If you want to be romanced, or swept away, slip back in time, or just simply relax Lucca Italy is the place to go. The ancient walls surrounding Lucca have protected it from change and somehow magically seem to block out the rest of the world. This is probably why it is one of the best places J. and I ever travel. When we are away from Lucca we can’t wait to get back, it is pure magic.
We first traveled to Lucca in 2006, immediately I knew I would never be the same. Walking through the ancient walls of Lucca is like walking back in time. Nothing architectural has changed in the last 100 years or more. The city is confined by the 16th century wall, where I have spent many hours riding my bike, reading, relaxing and seeing the sights. Now the wall is adorned with amazing statues, and little museums where you can discover the history of Lucca, Tuscany and Italy. There is an incredible romance on the wall in Lucca. The views of the city within the walls and the mountains outside of it pull you away from the rest of the world, while the trees lining each side of the road on the wall seem to cast a shadow of peace and tranquility. The wall is not without its tour groups, which weren’t there when we first started visiting Lucca, but a quick ride past them and you forget there is anyone there.
Inside the walls are two main Piazza’s, Piazza San Michele and Piazza Napoleone. The former is home to a beautiful church topped with a bronze angel, and my favorite coffee shop (Turandot Cafe) in the city. Piazza Napoleone is a massive square flanked on one side by the Palace of Napoleons sister, on the other two by restaurants and shops (and my favorite pizza restaurant Fuori di Piazza) and the fourth is more coffee shops and what used to be an art school. It is home to some of the most beautiful white barked trees in all of Italy. In each square there are always events going on like markets, wine tastings or the incredible Summer Music Festival. There is nothing like sitting in either of these Piazzas and people watching for hours over coffee or Prosecco.
Walking the ancient cobblestoned streets of Lucca you are surrounded by gorgeous shops, coffee shops, gelateria’s, restaurants, little markets, and people walking arm in arm or hand in hand. There are locals riding bikes and walking through the streets groceries in hand, or rushing to the amazing Foccaccia store before they close for Risposo(Italian Siesta). The Foccaccia store is an incredible experience, not just because of the amazing Foccaccia bread but for the smell of the fresh baked bread, the experience of cramming into the small space with all the locals who somehow can keep track of who gets served next even though they subscribe to the Italian philosophy of not lining up. It feels a bit like visiting the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld (although they are much friendlier).
This time we spent our time reconnecting with friends, visiting store owners we knew and hadn’t seen in 10 years. It was such a moving experience, like coming home. We rented an amazing AirBnb with a beautiful terrace where I could sit outside, write and listen to music coming from the churches around us. That is the thing about Lucca, the culture! Nightly there are free concerts and events throughout the city, you can never run out of things to do. There is a beautiful music hall to watch symphony’s or sit in one of the churches and listen to a beautiful concert put on by local students or artists.
We spent a weekend shopping the antique market which is set up in three Piazzas and full of art, jewelry, toys, prints, books, furniture and every kind of trinket you can imagine. We bought a few pieces of art while we were there (all of which were gifts), which we committed to carry in our suitcases for the next month and a half (if you have been following our journey for the past 7 months you know we buy almost nothing since we only have two suitcases and a few boxes to our name in the world). You just can’t resist the things at this market, then packing it into you bike basket and riding back to your room to revel in your deals.
It is easy to get to Florence from Lucca, an hour train ride, so we spent one day there lunching with friends. I love Florence so much but was so sad to see ALL the tourists there. It was almost impossible to move around which quickly drove J. to the edge. After checking out a few of our favorite shops on the side streets, and standing under a building awning waiting out a torrential downpour, we were back on the train and headed back to quiet Lucca.
There is so much to do around Lucca, but I think that is a whole different post I have to make one day since this trip was just about hanging out, taking in the essence of the city and relaxing. It really as it should be in Lucca. Hidden away from the rest of the world in this beautiful little city.
One of the nights we were there we were lucky enough to have our favorite coffee shop hold seats for us so we could witness the Luminara di Santa Croce. This is a really incredible experience, that we have had the pleasure of seeing twice. It always takes place on Sept. 15th. It is a massive parade (for lack of a better word) that makes its way down Via Filungo, into Piazza Napoleone and then to the Church of San Frediano where Il Volto Santo (The Holy Face) is housed. The Volto Santo is a source of great pride for the Luchese people. To read the whole story visit this site (It is worth it, the story is great). The Luminara di Santa Croce is a HUGE deal in Lucca, it has been taking place for over a millennial. They light the path with candles displayed along the streets, I don’t mean a few candles I mean thousands of streets suspended on buildings lining the major streets on the journey to the Duomo. The whole town is dark except for the candles and people walk the path dressed either representing their church and carrying large symbols of their church or Christ, or dressed in period outfits. It is absolutely magical.
One of our favorite things to do in Lucca is hang out in the wine store, Vinni Liquori Vanni, in Piazza San Salvatore. There is an underground storage area filled with bottles that are hundreds of years old, liquors that are so exclusive they sell for thousands of dollars and wine packaging from the last few centuries. It is an incredible experience which shouldn’t be missed.
We spent an evening in Montecarlo enjoying an incredible dinner with friends in one of the best restaurants in the world, Pierantonio Antico Ristorante Forasieppi . If you get to Lucca it is worth the trip to sit in this beautiful restaurant overlooking all of Tuscany, eating the most incredible food and drinking way too much Prosecco and wine. It is an easy train and taxi ride there and back, and well worth it!
We also had drinks and dinner in the beautiful beach town of ViaReggio after watching local students playing a drum concert on the Art Nouveau lined streets. Watching the wave crash against the Tuscan shore was nothing but joy as the Aperol flowed in the all glass bar at the end of the ViaReggio pier.
When I think about our time in Lucca it is always like a dream, one that I never want to end, and when I realize it must all I think about is how to get back there. Leaving this town breaks my heart and I can only be consoled with the thought I will be back again soon for we can’t stay away from the place where our hearts sing, our glasses are filled with beautiful wine, our table filled with amazing food and our lives overflowing with beautiful friends.
Where To Eat:
Canuleia-Via Canuleia 14 has a beautiful garden in the back where they serve fantastic food. It is popular so on the weekends book ahead.
If you are thinking about Lucca or Tuscany please feel free to get in touch, I have spent a lot of time here and love to share tips and experiences. You can also read my post on A Luxury Travel Blog.