Lying just outside the Tuscan holy trinity of Florence, Siena and Pisa, it’s no wonder little Lucca gets overlooked. But this pretty, pint-sized city has a knack for winning over curious visitors, thanks to its unique Renaissance walls, unpretentious Tuscan fare and an astounding collection of Romanesque churches.
Whether you’re pencilling in a day trip or you’re in town for the Lucca Comics & Games convention, here’s everything you need to tick off your list.
Lucca is easy to see in a day, and since it’s close to some famous neighbours, it’s the ideal day trip to bolt onto a holiday in Tuscany. It’s around a half-hour train journey from Pisa, so you can combine it with a visit to the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.
If you’re staying in Florence, trains to Lucca are regular and reliable and take around 1 hour 30 minutes – and the views of the Tuscan countryside will make it fly by.
Walk the walls
Lucca is best known for the four kilometres of Renaissance walls that wrap around the city like arms. Cars are forbidden on the walls; it’s strictly bike and foot traffic only, so there’s real peace and quiet up there helped out by a stream of shady parks, kids’ playgrounds and even a few secret passageways. The panoramic views across the city are fantastic, and there are lots of lovely spots for a breath of fresh air on a hot day – look out for the giardino botanico, the walls’ green lung.
It may not have Florence’s A-list name recognition, but Lucca has undeniable cultural flair. The city is said to have 100 churches, and it certainly feels like you come across a new one on each corner. Stroll through its Romanesque streets and watch out for pretty San Michele, built on the site of a Roman forum, and the city’s impressive Duomo.
A terracotta old town flows out into lovely piazzas between historic streets, filled with antique shops and art galleries (try Via Fillungo for the best shopping). It’s worth spending a few hours in Palazzo Mansi, a Baroque palace housing a fabulous post-19th-century art collection.
For a final photo op before you catch your train, head to Guinigi Tower –it’s 130 feet high, so it’s pretty hard to miss. Built by the Guinigi family in the 14th century, it bestows the best views in the city on anyone who makes the climb, and there’s even a sunny little garden where you can have a rest before the climb down.
What to eat
Situated in one of Italy’s foremost foodie regions, dining options come thick and fast in Lucca. Its culinary roots are typically Tuscan; hearty pork and rabbit-based dishes dominate most menus, with plenty of extra-virgin olive oil (locally produced, of course).
Favourite dishes include tortelli lucchese: stuffed egg pasta in a rich beef ragu; baccala (salt cod) and thick, warming soups with rabbit, beans and farro (a type of grain). Top it off with a visit to a local gelateria, or pick a local pastry shop to try the city’s favourite sweet treat, buccellato, a sweet bread with raisins.
Lucchesi a little-known DOC for wine in Italy, but its crisp Colline Lucchesi Sauvignon Blanc is well worth a taste – best enjoyed in one of the city’s picturesque piazzas.
Lucca has gained worldwide attention as the host of Lucca Comics & Games, Lucca’s answer to Comic Con, held each October. One of the most unique festivals in Italy, comic fans pour into Lucca to take part in cosplay (dressing up as their favourite characters from comics), with shows, games and stands filling the city for four days. It’s a playful and exciting festival that draws comic fans from around the world. In 2016, the event will be taking place from 28 October to 1 November.