This post is a continuation of the series documenting my Italian vacation. We had just spent a morning in the Field of Miracles in Pisa and I was looking forward to the peace and quiet that the walled town of Lucca promised. Lucca is not on the tourist trail even in peak tourist season, it gets only a fraction of the hordes that overwhelm Florence and Pisa. It provided a necessary break in our frantic paced vacation.
Reaching Lucca from Pisa proved to be very frantic though! We were going to take the bus from just outside the field of miracles to Lucca. I had read that the tickets are sold on the bus itself, but when the bus arrived a good 20 minutes later the driver just shook his head when we asked for tickets! So we had to get off and rush to the train station to catch a train now. We reached the station and bought tickets at the automatic vending machine. But the validating machine just refused to work as the train rolled into the platform. Luckily a local helped us with the validation and we just caught the train before the doors shut!
After this frantic beginning the rest of our time is Lucca was just wonderful. We got down at the station and just walked over the walls into the Town and got our first taste of the wonderful walls that we would walk the next morning.
We walked past the Cathedral and started locating our B&B in the maze that is the old town. The one of a kind Guinigi tower with its tree topped terrace acted as a marker as our B&B was very close to it. We located it after circling around the same place twice. The La Romea B&B is in a 14th century mansion refurbished with modern fittings. The owner Giulio is an exuberant man and we felt very welcome. Our room was ready for a change and we freshened up and left without wasting any time. (My idea of relaxation is walking around!)
So we went down from our B&B and straight up the Guinigi Tower which is the highest point in Lucca and gives great views over the town. It’s mostly an elevator ride up till you reach the mandatory twisty stairs and ladder up to the top. The difference here is the trees on top which provide shade while you enjoy the view. The sun behind the clouds and the blue skies made for beautiful photos.
We were the only people on the top of the tower and it was so peaceful. The polar opposite of jostling for space in the Campanile at Venice or the Duomo Dome at Florence. We spent a lot more time on top than we would have if it was crowded. After descending the tower we rushed to the Cathedral in Lucca (Duomo di San Martino is the fancy name for it) as it was the only sight which had a closing time. The other thing about Lucca is that it does not have any blockbuster sights or museums, its just a dreamy medieval town which looks as if it is trapped in time. The only thing which reminds you that these are modern times are the locals zooming around dangerously in their small cars, we were very careful not to get crushed by one as we walked around in wonder of this narrow laned town.
We had been told by Giulio that there had been a huge Comicon type of event in the week gone by and most of the squares were boarded off and we would see the remnants as the dismantling of the event preparations went on. We realised what he meant when we reached the cathedral and saw the whole square littered with remnants of stalls and some people removing them at a leisurely pace (typical of Italy!) That meant that I couldn’t get a uncluttered photo of the Cathedral.
The interior of the Cathedral has a Wooden Christ on a cross which has a back story fit for a Hindi Masala movie. It was apparently washed ashore in Italy and then carried by wild oxen to Lucca!! The relic is in a cage like structure not made for photography. The high roofed, smartly lit cathedral looked much more amenable to photography.
It also has a “Last Supper” painting by Tintoretto. While Da Vinci’s more famous painting gives an end on view, Tintoretto loved his angles and gave a unique angled view of the table.Also interestingly there is a baby having his first supper in the same room as Christ has his last.
As we exited the Lucca Cathedral, we headed along the main street of Lucca passing the numerous shops selling daily necessities to the Piazza Anfiteatro. This square built around a Roman Amphitheatre is unique for its shape as the floor of the amphitheater was retained while the surrounding seats etc were cannibalised and used for buildings lining the square. The Piazza itself was smaller than I expected and quite deserted as most of the Cafes lining the square were shut. It was dusk now and the overcast skies made for interesting photos of this unique public space.
As it was threatening to rain we went back to the hotel and gathered our rain gear and started out again. Now we went to the edges of town where there is an ancient canal running through town. The whole town is just beautiful and made for photography. It looked even more beautiful in the golden light at dusk.
As you can see in the photos there were hardly any tourists around and we felt like this was like our own private town with no Chinese hordes to push us around or make us rush off from a spot. It got dark quite rapidly and we reached the San Michele in Foro church square which is the other beautiful square in Lucca. Thankfully there was no clutter here and it looked beautiful all lit up.
We repeated our walk to the Piazza Anfiteatro as I wanted to see it all lit up too. Italian towns look beautiful all lit up and is something which should not be missed by any tourist to the country. Even though the cafes were not yet open (in small towns the cafes open only at lunch and dinner times unlike the bigger cities) the square looks beautiful lit up. It would have looked spectacular with cafes open, but then we would have had to share this town with a lot of tourists. I would take the empty square any day!
We walked around for a long time till our legs reminded us that they needed some rest, as we had to walk the walls in the morning. So we grudgingly walked back to the B&B. As the cafes were not yet open we bought our dinner (Pasta, legume salad, Pizza slices) and wine (Chianti, what else!) at a supermarket. We had dinner in the wonderful dining area of our B&B and slept a peaceful night’s sleep. (The Chianti helps!)
The next morning we had a great breakfast, served lovingly by Giulio’s wife Gaia. Fresh pastries, omelettes, mini bruschetta, cold cuts, cheeses, fruits, cakes, eggs made to order and superb brewed coffee. It was just excellent, no other words for it! We were now ready to walk the walls of Lucca!
The walls surrounding the old town of Lucca are wide walls which were originally built to withstand a cannon ball. Today, ages after cannons have been relegated to museums, the walls have been converted to a walking track lined by trees. It seemed that most of the town was on the walls walking, cycling or taking their dogs out for a walk. The autumn colours made it an even more memorable walk.
We circled the town with the residents for company and enjoyed the fresh air. I clicked so many photos of this unique walking track, but sadly I can only share a few here. We had a walk which we would remember for years, the atmosphere, the lack of crowds, the views and the autumn colours!
The better half liked this a lot, and if you ask her she would gladly take this over another museum!. We had originally planned on leaving Lucca in the morning for Florence, but since both of us liked it so much we postponed our departure till after lunch. ( Another advantage of travelling on your own, shift plans as you go along!)
After completing a full circle around town we got down and walked the main street, now in full sunshine. Passed the same squares we had seen at night and they looked so different but no less beautiful.
We then went to one of the oldest pizzerias in Lucca, Pizzeria Felice and had their famous (and incredibly cheap) pizza and a delicious savoury garbanzo bean crepe called a “Cechina”. ( They didn’t understand when I said crepe, so I had to fish out my Rick Steves guide and find the right word for it) We couldn’t believe we were the only tourists enjoying this incredible food! We topped it off by having an incredible chestnut and ricotta cheese cake.
Lucca had imprinted itself in our minds, and I am sure that it would be Lucca that I would return to, if I ever get the chance to visit Italy again. And obviously we would stay at the La Romea!
We walked over the walls one last time and entered the modern world, after saying our arrivedercis to Gaia & Giulio and took the train back to Florence where an art packed day awaited us. Visits to the best art galleries in Florence – the Uffizi and the Academia. But that is topic for another day, another time.