Lucca, Tuscany

Lucca - photo credit Mirabella, Wikimedia CommonsTony Bennett lost his heart in San Francisco. Presumably he has never been to Lucca, Tuscany!

Like a flirty pubescent beautiful girl, Lucca welcomes you with open arms. She knows she is gorgeous yet doesn’t need to brag. Beauty is all around and not just in the eye of the beholder.

Touch me, experience me she proclaims. And take away a part of me – memories, sights, smells that will linger forever.

You can feel the joie de vivre as you stroll through streets kept spotlessly clean by municipal workers. Washed daily taking away the comings and goings of mass tourism The walls are breached daily by visitors eager to sample Italian culture. The history and traditions of the town are encapsulated in the DNA of all her Italian people.

Tourists swarm but not with the same ferocity as Pisa or Florence. Atmospheric. A remarkable city whose inhabitants are proud to be here.

Charming smiles greet you as you wander alleyways often as twisted as a bowl of pasta. Picture perfect postcard views of Italian life at every turn. Cobbled streets echo the feet of the tourist invasion and boneshake the endless streams of cycles. Bells used only as a last resort.

Basilica of San FredianoA hotpotch of architectural styles bizarrely work so well. The terracotta roofed city is a plethora of colour. Honey coloured, pink, orange and multiple shades of lemon. And somehow as the sunshine picks out the colours the city becomes more beautiful. Quaint narrow lanes, lovely piazzas and churches add to the patchwork. Bohemian bars, sophisticated restaurants, handy takeaways. All cafe cool- Italian cool.

Lucca sits on the marshy banks of the river Serchio and has enjoyed prosperity since Roman times.  ‘Luk’ means marsh in Lugurian. Fortifications began in 1544 and since completed they have never been stormed. Visitors today enter the city through one of 11 gates.

The city walls are 4km in length and a massive 30m thick in places. Rows of trees are planted on top of these 12m high walls. One of the best ways of exploring the city and getting your bearings is to ride or stroll along the battlements. Bikes an be hired at the foot of the fortifications.

Piazza AnfiteatroThe Piazza San Michele is the heart of the city from where the arterial network of streets disseminate. Once the site of the Forum in Roman times. The church is a beauty! Pisan style, whatever that is. A wonderful tall tower. And all around are shops and cafes, museums and street theatre. 

Grab a coffee at Caffe Di Simo, and a pastry or two. Puccini, Luccan born and bred often played piano here. Concerts are held throughout the year in churches and squares around the city.

Romantic Piazza Anfiteatro is one of my favourite places in the world. Fashionable and lively. Built on top of a 2nd century Roman ampitheatre. Houses cheek by jowl follow the lines of the arena and merge into one ring of human inhabitation. Shops selling everything Italian surround this large space. As do cafes and restaurants. Enjoy a drink or meal here or simply sit and observe.It’s not everyday you can have a pizza feet from where lions and gladiators strutted their stuff.

We stumbled across San Frediano by accident and so glad we did. A stone’s throw away from Anfiteatro, the exterior mosaic features Christ and the Apostles below him. Magnificent and so unexpected.

Lucca Cathedral - photo credit Mirabella, Wikimedia CommonsLucca Cathedral (Duomo di Lucca, Cattedrale di San Martino) is a fabulous mix of marble columns and intricate carvings. A medieval bell tower stands guard.

So much is happening in Lucca – street level and above. So do look up!

Torre Guinigi  is a strange site. A fifteenth century tower soars above the rooftops. 44m (144 feet) high topped with a crowning glory of a tree! – oak to be precise – which has left its mark on the city and roots in the room below. The view from here is incredible.

Lucca has so much to offer. Wander slowly, observe and enjoy. Cool cobbles even cooler in the shade or inside the magnificent buildings.

The rhythm of life is such a powerful beat and this rhythm of Italian life is truly magical.

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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