Quaint shops carved into medieval buildings, homes splashed in color with potted geraniums, twisting, cobblestoned streets, and an ancient Roman amphitheater mark the city of Lucca, Italy.
Lucca is a walled city, and it is no wonder that this place has been protected for the last 2,000 years. The wall that surrounds Lucca is fortified with brick and topped with a 2 1/2 mile dirt path, and is wide enough for walkers, strollers, bikers and joggers to easily traverse without bumping into each other. Back in the day, the city could be closed up through gates and drawbridges, and several ramparts are still here that jut out from the path. These ramparts (pictured below) served as lookout areas, where the calvary could go to see if intruders were coming.
Lucca’s well-preserved wall is the only wall in Italy that can be biked, walked or run upon.
While here, we stayed at B&B Anfiteatro, which is within the city wall. The building that our apartment was housed in was hundreds of years old. It came with a fully stocked kitchen, a washing machine, a roomy bathroom, a living room area and a separate bedroom. I felt like a local, as we rode bikes, cooked dinner, strolled the streets and dined al fresco. There are bars where you can get croissants and coffee in the morning, foccacia in the afternoon and wine and gelato in the evenings.
I love the screenless windows in Italy. It seems like every town has them, and whenever I opened my windows in Lucca, I could hear sounds of happy, busy lives. Clanking dishes, sizzling pots, engines from tiny cars and motorcycles and the thump of soccer balls were all mixed in with conversation, laughter and bells. Italy’s church bells ring all the time, and it adds a nice touch to any moment throughout the day. Whenever the bells began, I would try to stop and look around at my surroundings and soak it all in.
If you look up while in Lucca, the first thing you notice is an abundance of towers. During the 1300’s, families built towers atop their homes as a symbol of prestige and status. You can climb one of these towers- the Guinigi tower- to get a good view of the city.
I recommend climbing to the top of any available tower in whatever Italian city you are in. It is a great way to get a bird’s eye view of the layout of the land, and to marvel at the wonder of it all.
The main piazza, and the largest in Lucca is Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. It is built upon the ruins of a Roman ampitheater. Restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating line the edges, along with souvenir and nick-nack shops. Summer concerts are held here as well, and it’s a great place for people watching.
Lucca has good shopping too, with trendy stores alongside boutiques. We were lucky that our trip coincided with an annual antiques market. Vendors came from all over Italy to sell their treasures. If I only had unlimited funds for purchases and shipping, I could have gone hog wild.
One night we decided to take advantage of our kitchen and eat in, so we stopped at a deli to try our hand at Italian cooking. We got noodles, tomatoes and olive oil, but were in need of more things that the deli did not have out for sale. A very kind deli worker sold us things from behind the counter so we would have a complete meal. In regards to cooking, if instruction is desired in this area, chef Paolo Monti’s has a cooking school called Cucina Italiana. Half-day classes are only $20 euros, which is a bargain, considering you get to stuff yourself with whatever you’ve cooked. A half-day class goes from 10am to 3. It’s a good choice for something to do during a day when you are tired of traveling around and need some downtime.
Lucca is really close to Pisa. A bus took us from the center of town to Pisa in about 20 minutes. We viewed the Leaning Tower of Pisa, took dorky pictures, and wandered around the grounds. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a bell tower, and it began to lean during construction in the year 1173, due to the soft nature of the ground upon which it is built.
Perhaps the neatest thing we did was this: we went into the Pisa Baptistery of St. John. We wandered into it by default really, because the duomo that we wanted to go into was closed for mass. The Baptistery is a domed building, and every half hour, one of the guards sends three notes into the stratosphere. The notes echo back and a beautiful symphony is created. It was the coolest thing! Click on the video below to hear the sounds of the baptistery.
Lucca is a delightful city and serves well as a jumping off point to many other places in the area. It’s close to Florence, Cinque Terre and the Tuscany region and is decidedly non-touristy.