You’ve been preparing for months: read every blog, followed every insta post and even started online Italian lessons. Your research has paid dividends and now you have a plan of ‘must sees’ on your Italian adventure, and of course that includes heartstopping Lucca! Except there’s a catch: your favourites all need to be shoe-horned into a tight 2 week schedule.
So how do you streamline your time in each? More specifically, how do you get the most out of your day in Lucca?
It’s easy – just follow our guide (and scroll down for our handy map)
Andiamo – let’s go!
If you’ve done your homework (and I suspect you have), you will know that one of the hallmarks of this beautiful city is that it is surrounded by medieval ramparts lined with majestic trees. The beauty of these walls is they lend themselves to exploring the city on two wheels. Fortunately for visitors the city is dotted with outlets hiring all manner of bicycles.
Our suggestion is to head to one quite centrally placed (see map), not far from underground carpark Mazzini. You will be supplied with a map of suggested routes through the city encompassing the main sites.
So hop on your bicicletta, follow the map, and get your bearings around this beautiful city.
Time to test your navigational skills again – and this time we’re heading for the centre of the city to the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. It’s likely that you won’t be aware of its imposing presence as you weave your way through the cobbled streets until all of a sudden it’s in front of you.
Take a moment to circumnavigate the elliptical piazza from the outside and cast your gaze up to the staggering patterns in the brickwork defining the passage of time as buildings were built on top of the original amphitheatre. Yes that’s right: a scaled down colosseum right here! The four arched gateways lead you into the centre of the piazza for the most spectacular 360 degree view.
At one end is our favourite shop in Lucca, Le due Sorelle, (or Uashmama on the map). Featuring stunning handmade items from paper, fully washable yet with the feel and look of leather (we’ve tried and tested them!). If you’re looking for an original gift for those back home this is definitely the place to stock up.
You’ve clocked the miles on your bike and your legs are starting to feel a bit wobbly. You could head to the nearest cafe but those tree-lined ramparts are really where it’s at for dining al-fresco. You will find numerous panetteria around the city, so grab a loaf, a few slices of ham and a wedge of pecorino (and a couple of those juicy sun-ripened peaches with your name on), and join the locals under the dappled shade for the ultimate in picnic culture.
(And shhh we won’t tell if it’s followed by a little siesta!)
Lucca is a shoppers paradise – sophisticated boutiques without the throngs of bigger cities. So even if shopping is not on your itinerary it’s worth taking time to wander down the main shopping street, Via Filungo, to admire the architecture and original buildings en route to our next destination.
If you are tempted, there are plenty of places to pick up a little reminder of Italy…the Bialetti shop is a favourite and it’s hard to resist those gorgeous espresso cups (let’s face it they are tiny enough to fit into anybody’s hand luggage!)
There is no shortage of beautiful churches to admire in Lucca (in fact over a hundred!) but we are going to concentrate on just a couple. The main piazza houses St Michel in Foro, it’s imposing white marble facade dominating the enormous square. Take a bench and cast your eyes upwards to the intricate and delicate carvings.
After gazing at the spectacular scene, spare a moment and cast your eyes downward as you contemplate the fact that below your feet is the original Roman Forum. Nothing like standing on top of a 2000 year old bit of history!
Now to a church slightly off the main tourist route, but actually Lucca’s most important religious centre, the Duomo St Martino. It houses some grand masterpieces that are perfect for getting your cultural fix – either buy a combined ticket for the church and tower or head around the corner to the entrance to the tower.
No doubt you will be aware of the most famous tower in Lucca, the Guinigi with it’s rooftop trees – worth a visit if your stay is extended – but we are going to opt for the Duomo’s tower for two reasons. Firstly, it offers spectacular views over the entire city against the backdrop of the Apennine hills, and secondly it is significantly less busy, allowing you to take your time picking out Lucca’s landmarks without the hustle and bustle of other tourists cramping your style
One never needs a reason to stop for gelato, but we try to stretch ourselves until late afternoon when we finally succumb to that slice of heaven. I say if you’re going to make a pitstop make it a good one! For gelato that is simply a cut above the rest, head for La Bottega, only a few blocks from the Duomo. With a bit of luck you might be able to nab a seat in the cool interior and admire the beautiful tiled walls of the original butchery.
We’re going to head back towards the Anfiteatro for our final stop – and one of our favourite places to grab an ice cold aperitivo. The San Frediano basilic has to be one of the most iconic sights in Lucca and comes into its’ own at sunset. The ornate facade is constructed in dramatic style with gold mosaic tiles, which come alive with the setting sun.
In the evening the broad piazza is filled with locals taking the passegiata, a tradition so indelibly marked in Italian culture. So take a leaf and a stroll, exploring the streets at your leisure.
It’s generally frowned upon to turn up to a restaurant any earlier than 8 or 8.30 in Italy but if you have no chance of lasting that long then you’re in the right place. The apericena is an Italian speciality, a fixed price for an aperitivo accompanied by a buffet of light snacks. Hard not to be tempted by a refreshing Aperol Spritz and bruschetta, olivi, and cold meats.
We have so many favourites it’s impossible to pick just one – but if we had to suggest the best place to soak up the vibe it has to be one of the many restaurants lining the Piazza Anfiteatoro…
Congratulations! you’ve explored one of Tuscany’s gems and all in under 12 hours! But hang on a minute: there is one tip I haven’t shared yet – it’s not the best coffee or the best gelato but this: if you’re going to explore any city in italy, the one essential item to pack is a pair of binoculars. Remember that hike to the top of the tower? Well imagine that view with a pair of good binoculars at your disposal. And those churches with their magnificent facades – want to get a closer look? Binos. Yep that’s all I’m saying – you’re welcome!
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