
Related Posts: for another Italian gem, have a look at my post about Piacenza in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.
Related Blogs: To continue your love affair with Tuscany, check out this blog complete with stunning photos.
Read About it: Yes, it’s a bit of cliché, but to get into the Tuscan groove, grab a copy of Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun from Book Depository.
#tuscany, #lucca, #puccini