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Lovely Lucca – a cultural capital in miniature

  • Lovely Lucca – a cultural capital in miniature

    Lucca, 42 km west of San Miniato, and reached in around 50 minutes, makes for a magical day trip.
    Lucca is a classic Tuscan city on a human scale, with just enough cultural attractions to beguile but not bewilder. Lucca is a cultural capital in miniature, with discreet bars and cosy inns, perhaps adorned with Art Deco mirrors. Dining out feels effortlessly civilised. Ringed by Renaissance walls, the city is made for leisure. The massive ramparts are now the place for jogging, flirting, gossiping and cycling – or several activities at once. The walls are a popular playground, promenade, jogging trail and cycle route. Every now and again, you can take the sloped exit down into town and cycle around the key sites, locking the bike up to a gate when walking around a piazza.

    Roman Lucca survives in the grid-like design of streets, and in the elliptical Piazza dell’Anfi-teatro, still a centre of local life, even if now lined by townhouses. Ringed by pavement cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops, the amphi¬theatre is an atmospheric place to linger over an ice cream or even dinner. Leave through the opposite archway, following the curve of the amphi-theatre to Via Fillungo, Lucca’s main shopping street. Then visit the Domus Romana, a Roman home, complete with chance to discover Roman history and even sample Roman food, including focaccia with rosemary. 

    Lucca’s churches are gorgeous. The city churches are mostly Romanesque and inspired by Pisa. Yet, given city rivalries, Tuscan Romanesque delights in distinctive regional variations, as in the differentiated stripes and arcading in Lucca. The church of San Michele in Foro, built on the site of the Roman forum, must be one of the most spectacular Pisan-Romanesque façades in Italy. The city’s towers and mansions are equally beguiling. Climb Torre Guinigi, a 45-metre-high tower (with 230 steps) to admire rural views, and to make out the outline of Lucca’s Roman amphi¬theatre, perfectly framed by medieval townhouses. Palazzo Mansi, a 16th-century merchant’s mansion, is home to the Museo e Pinacoteca Nazionale which is full of Tuscan and Venetian masterpieces. Explore Palazzo Pfanner, a sumptuous mansion, complete with the Italian-style baroque gardens, designed for a wealthy merchant family. The countryside around Lucca is dotted with remarkable villas and gardens, notably the patrician Villa Torrigiani and Villa Reale, both surrounded by beau¬ti¬ful parks. To jaded urbanities, Lucca represents life as it should be led. Check our Lucca guide to see what appeals most.

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