The Lucca Area and Northern
For touring northern Tuscany, I can't think of a better location
than Lucca. Lucca itself is set in a lush green setting with
forested hillsides all around. A fully walled city, it has a
pedestrian-only center that is a delight to explore. Quiet and
calm, it is a beautiful city. Just a half hour to the sea and
the same distance to Florence, it's very central. And to visit
Florence, you can leave your car and go by train avoiding traffic
and parking problems.
The city of Lucca is very pretty. When Marie Louise de Bourbon was given Lucca by the Congress of Vienna, she planted double rows of horse-chestnut trees on the top of its wall, creating two and a half miles of a garden path. And today, when the Luccchesi take their evening passeggiata (stroll) many of them do so on this lovely cool path. Inside the walls it's is even more lovely. The city has Romanesque churches, elegant shops, fine restaurants and lots of piazzas where people hang out and chat. Puccini was born in Lucca, and his presence is commemorated by an annual concert series in July. The famous Guinigi Tower, built in 1418, is a must to visit especially for kids. You can walk up the tower to the roof garden and look out on the ancient city below.
Lucca is well known for its delicious food and local specialties. It is a major producer of fine olive oil, and the tordelli is a delicious home-made and meat-stuffed pasta. The stores selling homemade pasta are a tempting alternative to eating out or cooking yourself.
the nearby countryside, you can tour famous villas from the
1600s. Villa Torigiana is a perfect example. The gardens were
designed by LeN³tre, King Louis XIV's garden designer. Our family
visited on a quiet hot afternoon. We were one of only 5 people
waiting for the tour. The guide walked us over to the house
where she pulled a long metal cord on the side of the villa
ringing a high bell. It was a signal to the owners who still
lived in the upper floor that guests would be visiting the lower
level. The interior was beautiful, but our family was fascinated
by the outdoor gardens and the remarkable water fountains. As
we strolled the gardens, hidden fountains spurted arcs of water
and cleverly "chased" us through the levels of the garden. It
was a very personal opportunity to imagine this renaissance
Montecatini is a lovely old world spa just a short drive away. The film Dark Eyes with Marcello Mastroianni was filmed here. For a fee, you can enter the ornate spa grounds and be served mineral water by uniformed servers while you sit in lawn chairs listening to musicians perform on the bandstand. One kind of water for kidney ailments, another to increase energy, yet another for enriching your blood.... You definitely feel like you've entered a different time and place.
Drive west to the coast and you can stop at Pisa where the leaning tower is once again open to the public. Another 15 minutes takes you to Viarreggio with its miles of broad sandy beaches and calm waters.
the most fun day trip for our family and friends was our visit
to Cinque Terre. These are five ancient villages perched on
the steep mountainsides above the Mediterranean. We drove to
Riomaggiore and parked our car there. From here we hiked the
footpath to Manarola, had lunch and then took the small train
on to Monterosso al Mare and spent the afternoon on the small
beach. Then we took the train back to our car. It was a fun
day of physical exercise, great food and stunning views that
kids and adults both adored.
And there's more. Carrara, internationally renowned for its marble quarries. Puccini's home and museum on Lago Massaciuccoli. And even a drive down to Siena and the Chianti towns. Enough to fill several weeks! Great for adults and kids alike.
If you'd like to stay in the Lucca area, look at the Tuscany section under TL and also under the Salogi listings. To see the full selection, order our catalogs.