Lucca

For almost a month we called Lucca home. We honestly found it hard to leave this elegant, calm walled city and decided that when we win lotto we will retire here (now to start playing Lotto).

We rented a sweet little apartment just off Piazza San Michele, it was in the perfect location, close to the action but hidden from tourist traffic. After 6 weeks washing our clothes in the bathroom sink you can imagine how overjoyed we were to have an apartment with a washing machine.

Lucca was established by the Romans in 180 BC, the city is steeped in centuries of history. But it was Elisa, Napoleon’s sister that gives Lucca its leafy charm after it was gifted to her by Napoleon after he concurred the city in 1805.

Most travelers we spoke to were visiting Lucca on day trips from Pisa or Florence but this little gem is worth at least a couple of days exploring within the walls.

Top things to do

Ride a bike around the city walls

We rented a four wheeled bike and rode on top of the city walls. It was so much fun, we decided we looked extremely touristy already so ramped up the cheese factor by playing a few Dean Martin Italian classics full volume. The old city walls have been converted into a fantastic tree lined pedestrian/bike only street strewn with parks, picnic areas, sculptures and benches.

We walked the walls every night after dinner and loved the city perspective from above. It really is such a charming place.

Torre Guinigi (Guinigi Tower)

Lucca’s most famous tower, the Guingi Tower built in 1384 is certainly a showstopper. Wanting a more refined look the wealthy Guingi family crowned the tower with Holm Oaks around 1600. The tower is an impressive feature of the Lucca landscape but not so impressive from the rooftop. I would recommend climbing the Clock Tower for Instagram-worthy shots of the tower.

Opera Recital

At 7pm every evening during the festival of Puccini you can enjoy an opera recital playing the most popular pieces from Puccini (composer of Madame Butterfly) and classical numbers from Mozart. The recitals take place at San Giovanni an old church with high ceilings, providing perfect acoustics for the show. Tickets cost 20 Euro at the door or 18 Euro before 6pm. For more information visit the Puccini Festival website.

Church of Santi Giovanni e Reparata

We are rather ‘church fatigued’ 6 weeks into our Italy tour (seriously how many churches do they need?). San Giovanni surprised us with a hidden layer of intrigue. The old church was originally the site of a 14th century Roman baths. The almost perfectly intact mosaic encrusted baths are tucked away in the church basement and for a measly 4 euro you are free to explore the historic marvel unaccompanied. The church also has a tower that is open to public. However, if you are scared of heights like Dan the man best skip the tower as it doesn’t seem overly safe and featured mesh flooring giving a head-spinning views of the church floor 80 meters below.

Explore the Bastians

The city wall defensive bastians have been transformed into living works of art, with giant sculptures and classical musicians busking by day and beautifully lit by night the tunnels within the city walls are not to be missed. We couldn’t find much information on the history or purpose of these bastians but they were fascinating none the less.

Take a nighttime stroll

Lucca by night is filled with romance. City lights, spotlit monuments, quiet streets emptied of day tripping tourists on a balmy summer night stroll is the perfect way to end the day.

Day Trip to Barga

Carved into the hills, with sweeping mountain views and only a scenic hour bus ride from Lucca is Barga. The town is small enough to spend a leisurely afternoon exploring but for the outdoor-sy types among us you could spend a day or two taking advantage of the hiking trails, fishing spots and natural wonders that surround the town.

This arty town is filled with galleries, boutiques and plenty of Instagram photo fodder.

In typical Felice style we may as well have renamed Barga ‘desert-ville’, we started our day with coffee and a baked ricotta tart, followed by post lunch gelato and afternoon tea at Theobroma La Cioccogelateria sampling the very best mini-cakes on offer. This seriously has to stop, my jeans are getting tight eek!

We had a little picnic overlooking the valley and mountains in the distance. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? I love picnics and suggest one every few days. Daniel always goes along with them, I thought, like me, he was a fan of the humble picnic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We searched for a good spot. Grass was a bit dry and dirty, a dog poo over there, cigarette butts over here, so a concert picnic we had and then he broke; “why the fuck do you always insist on having a bloody picnic, they’re shit. I hate picnics. They’re dirty, uncomfortable, flies everywhere. Never anywhere to sit. No more picnics. I hate picnics”! I don’t think I stopped laughing for about two days. So, no more picnics from the roaming Felice’s. haha

Between dessert stops we hiked one of the short bush trails, checked out the hilltop church (similar to the rest if I’m honest) and window-shopped around town.

Barga was well worth a visit. Even the bus ride to get there was delightful.

 

 

 

 

Day Trip to Montecatini Terme

Using Lucca as a base for three weeks has allowed us to slow down the pace and get immersed in the clam Tuscan way of life. Mornings are long and relaxed drinking coffee and strolling around the city discovering hidden bastions and kiddy parks. Afternoons are spent perusing the local grocer’s fresh ingredients for homecooked dishes or sampling famed gelato.

Recharged and ready for adventure we’ve plotted an itinerary for day trips to nearby towns. Lucca is centrally located with great train connections throughout Tuscany providing plenty of exploration options.

This morning we had grand plans to visit Cinque Terre located only 1.5 hours from Lucca on the 8am train. However, our naughty night monster, Eleanor had other ideas waking us up every 90 minutes through the night so we opted for an adventure closer to home and headed to Montecatini Terme instead.

Montecatini Terme is just over 30 mins by a train from Lucca, best known for its thermal spas and the Funicular (train). Montecatini is made up of two main areas, Montecatini Terme where the thermal spa is located at the foot of the hill and the hilltop town of Montecatini Alto. The regular train will bring you as far as Montecatini Terme and the Funicular railway, located 15 minutes by foot will take you up to explore the hilltop town of Montecatini Alto. Or, if you’re fit and brave you can choose to hike to the top. But be warned it’s steep and not at all baby friendly.

Once at the top, Montecatini Alto is a nice stroll around. The ancient city is perched on two hills, joined in the middle by the town square where you can find some nice restaurants and shops. In between the old city walls, fortress, churches and towers you’ll see views for days over the “new” town and beyond. If you choose to bring a stroller be prepared to push it on rough terrain up steep hills (babycarrier FTW). Our trusty Ergobaby 360 carrier is worth its weight in gold for these types of towns, we don’t even bother with the pram anymore.

After our walk around the old city we stopped off for a quick Espresso before heading back down on the Funicular. It’s a pretty view of Tuscany from the top but we there wasn’t all that much to see or do in Montecatini Alto.

Montectini at the foot of the hill seemed to be a more happening city, filled with designer shops, restaurants and cafes.

We bee-lined straight for ‘the must’ see attraction, the Montecatini thermal Spa to sip on ‘healing thermal water’. The grounds of Termi di Montecatini originally built the 15th century (and later updated 1777 and again in 1919) are worth the visit if the healing properties in the water aren’t enough to lure you in.

The grand buildings surrounded by parkland are decorated with elaborate architectural columns and travertine courtyards with stunning fountains and pristine gardens. The interior of the spa was decorated by artists of the early twentieth such as Galileo Chini, Basilio Cascella, Giuseppe Moroni and Sirio Tofanari. The most photographed feature of the Termi is the large open air fountain by the entrance.

The thermal spa is great for people watching. The number of elderly people drinking from ‘the fountain of youth’ was astounding. We couldn’t believe how many busloads of beautiful old Nonnos and Nonnas funneled through the doors. At one point we thought there must be an aged convention going on at the spa.

Eleanor once again stole the show, waving and smiling at the crowds before being passed around the Nonna’s while we tried to understand what they were asking us in Italian. No matter how many times we said “Inglese” (English), they just spoke in slower Italian.