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Top Ten Things To Do

Lucca can be as lazy or as active as the mood takes you. Cycle along the city ramparts or climb to the top of the city’s only surviving tower-house. Visit churches, villas, wine estates or grand gardens before hitting the Puccini trail. If feeling lazier, then attend a concert of chamber music in town or browse the speciality shop, often hidden behind elegant, old-world shop fronts.

Top Ten Things To Do

Cycling in the city - or strolling along the ramparts

Lucca is full of lanes too narrow for cars, so the locals often get about by bicycle. 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. It’s hard to believe that Lucca’s 500-year-old walls were built to keep enemies at bay. In 1817, the encircling ramparts were planted with a double row of plane trees, which shade the broad avenue ¬running along the top of the walls. This is now 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. This, combined with Lucca’s reputation for culture and ¬intellectual pursuits, has earned the city the nickname of the `Cambridge of ¬Tuscany.’ British fashion designer Paul Smith, a keen cyclist, has a home in the hills and enthuses about cycling in Lucca: “I love cycling around the walls of Lucca; it's so relaxing because there are no cars.” There is something deliciously Continental about cycling around an historic walled city, through its pretty paved streets and piazzas – ideally with a delicious deli lunch tucked away in the basket. You can hire a bike with numerous companies, including Cici Rai close to Porta San Gervasio, the San Gervasio Gate. Cycling is also a healthy alternative to a day on the beach.

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Cattedrale di San Martino - see the `true’ portrait of Christ

A path from the city walls leads directly to the predominantly Romanesque Cattedrale di San Martino. Inside is a larger-than-life Crucifixion and supposedly the `true’ portrait of Christ. Even from the outside, the Cathedral is dramatic, with a striking façade decorated with a sculpture of St Martin dividing his cloak (the original sculpture is now just inside the church). The inlaid marble designs are classic Tuscan Romanesque, featuring hunting scenes, with dogs, wild boar, and huntsmen on horseback. Flanking the central portal are scenes of the Labours of the Months and the ¬Miracles of St Martin. Inside is an octagonal tempietto containing the Volto Santo (Holy Countenance), one of the most famous relics of medieval Europe. This touching sculpture was supposedly carved by Nicodemus, who witnessed the Crucifixion – hence believed to be a true portrait of Christ. In fact, the highly stylised figure is probably a 13th-century copy of an 11th-century copy of an 8th-century `original’. Each year, on 13 September, this revered relic is paraded through the candlelit streets in a procession that captivates the whole population. Off the south aisle is the Sacristy and an even greater treasure: Jacopo della Quercia’s tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, who died in 1405. It’s a tender effigy, depicting a faithful dog at her feet, waiting for his mistress to awake. As the wife of Paolo Guinigi, Lord of Lucca, Ilaria died at the age of 24, following the birth of their second child. You can now climb the Campanile, the bell-tower, a mere 217 steps for sweeping views over the city.

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San Michele in Foro – for a Romanesque masterpiece

Heading north out of Piazza del Duomo takes you to Piazza San Michele, ringed by Renaissance arcades. At the centre of the square, 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. Pisa was the seminal influence here as its trade links with Spain and North Africa led to its fondness for surface patterning in architecture, copying Moorish tilework and textiles. From Pisa, the oriental influence spread to Lucca. The best Pisan-Romanesque churches come with ornate facades of green, grey and white marble. In this city masterpiece, the chiselled style of the delicate colonnades emphasises the height and exuberance of the façade. Flanked by Lucca’s loveliest bell-tower, the tiered arcades are decorated with delicate motifs and allegories. Carved in green and white marble are hunting scenes featuring exotic beasts, such as bears, dragons and elephants, encountering more domestic animals, such as ¬rabbit, a duck and a crow eating grapes. The church is topped by a huge gilded statue of Archangel Michael slaying a dragon, flanked by two angels.

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Torre Guinigi – for lofty tower-climbing

This is the only surviving tower-house in Lucca, a 14th-century symbol of power and prestige that calls out to be climbed. The wealth of Lucca, like that of Florence, was based on banking and its silk industry. As early as the 12th century, bankers were plying the Mediterranean or travelling north to Bruges, Ant¬werp and London, buying and selling silk and woollen cloth. Successful bankers, such as the Guinigi family, built ostentatious tower-houses, like this 14th-century affair, now considered a city symbol. As in San Gimignano, such fortified homes were both medieval status symbols and retreats in times of trouble. Climb the 45-metre-high tower (230 steps) to admire rural views, and to make out the outline of Lucca’s Roman amphi¬theatre (anfi¬teatro), perfectly framed by medieval townhouses. The style of Torre Guinigi is Romanesque-Gothic, even if Lucca didn’t favour the Gothic style. But here, alongside the Romanesque round-arched arcading, are Gothic mullioned windows.

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Palazzo Pfanner – stroll in baroque gardens

Close to San Frediano church is the Palazzo Pfanner, a delightful 17th-century Lucchese residence, named after a former owner, an Austrian brewer. The sumptuous mansion and Italian-style baroque gardens were designed for a wealthy merchant family. Highlights inside include swathes of 17th-century Lucchese silk in the bedrooms and beer-making equipment in the cellar – the palace was used as a brewery until 1929. The gardens, created around 1700, perhaps by Filippo Juvarra, display such features as a Roman sarcophagus and statues of the Four Seasons. The ornamental pool, lemon house, magnolia and rose gardens form a charming backdrop to the mansion. If pressed for time, you can catch a glimpse of the lovely garden and external staircase by climbing onto the city walls behind San Frediano church and walking left for a short distance. Unsurprisingly, the gardens have appeared in several films, including Portrait of a Lady, based on the Henry James’ novel of the same name. If there in summer, do attend a concert of chamber music in the gardens.

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Best churches tour – from Roman to Romanesque

If not already sated after seeing the Duomo and San Michele (see entry), visit the best of the rest. 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. Begin in Piazza del Duomo with the church of Santi Giovanni e Reparata. Originally Lucca’s cathedral, the church has been excavated to reveal its Roman roots. A mosaic floor from a Roman villa was superseded by a 2nd-century Roman bathhouse, which itself gave way to a 5th-century baptistery. A series of churches were added, culminating in the present 12th-century building. Highlights include the Roman font, Romanesque pavements and the coffered ceiling. From here it’s on to San Frediano, with its crenellated bell-tower and its splendid gold-and-blue façade mosaic of Christ in Majesty on the façade. Inside, the dimly-lit interior reveals a massive Romanesque font carved with scenes showing Moses and his entourage of camels, leading his people (dressed in medieval armour) through the divided Red Sea. The church is named after Fridianus, an Irish-born missionary and Bishop of Lucca, who founded the church in the 6th century.

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Palazzo Mansi -for art in a merchant’s mansion

Lurking at the end of Lucca’s maze of medieval alleys is Palazzo Mansi, a 16th-century merchant’s mansion with a baroque interior. Decorated with much of the original furnishings, it is now home to the Museo e Pinacoteca Nazionale. Deities and allegorical figures romp across the ceilings of the splendidly furnished 17th-century home of Cardinal Spada (1659–1724). Upstairs, at the end of a sequence of rooms decorated around the theme of the Four Elements is a sumptuous bedchamber dedicated to Fire. This fire is not a destructive one, but the flame that burns when Eros strikes with his arrow. The room features a gorgeous double bed, its lovely hangings decorated with birds and flowers. The Pinacoteca (picture gallery) displays works by Tuscan, Venetian and Flemish masters.

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Lucchesi villa and gardens tour

Lucca’s villa-studded countryside is a delightful diversion on a hot summer’s afternoon. Most villas are still in appreciative private hands, but often the gardens can be visited even if the house is not open to the public. Wandering through fragrant shrubbery and cool grottoes, past whimsical statuary and fountains, is a reminder of just how wealthy Lucca remains. Two of the grandest are the patrician Villa Torrigiani and the Villa Reale at Marlia both surrounded by beautiful parks. Leave Lucca on the SS12 north, in the direction of the Garfagnana, and after passing through Marlia, turn off at Villa Reale. It was built in the 17th century by the noble Orsetti family but remodelled by Elisa Bacciocchi, Napoleon’s sister. There is a lush park with a lake, which surrounds the formal Italian gardens. Surrounded by clipped yew hedges, its Teatro Verde (outdoor theatre) is the setting for concerts during Lucca’s summer music festival. In Camigliano, near capannori, Villa Torrigiani is a fine example of a late Renaissance villa, owned by the Santini and Torrigiani dynasties since 1636. As Lucca’s ambassador to the French court of Louis XIV, Nicolao Santini remodelled the façade and transformed the gardens. Undertaken in around 1650, the resulting baroque gardens feature grottoes, grotesques, a woodland walk and water gardens.

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The Puccini trail

Opera buffs will be drawn to the birthplace of Lucca’s celebrated composer, Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924). This giant of twentieth-century opera was baptised in the local church, Santi Giovanni e Reparata. The composer is inextricably linked with his Lucca homeland, and even played the organ in Lucca Cathedral. Puccini’s birthplace, the revamped Casa Museo Puccini, is a good starting point for any Puccini tour, and was where he spent a happy childhood and early adulthood. The house stayed within the Puccini family until passing to the Puccini Foundation in 1974. the dining room, complete with arrara marble fireplace, gives a sense of the lives of Lucca’s middle class. The Music Room is the centre of Puccini’s world, with the Steinway piano on which he composed Turandot. For a full Puccini tour, head west to Torre del Lago, on the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli, covered in an itinerary from Viareggio, and in Viareggio itself, as well as in Montecatini Terme, another Puccini haunt.

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Experience an official tuscany tour with

Private Tour: Historic Lucca by Bike

For a more action-packed and fun tour, Lucca’s historic center can be visited by bike. Because its entire historic center and ring of tree-lined Renaissance walls are entirely pedestrian and bike-friendly, Lucca is the only city in Tuscany where guided bike tours are ideal, fascinating, and enjoyable.

With one of our local specialized guides, you will rent a bike at one of the rental shops in the historic center and together embark upon discovering our charming town. Through the ancient narrow medieval streets you will reach the various landmarks. You can also visit the interior of the Cathedral, go up the Guinigi Tower, and even sample Tuscan wines and taste traditional local products in a 17th century wine-cellar right in the center of town.

from 77,27 US Dollar

Private Pisa and Lucca Tour

Escape from the city for a day trip out to see Pisa and Lucca, two small Tuscan jewels that you cannot miss! See the uniqiue Leaning tower and walk on the historical wall of Lucca, escorted by a private English speaking driver in a comfortable Mercedes minivan.

from 713,31 US Dollar

Leaning Tower of Pisa Tickets

Tuscany has more to offer than the famous winding vineyards or the elegant Florence. The old city of Pisa sits on the banks of the Arno River, just before the river reaches the sea at Marina of Pisa. Thanks to the peculiar Tower of Pisa (also known as the Leaning Tower), it’s one of the most renowned cities in Tuscany. It’s the crooked structure that made this tower famous all around the world. It stands in the lovely Piazza Dei Miracoli (The Square of Miracles), right next to the Cathedral of Pisa

from 40,42 US Dollar

Perfume Masterclass in Florence: Make your Own Personal Fragrance

Meet your master perfumer and learn the techniques and the secrets of the historical Florentine alchemy tradition. The lesson will take place in a historic, atmospheric workshop where you will learn all the secrets of the trade and where you will have the chance to make your own bespoke personal fragrance.

from 83,22 US Dollar
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