Love at first sight in Lucca

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Europe » Italy » Tuscany » Lucca
May 6th 2010
Published: May 10th 2010
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On arrival we walked the cobbled path into the fortified village of Lucca and made our way to our apartment, a roomy four storey conjoined building that we shared with our guide and two others. We had our own private balcony looking over Lucca, which was unexpected and simply unbelievable. We headed to the supermarket and stocked up on food and wine and then walked to our restaurant, which was run for (and by) disabled kids. My pasta with rabbit sauce was absolutely brilliant, as was our walnut, mozzarella and gorgonzola pizza! The house wine was sensational (as always), and I capped the meal off with a grappa (that warmed me up for the walk back to the apartment in the rain). Looking forward to the bike ride round the walls tomorrow!

We arose early and had breakfast in the apartment (coffee and croissants) before setting out on an orientation walk that involved climbing two fantastic towers. We then selected our bikes for a ride around the city walls - culminating in a tandem ride with Ren. We headed back to the apartment for a lunch of prosciutto, soft pecorino cheese and bread with red wine on the terrace overlooking Lucca. In the afternoon we ventured outside the city walls on a tandem bike with our guide and another traveller, following an ancient aqueduct on a dirt road full of potholes that eventually narrowed into a sheep trail just wide enough for our bike tyres. This was a fantastic experience, because as we rode through the small country towns that surround Lucca, we were able to see how people (who are not in the tourist industry) go about their daily lives. I loved riding past old men trimming hedges and women picking children up from school. The ride was not without its comedy. There were a few busy highways to traverse, and standing starts on a tandem bike requires both time and coordination - two things you invariably lose when a highway of heavy traffic is bearing down on you. At one crossing in particular Ren and I managed to miscue our pedals, which resulted in me falling forward onto the cross bar (ouch x 1000) and then scampering across the road with Ren holding on for dear life on the back seat. The fact that no one beeped us makes me think they were too busy laughing to care!

That evening we had a fantastic cooking class in our apartment, where we made fresh pasta for the first time in our lives - and the difference in taste was enormous - as big a call as it may sound, it was possibly the best pasta I’ve eaten.

We woke very early and walked to the laundrette to organise our washing before catching the train to Pisa. I was feeling fairly ordinary with a chest cold, but loved walking around the leaning tower, cathedral, baptistry and cemetery. I was bemused by people taking the obligatory picture of themselves and their partners propping up the tower - some approached the task with considerable gusto and finesse, requiring the perfect angle, timing and pose. Others simply held their hands up in the air and hoped that by some miracle of technology that the camera would reveal them to be the saviour of the tower. I found the triteness of this photo particularly annoying, but if you are going to do something, at least do it well! I picked up some flu tablets and headed back to spend the afternoon in bed. While I slept upstairs, Ren and our other travellers prepared a fantastic meal in the kitchen below. I awoke at 7pm and ventured down to a night of fantastic food, Italian karaoke and limoncello (lemon liqueur)! I couldn’t believe how much better I suddenly felt! A video was taken at some stage in the night of us all singing an Italian song about crocodiles with all the relevant gesturing. I’m really hoping it never surfaces...

Train travel through Tuscany is amazing - I had expected Tuscany to be beautiful, but I am lost for words to express how striking it really is. Picture this...that classic Italian image of exquisitely sculpted rolling green hills dotted with villas, neatly planted lines of vines and olives within cypress lined boundaries, and cute as a button stone farmhouses contrasted by massive fortified Romanesque churches, castles and towers...*happy happy happy sigh...*

We had been really looking forward to spending time in Lucca - firstly because we had heard many good things about it, and secondly because we were staying in an apartment rather than a hotel and could experience living in the heart of town just like the locals. After the tourist intensity of Rome and Florence, this little charmer with its quiet old buildings, charming piazzas and narrow trafficless streets was very welcoming.

The apartment in Lucca was within the old city walls (on via Della Zecca) and was just fabulous and perfectly located for our very early morning excursions. Not only have we got used to our early morning jaunts, but we have fallen in love with them! Plus, we seem to get fantastic photos on these outings when the light is soft and the streets ghostly still. We are sharing the apartment with Claire and David, who are a laugh a minute and turned out to be marvellous flaties. The other group members are scattered over two other apartments, but it soon became known that ours was ‘party centrale’ and had the best terrace views and the best alcohol. 😄

The medieval walled city of Lucca is marvellously preserved and just beautiful. You can walk around the entire town on top of the impressive and surprisingly intact wide city wall. On our first full day in Lucca the group hired bikes in the morning and cycled along the city wall. Alvaro and I got a tandem bike (my first experience on one) and it was a very very fun and funny experience. Andrew ditched his mountain bike for the tandem bike not long into the ride and it soon became apparent that others wanted a go too. Later in the day Alvaro, Taryn, Andrew and myself hired two tandem bikes again and rode into the scenic Tuscan countryside and along the massive awe inspiring aqueduct to Guamo and Verciano. Seeing local village life unfolding before us was just beautiful. All of Tuscany seems to be covered in spring green at the moment - baby grass, budding forests, new fields, and just sprouting trees. We cycled for hours along village paths and fields, only stopping to take a few classic Tuscan postcard photos. It was seriously fun and seriously romantic! This was such a picture perfect day and even the saddle soreness from riding 20km could not spoil it. 😉

We would have liked a lot more time to just chill out around the town, but in the little time we had we thoroughly enjoyed people watching in Piazza Anfiteatro; walking through the beautiful piazzas; climbing the 207 wooden steps of Torre delle Ore with its giant clock and amazing bells; and then climbing all 230 stone steps to the top of one of the remaining tree-topped towers - the Torre Guinigi with seven small oak trees growing from the top! Even though the towers are not very far apart and have the same panoramic views, they offer very different climbing experiences. This is a town that really rewards you if you spend time walking around it and exploring the hidden laneways and piazzas in its charming but tangled layout. I could easily spend another five days here.

The food here is even better than in Florence - the freshness of the ingredients and strong flavours are out of this world. On our first night here we had dinner at La Pecora Nera which is an Intrepid Foundation supported restaurant that trains disabled young people in hospitality. We had the best pizza we’ve had on this trip so far - mozzarella, walnuts and gorgonzola on a thin crust; and the best panna cotta (a gelatinous sweet creamy pudding) I have ever had!

One night we had a cooking class on Tuscan food in our apartment, and we learnt to make pasta from scratch. We cooked (and ate) bruschetta pomodoro (toasted bread with tomato); bruschetta percorino (toasted bread with sheep’s cheese); tagliatelle with porcini mushroom sauce; tuscan sausages with beet leaves; and casstagnaccio (hazelnut flour and raisin flat cake). The cooking and the dinner were a fantastic way to get to know Tuscan ingredients and to chat to a Tuscan chef about local food. But best of all, all this was in our apartment and accompanied by more than a few bottles of local red and white wines and eventually a dessert wine. It was possibly then that we realised that our daily intake of wine had probably doubled or tripled since coming to Italy, but weirdly we are not constantly drunk...although ‘a little tipsy’ in the afternoon is fantastic and can only mean we are travelling again. 😊

We haven’t been here long, but this place has really won our hearts. I know I say this about many of the places we go to, but we definitely want to come back for a dedicated Tuscany trip and spend a few weeks just doing Lucca and surrounds and have a chance to get under its skin, and see and feel it as a local would.

The next day we travelled to Pisa on the first of our side/day trips. We caught the train to Pisa (20 minutes) and spent the day walking around. I know Pisa is famous for the Leaning Tower, but this town has so much more to offer - the collection of other Romanesque architecture in Piazza dei Miracoli is truly impressive! The Duomo, Baptistry, cemetery and Leaning Tower all sit rather surreally on a pea green lawn, and the marble in all the buildings is gleaming white alternated with layers of light grey. My favourite of all Pisa’s architecture is the Baptistry, and to my surprise I found that I really liked the Leaning Tower too. It is an incredibly elegant structure and I actually think its lean adds to its beauty.

We would have loved to linger in the Piazza dei Miracoli for a while, but the tourists and their tai chi know...pretending to push the tower over/hold it up, got to us and we decided to keep moving. We left the piazza and walked around the corner for a pizza and gelato meal with the group, before waddling back to catch the train back to Lucca so we could have our usual afternoon nana nap and prepare for a last night in Lucca.

We organised a group party at our apartment and everyone brought a dish to share - it was amazing and a very lovely and sharing, wine filled evening. The aim was to raise money for Intrepid Travel’s charity arm Intrepid Foundation, and between us we raised €190 for our efforts (which Intrepid Travel then matches euro for euro). Our food contribution was bruschetta with soft pecorino (sheep’s cheese) and mortadella (ham), and bruschetta with hard aged pecorino and olive oil; Claire and David made prosciutto e melone (slices of cantaloupe wrapped in cured salty ham) and gorgeous chicken cous cous from a cous cous maker recently bought in Morocco; Jennie and Mick made soul comforting chicken soup; Martha, Jim and Noemi who are Americans of Mexican origin contributed lovely fajitas. And of course this was all accompanied with copious amounts of Chianti red and Tuscan white wines, with limoncello (a southern Italian lemon liqueur) and meloncello (a cantaloupe liqueur) making an appearance later in the night. The backdrop to all this was Alvaro getting us to sing Volare in Italian and Coccodrillo (an Italian kid’s song) to help us along with our Italian words and pronunciation. A fantastic night. 😊

Before we leave Tuscany (and at the risk of sounding gushy), I have to reiterate how exquisite and magical this place is. I also want to add that these Tuscan posts barely scratch the surface and don’t even begin to capture the ambiance, friendliness and warmth of Toscana. You just have to come here and experience the real thing yourself!

We travel to Levanto and the Cinque Terre in the Liguria region tomorrow...


11th May 2010

Wow. Certainly sounds like Lucca is a big hit. I've read about it in a book "Vroom with a view", but I thought the author was probably exaggerating a little. Maybe not!
11th May 2010

Lyns Lucca is wonderful! Would highly recommend it when you visit next :) xx
11th May 2010

Magic Stuff As Usual
But where do you get the time to write it???
12th May 2010

Re: Magic Stuff As Usual
Hehe thanks! usually write for an hour or so before bed, and it's also great for filling in time while waiting for trains :)

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