The lively and lovely small city of Lucca is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini and a wonderful place to spend one day or several. We’ve had a few day trips from our home base in Panzano in Chianti (www.stayitalia.com more on that in another post) and keep promising ourselves to spend more time here.
You cannot drive inside the walled city. You must park in one of the lots outside. Be sure to look for the pay station if you park in any area with blue lines. White lines mean free parking, but blue lines require payment. We were so excited to get a spot near the Porta Santa Maria that we didn’t even notice we were in a pay zone and came back to find a parking ticket on our windshield. Note—if you get a parking ticket, pay it while you are still in Italy at any Post Office. You can do so with cash or credit card and you’ll avoid paying your car rental company the fee they charge to provide the Italian government with your information plus you’ll avoid the hassle of paying via wire transfer/foreign currency once you return home.
Once you get inside the walls, Porte San Pietro is the main gate–find an Info Point—Porta Santa Maria or Porta San Donato both have them. Pick up a tourism map which has several itineraries for exploring the town. Itineraries are in Italian, English and German and include opening times, closing days, and other important information for the major sites such as museums and churches.
Lots of people go to Lucca to “walk the wall” or ride bicycles around the city on the top of its ancient fortifications—Passaggiata delle Mura. The medieval walls built in 1544 replaced earlier Roman ones and extend 4,195 meters around the perimeter of Lucca. There are plenty of bicycle rental places just inside the walls, particularly near the Porta Santa Maria. It was a blustery, rainy day when we were there a few weeks ago, so we put this on our list for next time.
If you have time for a delicious and leisurely lunch (or dinner), go to la Buca di Sant’Antonio, Via della Cervia 3, 55100 Lucca +39058355881 www.bucadisantantonio.com. The restaurant specializes in traditional cuisine of the area and the food is delicious.We’ve had several memorable meals here.You must reserve a table because the restaurant is quite popular.
The Church of St. Michele in Foro is one of Lucca’s “must visit” sites. It was built on the site of the Roman forum in the 11th and 12th centuries and is still the center of city life. The church has works by Luca della Robbia and Fillipino Lippi, among others.
Piazza San Martino is home to Lucca’s duomo of the same name. Built in the Gothic Romanesque style, this beautiful church contains some important artworks by Ghirlandaio, Tintoretto and Fra Bartolomeo as well as the Holy Face of Lucca, a wooden Christ on a crucifix attributed to Nicodemus, as legend has it.
The anfiteatro is another of Lucca’s attractions. Built in the second century AD, the amphitheater’s former arena is now home to many shops and restaurants built into the ancient Roman walls, which are interesting to see from both inside and outside.
The Torre delle Ore, or clock tower, dates back to 1390. It is the tallest tower in town and has 207 wooden steps that ambitious visitors are welcome to climb. In its early days, the time was announced by bells alone but a clock face was added in 1752.
Lucca has a Puccini Museum, of course, which is at Corte San Lorenzo 9 (near the Piazza Citadella)– the composer’s birthplace. The museum features furnishings, artworks, pianos, musical scores and other personal belongings including letters and notes from and to Puccini.
Shopping seems to be a popular past time in Lucca and there is no shortage of brand names from which to choose.
Lucca is perfectly suited to those who like to wander, and we do, but after awhile we needed a break and stopped in for a gelato at De’Coltelli, 10 Via San Paolina, www.decoltelli.it . Definitely seek this one out for their terrific artisanal gelato offered with complimentary panna (thick, sweetened whipped cream), which just adds to the deliciousness!
If it’s a drink or coffee you crave, pop in to The Dark Side—a cool little bar at 24 Via San Frediano at the corner of Via Angillara near the Church of San Frediano.
Although we had come in for a quick coffee, we stayed for more than a half hour. The bartender was really friendly and he gave us tastes of some popular aperitivos along with descriptions of everything we sampled.
The Dark Side’s complementary snacks, served with drinks, looked abundant and delicious, but we were off to Pisa.