That adorable, offbeat Tuscan town you need to see

One wall, 100 churches and countless brick homes…

A short 30-minutes train ride from touristy Pisa lies a lesser-known, surprising little Tuscan town. An important Latin settlement since 180 BC. Remarkably well-preserved. Dripping with atmosphere. Quietly redefining picturesque. Entirely car-free. And just 90,000 locals. Love Lucca. There’s no way not to!

One wall

You see it as you walk across from the train station, but you don’t realise the gigantic proportions even after you’re on it. Only an aerial view can do it complete justice. A massive 16th-century brick wall designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, four kilometres in perimeter, 12 metres high, 60-feet wide, circling an entire medieval city, seven grand gates and eleven impressive bastions at regular intervals. Hold on…this is no ordinary fortified wall guarding the city. In its new 19th-century avatar, its a massive park!

Lucca walls

Under the benevolent shade of rows of centuries-old plane, lime, ilex and chestnut trees, smiling bikers, fitness freaks, book readers, dog walkers and doting couples all find their own spot of heaven. Stroll along and take in the sublime views of the city below. Through the simple symphony of the crunching leaves, the delicate breeze blowing your hair across your eyes, and lungfuls of fresh Tuscan air, marvel at the irony of it all. A leftover of turbulent times…now a haven of tranquillity! War to peace, they’ve conquered all.

Lucca walls 2

Lucca walls 3

Lucca walls 5

100 churches

Its a feast for the eyes…this ‘city of a hundred churches”, as it is tagged because of many ornate Romanesque churches built to proclaim its wealth and importance during the 12th-13th century. Maybe not 100, but I strongly urge you to visit the three most striking ones, all of which have attached brick bell towers. The 14-century Lucca Cathedral (Duomo di San Martino), in the main Piazza San Martino is a marvel of stone and marble with its triple arched exterior and lace-bordered scallops on the upper balconies. Inside, study the many works of art, including the treasured Volto Santo, an ancient cedar crucifix and Christ, the midnight blue-starry frescoed ceiling and the ornate, gilded octagonal temple.

Duomo di San Martino Lucca 1.jpg

Duomo di San Martino Lucca 4
A ceiling to look up to

The second one, also in dazzling white is the Saint Michael’s Church, which dominates the wide open Piazza San Michele. Intricate lacy scallops again. This 16th-century wonder has a huge statue of the archangel Michael crowning the gable. Zoom in to see his blue eyes. And the third one you mustn’t miss is Frediano’s Church, dedicated to an Irish pilgrim monk. The most modest facade of the three, but an impressive feature of its own…a large, glittering gold-and-blue mosaic of Christ. Notice the angels with the twelve apostles in a row underneath.

San_Michele_in_Foro lucca.jpg
Source: Wikipedia
Frediano Church Lucca.jpg
Glorious mosaic artwork
And countless brick homes

Cycle away to your heart’s content or just exercise those legs of yours along the delightful streets of Lucca, staring at every inch until your eyes give up on you. World-class artwork, jaw-dropping monuments…nope. Authentic Gothic-Renaissance styled historical buildings, pretty churches, romantic piazzas, lovely museums and everyday exotic…yes, yes, and yes. Despite a grid plan of cardo (narrow streets from north to south) and decumano (wider streets from west to east), the city is a veritable maze. Wander. Get lost. And go berserk taking endless perfect Tuscan pictures. This is the home of composer Giacomo Puccini…don’t you feel your heart singing?

Lucca town 15
Aim for aimlessness
Lucca town 13
Quintessentially Lucca
Lucca town 11
Feeling the urge to bike yet?
Lucca town 12
Vino, anyone?
Lucca town 1
Charming arched corridors
Lucca town 10
A not-so-plain bedroom view

Find the two iconic stone-and-brick medieval towers. The first is the 44.25 metres high Torre Guinigi, sporting a hanging garden on its crown. This used to be part of a group of mansions and four towers belonging to the most important family of the city, the Guinigi. Climb for the gorgeous views. The other is Torre delle Ore, the 50 meter high clock tower from the middle ages. Still works. Like clockwork.

Torre Guinigi Lucca 1.jpg
Towering heights
Torre Guinigi Lucca 2.jpg
Steps to the skies?

And finally, to the most delightful spot in town… Piazza Anfiteatro. A small oval piazza with arched entrances in four directions, lined with flower-laden cafes and shaded bars, quaint boutiques, walled in by surrounding houses. Brace yourself…this was once a two-level Roman amphitheatre that accommodated as many as 10,000 spectators. And now, Lucca’s prime property (the houses don’t look that glamorous). Gladiators have given way to international concerts. Now that’s a makeover story.

Piazza Anfiteatro 1.jpg

Piazza Anfiteatro 2.jpg
Amphitheatre no more
Piazza Anfiteatro 3.jpg
Less affordable than you imagine

When you’ve explored to your heart’s content, make your way to the main street, Via Fillungo. Sample ‘Buccellato’, the typical local cake or shop for or buy that local specialty, Biscotti di Prato…sweet, crunchy and almondy, yummy. Grab a chair on the sunny pavement of a traditional cafe. Order Italian coffee, a sandwich and a luscious dessert. Drown in the soft chatter. Drink the atmosphere. Send a mail to your boss that you’re giving up your job and moving to Lucca. Tell me that thought didn’t cross your mind.

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Lunch in the sun
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61 thoughts on “That adorable, offbeat Tuscan town you need to see

  1. That was a very delicious lunch. I laughed when I read about moving to Lucca. I would want to relocate to this kind of place. It is artistic, has beautiful buildings with unique architectural designs, great food, and nice people

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved the post….those massive churches are really breathtaking. I am waiting for the day when I send a mail to my Boss saying that I am done with the cubicle job and move to someplace like this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never heard of Lucca but it looks beautiful! You can’t go wrong in Tuscany. I feel like there are so many large cities to visit that I sometimes miss out on small towns like this one. I would love to go and wander those charming streets myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tuscany is beautiful – I quite liked Pisa besides the Leaning Tower – it’s surprisingly chaotic and doesn’t have this over-perfect feeling of a touristic town. There are so many little towns in Tuscany that it’s difficult to choose – Lucca looks amazing with the architecture, domes and churches. If you liked it, try also Pitigliano – a little village, off the beaten path, built on a rocky cliff.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The Tuscan town looks amazing and so are your pictures. Those cobbled stone roads, laidback lifestyle, yummy lunch makes me say yes! I can quit my cubicle job and stay in the fresh vibes of the Tuscan town.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lucca eh? It’s interesting that it’s called the town of 100 churches, as Montreal is also known as the town of 100 churches! Really loved your article it makes me want to go there during my Europe trip this summer!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What an interesting little town. I am surprised it’s not more popular, but I think that would steal from its charm. 180BC, and so well preserved is pretty incredible, as are the churches you showed us. I am sorry I didn’t know about it when we were in Pisa.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have been to Italy but not to Tuscan. And I think that was a mistake, we should have gone there too. Such lovely (wall) facade and gorgeous photos. So much different from other Italian cities. How many days do you suggest for this?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for the introduction to Lucca, I actually hadn’t heard of this town before, but it looks beautiful!! I haven’t made it to Pisa yet either but really want to, so this can be an add on to that trip. LOVE the ornate Romanesque churches – visiting religious sites is a passion of mine, they’re always the most beautiful and historic buildings in any town 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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