Everyone grows up reading or hearing fairytales; tales of towns surrounded by Medieval walls. What happens inside and outside of these walls is always a fascinating adventure. My visit to Lucca, Italy, proved that fairytales are real, and that mysterious walled towns still exist. No visit to Tuscany should be complete without a visit to Lucca; the birthplace of Puccini. This well-preserved little town oozes charm inside and outside of its famed historic wall and is one not to be missed. So if you’re wondering what to do in Lucca, Italy, here is your perfect pocket guide to help you plan.
GETTING TO LUCCA
Getting to Lucca from anywhere in Italy is easy by train. The city is located less than half an hour from the coast of Versilia, at the foot of the Apuan Alps. I arrived by a quick and easy train from Florence to the station in Lucca for only eight euros. If you are coming from Pisa, it is even easier with only a 20-minute train ride from there. This makes Lucca the perfect day trip destination from bigger cities you may be visiting. If you arrive by train you have quick and easy access to the heart of Lucca from the station with no need to rent a car. Like many towns in Tuscany, the old centre of Lucca is closed to car traffic and managing a car with parking could be a hassle.
If you have a rented car and prefer to travel to Lucca by car, you can easily find Lucca on the A11 highway coming from the North or South and highway A12 from the coast. You’ll likely want to look for parking outside the city walls of Lucca, the parking inside the walls is limited.
CREMERIA OPERA & DE’ COLTELLI
As is the case with most Italian cities the gelato on every street corner is worth investigating. I learned that the locals have many favourites. I feasted and tried as many of the shops as I could while I visited Lucca and my two favourite gelato shops in town are Cremeria Opera and De’ Coltelli, both are stand-outs because they use natural ingredients and the gelato was absolutely incredible.
An absolute must-see for foodies and visitors interested in eating authentically in Lucca is a pop into Casali Francesco, this original shop has been in this spot for decades and the same family still bakes the traditional focaccia breads that their ancestors baked. The shop is tricky to find, off-the-beaten path and popular but well worth the trip. Be sure to have a focaccia sandwich with local cheese (and prosciutto if you are a meat eater) made the traditional way, you will want two.
WHERE TO SHOP IN LUCCA
The best shopping in Lucca can be found on Via Fillungo, here you will find a mix of well-known Italian designers and worldwide brands as well as local boutiques. The boutique shopping otherwise is abundant and sprinkled throughout the city and tucked in the narrow streets and squares.
HOW TO STAY ACTIVE IN LUCCA
Lucca is a cycling city! Not only do most of the locals own bicycles, making it a bike friendly city, but Lucca is the host of many professional cyclists who make their home here during training months of the year. It is one of the most popular places for pro cyclists to train because of the varying elevation and terrain that the area provides. As a result, it is pretty common to spot a professional cyclist while you are visiting Lucca, which is exactly what happened to me.
TAKE A TUSCANY BIKE TOUR
It was the garden and private chapel that I loved most about this villa. I wandered through the garden and discovered a hidden cave that spanned the distance under a raised set of stairs in the formal garden. The cave, with little windows to the outside world, was filled with statues and little fountains and happy bats. The private chapel had a special side entrance for the family and hidden prayer room for them to attend mass in an intimate space away from the rest of the congregation.
THE DEVIL’S BRIDGE
The Devil’s Bridge, or Ponte della Maddalena, is worth seeing while you are close. It is an incredible example of medieval engineering. The bridge crosses the Serchio river and was a vital part of the medieval pilgrimage route for people coming from France and going to Rome. According to Riccardo’s folklore, which he was told from the time he was a boy visiting the bridge on Sunday’s with his parents, the bridge was almost finished but the builders could not figure out how to finish it. The devil offered to help in exchange for the first soul that crossed it. The bridge was finished, and the devil requested the soul and the towns people sent a dog across and the devil swooped up the dog and took it’s soul. No matter what you believe, the bridge is a magnificent thing to see and I could not help but think about all of the people who had walked there in years past. Walk to the top of the bridge if you can, it’s an easy short walk with a great view at the top.