We went to Tuscany for Florence, but it was Lucca we fell in love with. Lucca, with its tree-lined ramparts encircling the old city, with its attractive cathedral and sunny piazzas, and with the music of one of the great Italian composers wafting through its alleys. Lucca, with its gelatos!
It was a very hot summer’s day when we arrived in Lucca. The kind of day that frays tempers, especially when you were planning to spend it in Siena instead, but missed your exit off the highway. Instead, we ended up stuck in traffic in the middle of Lucca-that-is-not-Siena, without a map and without a GPS to guide our way. To say we were irritable was an understatement.
And then, as if a light from heaven pointed the way, we found ourselves next to a cell phone shop. Twenty minutes later we emerged with a data contract that would ensure that no matter how much we got lost from then on, we would always be able to find our way back.
With that burden lifted, it was time to explore and behind its imposing walls, Lucca’s old city beckoned. The wall itself, first built in the second century BC and expanded on until the sixteenth century, is a 4km walk around the old town. It is a peaceful walk, in the shade of tall trees, with locals sitting on park benches or cycling by on their way to wherever they spend their siesta.
We stopped for lunch at a garden restaurant, blissfully air-conditioned, on the wall overlooking the duomo. The Euro isn’t very friendly to South Africans, but our budget stretched enough for drinks, a pizza and a calzone. By the time we were ready to leave, the morning’s frustrations were well and truly behind us.
Our first point of call was Cattedrale di San Martino, better known as the Lucca duomo. Most tourists come to see Tintoretto’s Last Supper, but for us the highlight was the stained glass windows and rainbow pools of light they cast on the floor.
On our way out, we noticed a labyrinth embedded on the wall. I now know the Latin inscription says: “This is the labyrinth built by Daedalus of Crete; all who entered therein were lost, save Theseus, thanks to Ariadne’s thread.” I love Greek mythology and was fascinated by this bit of paganism at the entrance of a Christian place of worship. Apparently it was designed to allow people to trace the engraving with their fingers, a way to quiet their minds before entering the church.
From there we wended our way through the narrow streets of the old city, past the Torre delle Ore, Lucca’s only surviving medieval tower. We didn’t fancy climbing it’s 207 steps for the view and instead plunged deeper into the historical centre. Gareth was delighted when we came upon the Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro (apparently it featured in an episode of Top Gear) and I was even more delighted when we spotted a gelateria!
Ice creams in hand, we decided it was time to return to the car. We chose a different route, following the sound of beautiful piano music floating on the wind. It led us to the Puccini museum! We didn’t go in, but lingered outside for a while, finishing up our gelato and enjoying the ambiance.
A final walk back on Lucca’s walls brought our visit to this charming city full-circle.
Have you been to Lucca? Did you enjoy it as much as we did? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.